The Link Between Ineffective Complaints Handling and the Use of the Whistleblowing Protections (Part Two)

Published
23 May 2019

When developing a complaints handling policy, schools have been finding that there are a variety of factors to consider. In this article, we will provide information on some key questions that schools have been asking regarding:

  • determining legitimate complaints
  • establishing a complaints registry
  • managing change
  • the role of the Complaints Officer
  • the L.E.A.R.N. technique.

What is a Legitimate Complaint?

As discussed in CompliSpace’s briefing paper Complaints Handling in Non-Government Schools, the Australian Standard defines a “complaint” as an “expression of dissatisfaction made to or about an organisation, related to its products, services, staff or the handling of a complaint, where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected”. In general parlance this is what may be referred to as a “legitimate complaint” which is in contrast to a vexatious or frivolous complaint.

As you can see, a key aspect of a “complaint” is that a response of some form is expected. For example, if your frontline staff receive a phone call where a parent provides feedback (with no expectation of a resolution), then it can be determined that it was not actually a complaint. As only legitimate complaints need to be captured, training frontline staff to recognise what a complaint is will assist with streamlining your complaints handling process.

How Can We Transition From Not Capturing Complaints At All to Capturing Everything Relevant?

As discussed, the first step is to train your staff in recognising legitimate complaints. Following this, thorough staff training can significantly simplify the complaints handling process.

Training in relation to your internal complaints handling procedures will prepare frontline staff and complaints officers to capture complaints. Subsequent review of managed complaints will also assist in identifying training opportunities for staff.

To further support staff, implementing a streamlined process for capturing complaints can significantly assist with managing complaints to resolution.

How Should we Manage the Change?

If key staff are included in developing your complaints handling policy, they will be more likely to accept the changes. Business Queensland recommends engaging staff early in the process with collaboration and clear communication. Staff who understand the need for change will be more likely to have a positive response.

To support your initial development process, training needs to be developed and implemented. Training Industry states that preparation and planning are the first steps for successful training. To ensure buy-in from staff, we recommend that you answer the questions set out below during your training:

  • Why do we need to capture complaints?
  • Why do we need to change how we have always managed complaints?
  • How will my role be affected by the changes?
  • How are you going to support staff in the changes?

What are Complaints Officers and Why do We Want Them?

If a complaint cannot be immediately resolved, it should be forwarded to a Complaints Officer to action. Complaints Officers are senior staff who have the authority and training to resolve escalated complaints.

Ombudsman Western Australia’s Guidance for Complaint Handling Officers recommends that Complaints Officers be competent, objective and efficient. They also need to be trained to review and remedy complaints, as well as provide meaningful responses.

Key skills and abilities of a Complaints Officer include:

  • evidence-based investigative skills
  • an ability to mediate
  • social intelligence.

The LEARN Technique

As you may have seen in CompliSpace’s Briefing Paper Complaints Handling in Non-Government Schools, we recommend using the L.E.A.R.N. complaints handling technique.

L.E.A.R.N. stands for:

  • Listen
  • Empathise
  • Acknowledge
  • Respond
  • Notify.

The L.E.A.R.N. mnemonic is used because the acronym itself is an important stage in the complaints handling process. Each complaint is an opportunity to learn and find new ways to improve a school’s services and operations.

Preparing for the Updated Whistleblower Legislation

As you can see, preparing your complaints handling policy prior to the enactment of the updated Whistleblower Legislation involves developing a variety of components.

We recommend developing:

  • a policy which captures the entire complaints handling process, outlining the steps towards resolution and identifying key contacts
  • a robust record system which is easy to use
  • training for frontline staff and Complaints Officers
  • embedding processes for continual improvement
  • inbuilt review systems.

Click here for Part One of this series. 

Emily Pankhurst

Emily Pankhurst is a Risk and Compliance Associate at CompliSpace. She has completed a Business degree, majoring in Human Resource Management at QUT, along with a Graduate Program in Operations Management. She has also worked in policy and compliance across a variety of sectors, including Education and Operations Management.