Complaints at work going unanswered? You’re likely speaking to the wrong people

AUSTIN, Texas — Do you have lots of great ideas at work — but none of them ever become reality? It’s not that your bosses are ignoring you, a new study finds you simply may be talking to the wrong people at work. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say productivity in the workplace really can go up — as long as employees bring their suggestions and complaints to someone who can actually help.

Ethan Burris, professor of management at Texas McCombs, finds that there are two key characteristics that the complaint “listener” needs to have in order for change to take place at work. The first is “hierarchy,” meaning they have the authority and resources to actually make change happen for the person who is complaining. The second is “competence,” meaning they have the office know-how to successfully make things better for the worker making the suggestion.

Burris says one of the big problems in many workplaces is that employees send their suggestions or complain to people who have no more influence in their company than they do.

“They target people who simply do not have the power or social standing to initiate effective change,” the professor explains in a university release.

Who should you talk to at work?

For employees looking to make a change at work, Burris has three key tips for making sure the suggestion reaches the right people and becomes reality.

  • Speak upward: Talk to managers who have the authority to make a change.

The study finds that talking to a boss frequently can lead to a 12 to 15-percent increase in sales performance for that organization.

  • Avoid speaking “sideways”: Don’t talk to peers about your problems when they have no power to fix the issue.

Burris says speaking sideways can actually lead to a 10-percent drop in sales performance among these employees.

  • Target their most competent peers: If you have to talk to an office peer, talk to ones who have the most knowledge and influence within the company.

“Employees should think critically about who they direct their voice to, when they have an idea for change,” Burris concludes. “Both the amount of authority a person has to drive change and their competence give a greater likelihood of implementing the ideas employees raise.”

The findings are published in the journal Organization Science.

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