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Handling "Frivolous" Complaints Is A Fine Art For Facility Managers


Facility managers have plenty of stories about frivolous complaints. Like the one where it took an IAQ study to mollify the lawyer who insisted he could smell cigarette smoke. Or griping that the toilet paper is too rough, or there's not enough of it, or there's too much of it. Handling complaints, particularly ones that seem frivolous, is a fine art for facility managers. It takes serious attention to customer service, some dabbling in psychology, and rock solid policies.

Consider temperature wars. To paint it with a broad brush, men have set the standards for thermal comfort in commercial buildings, and cultural norms put men is a very standardized business uniform. "You have high summer and you have men wearing wool slacks, and undershirts, and socks, and closed-toed shoes," says Susan Mazur-Stommen, behavior and human dimensions program director, ACEEE. Meanwhile, women's attire varies more to match the thermal demands of the seasons. "To be specific, it's cold in the building because we're cooling men who are not dressed appropriately for the season. We're spending a lot of money to let men wander around in wool slacks."

When facility managers receive complaints they perceive to be frivolous, it would be ideal to take a step back and evaluate who is making the complaint and what else might be going on, as the individual might be trying to address feelings of lack of status, or low morale, or not being heard, by trying to control their environment. As the glare example shows, complaints framed as health or environmental complaints can sometimes really be about status or power relations within the building. "It's not the building engineer's job to empower people," Mazur-Stommen says, "But if you're asking where these complaints are coming from, it's a 'kick the dog' phenomenon."

Frivolous is in the eyes of the beholder as well, she says. Building ramps for ducklings might be the poster-child for a frivolous request, but only from a certain perspective. "Is it frivolous because it's not about dollars and cents, and is instead about meaning and values and comfort?" Mazur-Stommen says. "Those are what makes us human. A building is more than just a building envelope and systems for heating and cooling. A building is a social structure, it is a community."

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