The Right Way to Complain to Your Boss

We all have issues with our superiors. Some of the issues are small — like being relegated to a tiny office in the back of the building — while some issues are much larger — like a lack of fair compensation. And the only way to address these issues is to confront them. But before you do this, you should know there’s a right way to complain and a wrong way to complain.

The following tips should give you a better idea of the right way to bring a complaint to your boss so that real change may follow:

1. Understand Your Rights

No matter how small or significant the complaint, it’s important that you understand your rights ahead of time. This will help you steer the conversation in the appropriate manner and may provide the confidence you need to speak out about a particular issue.

According to, an employee is part of a protected class. This means an employer can’t fire you for saying or doing certain things. Protected activities include complaining about unpaid wages, overtime pay, unsafe or unhealthy working conditions, and illegal actions taken by your employer. An employer is also prohibited from terminating an employee who is obeying the law, reporting a violation of the law, or exercising a legal or constitutional right.

2. Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Just because you’re legally allowed to complain about something, doesn’t always mean you should. Before speaking with your boss, take a few minutes to weigh the pros and cons. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Can my boss do anything about this?
  2. Am I just trying to blow off steam?
  3. Will this hurt my relationships with my employer?

Sometimes you have to say something in spite of the fact that it could hurt you, but it’s worth considering these nuances prior to bringing something up.

3. Cool Your Jets

Most bosses are fine with complaints. They might even encourage you to provide constructive feedback. But they will take issue with an employee who barges into their office and lashes out.

“If you are upset about an issue, calm down before talking to your manager,” business coach Marie G. McIntyre writes. “Bosses do not want to wade through four layers of feelings before getting to the problem. So if you are really angry or emotionally wound up, don’t go storming into your manager’s office.”

Take a few moments (or couple of days) to calm down. Vent to a coworker first, take some deep breaths, and compose yourself. You’re much more likely to reach a resolution if the emotions are brought down a notch.

4. Turn the Complaint Into a Request

Complaining for the sake of complaining isn’t an attractive quality. And while you might have a legal right to complain about something, consider whether you’re doing anything to help the situation.

The best way to encourage action is to turn every complaint into a request. When you make a request (not a demand), you provide a path toward resolution. And in order to make a request, you must first have some solutions in your mind.

When complaining about something, it’s always helpful to have a few recommendations. This gives your boss something to work with. It also increases the likelihood that the resolution will be something you’re satisfied with.

5. Make an Agreement

Never expect your boss to do something. Remember, you are the employee and they are your superior. While there are situations where the boss is legally obligated to do something, most complaints aren’t black and white. Thus, you should come to an agreement on how to handle the situation.

“When you approach your boss with your request, ask him/her if they will agree to look at it and get back to you,” says business coach Amy Van Court. “Agreements are far better than expectations because they represent a dialogue, where expectations are just something we place on someone whether they want it or not.”

If possible, slap a timeframe or deadline on the agreement so there’s a definitive resolution date in mind. This will ensure something is done sooner rather than later.

Don’t Ruminate

One of the worst things you can do is ruminate on an issue that’s frustrating you. If it’s something that needs to be brought up to a superior, do so without delay. If it’s something that should be forgotten about, brush it to the side. Quick action will help you move on sooner, which is good for your time, focus, and mental health.