The keys to getting your HR Manager to act on your complaint

http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124401501@N01/262786776/
Flickr user sylvar, cc 2.0

Commentary:  Do you know what the top technology hazard in hospitals is?

Alarms. Stop and think about that for a minute. The very device that is supposed to alert medical personnel that there is a problem is actually the biggest problem in a hospital setting, according to the ECRI Institute. 

Alarms have been on the list for several years, but moved back into the no. 1 slot, in part because of the Globe's series on alarm fatigue -- a phenomenon that occurs when nurses become so desensitized to the constant beeping that they don't hear or ignore important warnings that a patient's condition might be worsening.

Boston.com reports that in "a 15-bed unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, staff documented an average of 942 alarms per day -- about 1 critical alarm every 90 seconds."

You can see how you'd start to tune that out, if just to save your own sanity.  However, the consequences of such mistakes can and have been deadly.  Patients die when a truly critical alarm is ignored.

So, what does this have to do with your career?  Well, false alarms can do you in as well.  

Any HR manager will tell you about the numerous complaints of "unfairness." My salary is too low, Bob gets treated better than I do, my performance appraisal should have been higher, my boss picks on me, my boss is racist/sexist  et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  The reality is most of these are false alarms.

No one ever complains that the unfairness is in their favor and no one thinks they are below average in their performance.  Of course, outside of Lake Wobegon, someone has to be below average.  In fact, 49.9 percent of employees are below "average" and always will be.  

And so when employee after employee shows up to complain and the past 35 investigations have shown that there was nothing unfair about the performance rating, pay is in line with company/industry guidelines, and the boss is not racist nor sexist, that complaint is taken with a grain of salt. 

The HR person is suffering from alarm fatigue and may end up, inadvertently, tuning out a valid complaint.  This, of course, can have terrible consequences for the employee and the company at large. 

So, what can you do to keep your HR department from ignoring your very real complaint?

  • Don't come in angry.  People tend not to give good explanations when they are upset.  They tend to exaggerate and completely discount the other person's side of story.  If your complaint is a valid one, it will still be valid in an hour or a day after you've calmed down.

  • Don't beat around the bush.  "I think that my boss might be treating me poorly because of my race," will not get as much attention as "I would like to file an official complaint of racial discrimination."

  • Prepare your evidence in advance.  If you're going to make a complaint, write up your evidence (you've been documenting, right?) and have a written copy to hand over to the HR manager. 

  • Make sure you're right before you go in.  This may seem silly, but how do you know you're right?  Sure, if your boss says, "you better have sex with me or I won't promote you!" that's evidence enough that  you're right.  However, if your boss rates you a 3 instead of a 4, how do you truly know you should have been a 4?  What evidence do you have that your rating is unfair? 

  • Be nice. You do catch more flies with honey, and your HR manager is far more likely to want to work with you if you aren't screaming at her.  Patience can also be helpful.

  • Don't complain about the little things.  If you are in the HR manager's office every time new assignments get handed out, or every time you hear someone tell a slightly questionable joke, even though those things might technically be wrong they are not a big deal.  Ask the joke teller to clean up her repertoire, and ignore the small things.  Projects are never going to be perfectly equal.  The more complaints you make that aren't big deals, the more likely your "big deal" problem is to be ignored.

  • Be a top performer.  Fair or unfair, your HR manager will take you more seriously if you are a hard worker with a proven track record of success.  Your reputation does matter here.

It is the HR manager's job to investigate violations of law or company policy, but the reality is that sometime she can't "hear" the alarms because so many are going off and so many of those are not that important.  Make sure you complain the right way so your alarm does not get ignored.

More on Moneywatch: