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It is much more palatable to think of complainers in a facility as simple cranks who are avoiding doing their real jobs, who get some sort of perverse joy out of filling out work orders. But there can be a lot of layers behind a complaint, especially one that looks frivolous on the surface.
Take this story, as told by Susan Mazur-Stommen, behavior and human dimensions program director, ACEEE, about a string of complaints that occurred at a new administrative building for a federal renewable energy laboratory. The facility was daylit and some of the people located near the windows started complaining about glare. But when they were offered cubicles further in away from the windows, the complaints disappeared.
"Their real issue was status," Mazur-Stommen says, because in the new space they had lost their enclosed offices. But at some level they realized that HR was not going to be receptive to their perceived slight and instead tried to change their situation by complaining about glare, which is an ergonomics issue and must be treated seriously, she says.
When addressing complaints, it's smart for facility managers to take a moment to try to peel back any additional layers, just so time and resources are being allocated properly, says Woodard. "In this business, sometimes we think we know the answer and can get the problem off our back quickly, but it turns out that wasn't the problem," she says. "There are times that you're halfway done trying to solve it the way you would solve it, and you realize that's not the problem at all. And now you've wasted all this energy and you have to start all over again."
In understanding what is really going on, it's also important to see who is involved and who is labeling the complaint as frivolous, says Mazur-Stommen. "Oftentimes, the building engineers are male and the complainants are female, and the situations get written into very gendered frames of reference," she says.