I own a small business and of late it has become clear some of my employees are not happy with the way I run the business, challenging my management style for being too autocratic. A few employees are threatening to leave unless things change. How best should I go about dealing with this situation?

Your management style is an approach that you have adopted in order to get the job done, and if your business is successful, then it has obviously worked. However, you must not forget that your employees have played their part in that success too, and you need to keep them so that your success can continue.

Your behaviour may not only leave you, in the long run, with fewer employees, but may also result in you having to defend claims at an Employment Tribunal.

That is, of course, worst case scenario. If the majority of your workforce is happy with the way in which you manage them, you may not be too concerned about the few who are not. However, if your management style is compromising the efficiency of your staff by de-motivating them, then you may wish to do something about it. Additionally, from an employment law perspective, employers have to be careful that their actions don’t lead to their employees leaving and claiming constructive dismissal. If an employee feels that the behaviour of their employer is such that it makes their continuing employment untenable, then they can leave and claim constructive dismissal.

The complaints that you have received so far may seem like merely general whinges to you, but it may be that they mask real grievances. You should take a step back and look at how you would manage the situation if the complaints were about made about another person. In order to avoid the situation escalating to a potential tribunal case, as a wise employer, you should investigate any such complaints that are being made. By allowing employees to air their grievances in a calm manner and in a way in which they know will be taken seriously will hopefully make them feel more valued as an employee.

You should appoint a senior member of staff to address these complaints. This should not be you because employees will probably not feel comfortable talking to you about their problems with you. If employees confirm they are raising a formal grievance about a particular incident, or a series of incidents, then the procedure set out in the ACAS Code of Practice should be adhered to. The employee should be invited to a formal hearing at which they are entitled to be accompanied by a fellow employee or trade union official, and he/she should be allowed to explain their complaint fully.

The appointed senior member of staff should objectively discuss with you what has transpired from the hearing(s). You will have to look at your behaviour and examine if you could have handled situations better. If you could have, then some concessions may need to be made. Decisions on the grievance should be communicated to the employees involved, together with the right to appeal.

If you want a happy workforce, then you may have to adjust your management style because it is obvious that your current style may not be the correct one where your employees are concerned. However, this does not mean letting employees get away with anything they want, but it does mean striking the right balance.