7 Top Complaints Employees Have About Their Bosses

7 Top Complaints Employees Have About Their Bosses – an HR guide to handling them better

Chances are as a member of HR, you’ve felt caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to managing employee complaints and C-Suite expectations.

Maybe you’ve even wondered why your fellow coworkers outside of the HR department despise or hate you so much. After all, you’re just trying to do your job, right? 

You know, recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new employees. Ensuring they’re taken care of by fostering a safe work environment and handling a wide array of problems. Such as payroll, compensation, and benefits. Not to mention those dreaded violations, layoffs, and firings.

According to PayScale, “72% of employees feel as if HR is a puppet of management.” 


Face it. HR has a perception problem.

And because of this, employees are hesitant to come to you when the need arises. 

In fact, outside of onboarding and orientation, the only time many workers come to HR is to complain about a fellow coworker or their boss.

Handling complaints is one of the most important and challenging aspects of your job. But dealing with this day in and day out can be taxing and lead to apathy and burnout. 

Understanding the top employee complaints and having a plan in place to deal with them can help alleviate much of this stress. As well as begin to repair any misconceptions workers have toward you and your position.

But first, you truly need to understand how they see you.


Employee perception of HR

It’s probably no secret to you, but they think you’re the enemy.

Perhaps you’ve even seen “HR is not your friend” as the title of many work related YouTube videos or Quora threads and thought, “But I am!”

Yet, when the balance of power swings toward management’s desires, many employees feel as if they receive the short end of the stick. Followed by the fact that  “87% of employees don’t trust their bosses,” and you’ve got a major problem.

According to research done by Quantum Workforce, “half of employees feel they can’t say what they want to their bosses” for fear of retaliation.

And if they complain to you, they believe you’ll tattle because you only care about policies.  And once again, they’ll end up suffering the consequences.

They also question how you’ll be able to help them when you don’t understand or even have knowledge of the role you hired them for.

They’re right. To an extent. You’ll probably never work in their roles. However, understanding their top complaints can help you serve them better.  

And though you may never be their friend, it can begin to change their negative perception of you to a more positive one. 


What are the most common employee complaints about bosses?

  • Everything is a priority 

If everything is a priority then nothing really is. This can be confusing to workers who are trying to figure out what to focus on first, as well as what truly needs to be done to ensure they stay in good standing and don’t get called out by their boss.

Working with managers and supervisors on better communication skills as well as techniques for them to delegate roles can help to alleviate this common complaint. 

Help managers to understand goal setting. This way they can determine what is and isn’t urgent. Also, aid them in establishing realistic expectations, setting time frames to accomplish them, and giving good feedback.

  • They micromanage

When a boss micromanages they often believe they’re doing so for the better good. It’s a way for them to stay on top of things and ensure nothing goes sideways. 

But what it signals to their employees is that they really don’t trust their skills or value their work. Which leads to a breakdown in morale. 

If employees are coming to you complaining their manager is a control freak, then the manager may need help establishing boundaries as well as learning how to delegate.

Communication is key. Help them to create an open dialogue with their employees. This will go a long way to building trust.

And know that some people may not even realize they’re being a control freak. The behavior may stem from some insecurity or be ingrained from a previous boss they themselves worked under. If the behavior is brought to their attention, it allows them to acknowledge it and begin to change.

  • They’re not genuine

According to the Edelman “Trust Barometer”, one in three workers don’t trust their boss.

Some of the top reasons are: 

  • They feel their bosses aren’t qualified
  •  Lack transparency
  • Are lazy or easily distracted
  • And withholds information

Much of this goes back to communication failure. Helping bosses make sure all their employees are heard on a one-on-one basis is key. Communicating in groups is often difficult for many workers. They may remain quiet for fear of the group’s opinion at large. 

Allowing those workers to speak without retribution will also help to instill trust.

Workers state that bosses who solicit their feedback and actively listen to them appear more empathetic. And in turn, these workers believe their bosses have their best interests at heart.

(Optional CTA: For help with better employee engagement, speak to a ClarityWave representative today. They’ll construct a custom plan that ensures workers and managers receive powerful, constructive feedback.)


It’s also important that managers acknowledge workers when they “win” or meet an important goal. 


Often bosses can appear aloof and removed from their team. By getting their hands dirty, sharing the load, and encouraging employees, managers can begin to alter their workers’ negative perception of them.


  • Roles are not clearly defined

When employee roles are not clearly defined, it can lead to plummeting productivity, infighting, and time wasted.


Start by clarifying roles in the job description before anyone is hired. This can alleviate any indiscrepancies from the beginning.


Once the individual is brought onboard, ensure they understand what their boss expects of them as well as any fluid responsibilities they may have to take on.


This can also help to allay employees’ beliefs that their bosses don’t value their time or care about their personal lives.


Undefined roles can also bleed into work/life balance issues. Which creates another problem. Employees are forced to work overtime or alter their personal lives in order to finish a work project that should have been completed in normal time. 


Situations like these are not always avoidable, but ensuring employees know their roles can help make these occurrences an exception.


  • Hostile or toxic work environment

Intimidation, offensive behavior, discrimination, and physical or mental abuse all contribute to a toxic and hostile workplace.


Many of the offenses can start out subtle, such as an employee overhearing an inappropriate conversation or being subjected to gossip and rumors. 


Often, employees will doubt what they’ve experienced and even question if they are to blame.


You already know they may feel anxious and intimidated about coming to you. And have probably talked themselves out of it at least three times before knocking on your door. 


But a lack of communication and safe spaces breed hostile and toxic work environments.


You can ease their anxiety and fear by fostering a safe space, keeping your door open, and listening. 


Sometimes employees only want to vent. Let them. But if warranted, act upon the complaint.


Note, this is also crucial with remote workers as well. Many complain they feel spied on and intimidated. Even though their jobs are digital, it doesn’t mean they are isolated from a toxic or hostile work atmosphere. Make sure they know they can reach out for help, too.


  • No way up 

 No one likes to be stuck. And even though it’s scary, we humans need and crave change. 


If your workers aren’t able to advance and move within your company, they will start to look for work elsewhere or simply check out, performing only the bare minimum.


A good company values good workers and seeks to keep them happy. By recognizing outstanding contributions and great work ethic, managers would be wise to promote these individuals where their skills are warranted.


Some ways to help with employee advancement:

  • Take an interest in employees’ career goals 
  • Encourage mentoring
  • Rotate employee roles
  • Help them seek out continuing education and professional development
  • Create a plan of upward mobility for employees who want to advance within the company.


  • Wages aren’t competitive

With the rise in inflation, everyone wants to make more money nowadays. And though you probably don’t determine the salary of employees, research the going rate for roles so you have an idea of what people expect.


Employees who feel they’re underpaid will start to look elsewhere. The last thing a company wants is for an employee to feel cheated. 


Remember competitive salaries show you value your employees and their hard work. 


Research your benefits package and speak to upper level management if you believe there needs to be an increase, or if a number of employees are coming to you complaining they’re not making enough.


Sometimes it just isn’t in a company’s budget to increase salaries. But look for other ways to compensate instead.


Perhaps more paid time off, flexible start and stop schedules, or half day Fridays. You may even be able to offer on-demand pay. This provides an employee a portion of their pay before payday.


79% of employees stated they would switch to an employer who offered on-demand pay.


And when in doubt, survey employees to see what they want.


How to handle complaints (a 5-step guide for HR personnel)


  • Allow anonymous reporting

Realize employees may feel vulnerable and scared when they come forward with a complaint.


They have probably replayed it in their mind, questioning whether they should act, parsing what they should or should not say.


Most of all, they’re afraid they won’t be taken seriously or will face harsh retribution for speaking out.


By allowing anonymous reporting, you’re giving voice to these employees’ fears and fostering a safe space.


  • Take them seriously

Listening to complaints can make you hardened and deaf to the situation. It may seem trivial to you, but if an employee is complaining, you can be assured it’s a problem for them.


Therefore, listen emphatically. Let them speak and then ask follow up questions. Let them know what details you may need to share and what you can keep confidential.


Before ending the meeting, thank them for coming forward and assure them you will take action. Then give them next steps. Try to pinpoint a time frame for when you will contact them. It’s important to keep them posted. Otherwise, you risk losing their confidence.


If your company doesn’t have one, create a code of conduct and zero tolerance policy. Then ensure employees receive this training. Make sure to include it in their employee handbook, so they can refer to it when needed.


  • Investigate

You want to investigate as quickly as possible. You will need to interview everyone involved, the person at the center of the complaint as well as any witnesses. You may even need to notify upper level management if the complaint involves a legal issue.


Make sure to record the interview or take detailed notes. It is crucial to document everything. In the case of a legal issue, you want to create a paper trail.


Interview everyone individually. This is due to privacy issues, but people are more apt to speak freely one on one.


Once the interview is done, thank them for their time and give them next steps. Assure them you are taking this matter seriously and will follow up with them as quickly as possible.


  • Analyze

Analyze the evidence. Look for any inconsistencies or patterns. 


You may need to schedule follow up interviews to clear up any questions that come to light.


Once you’ve come to your conclusion, make your decision about the next steps. These will be determined, of course, by the weight of the complaint.


Was it valid? And if so, was it a general code of conduct infraction or a zero tolerance violation? 


Create your report and give to any upper level member of management who may need to be looped in.


  • Follow up

Follow up with those involved. Don’t keep them in the dark about what is going on. 


Speak with them individually and discuss with them the results of your investigation. 


Make them aware of the next steps. Especially in regards to any infractions or violations and how they will be handled.


Thank them for their time and assure them your door is always open. 


Often, merely listening to someone talk about what’s troubling them can be your superpower when it comes to getting employees to trust you.


How to ensure employees trust HR

  1. Start by getting to know your managers. What’s their style of communication? How do they interact with employees? Maybe they need more skills in empathetic listening or giving feedback better. Have a list of professional development courses they can take.
  1. Create and communicate a defined anti-bullying and harassment policy. Include this in the employee handbook and make it a part of onboarding and orientation. Also ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are part of your hiring process. You may want to create a DEI training program or seek out one.
  1. Speaking of the hiring process, be transparent in job descriptions. This avoids frustration further down the line.  Remember, this helps to clarify job roles and goes a long way to clearing up misunderstandings before they arise.
  1. Have someone you can vent to. Dealing with complaints can put you in a negative space and, depending on the nature of the complaint, can be overwhelming. Make sure you have a means to process it all, or you risk burnout.

In closing, no one said your job in HR would be easy. But by knowing the top complaints employees have about their bosses and having a solid plan in place to handle them can help.


Remember, clear communication is often the key to changing an employee’s perception of you.


By opening your door, listening to and dealing with complaints, you foster a safer workspace for all employees.


Gain insight into what your employees are thinking, feeling, and struggling with. Then craft a plan where you all succeed. Schedule a quick and informative chat with ClarityWave today.