Nigel McPolin
Founder, etimes2 ltd

Most companies have at least one method of collecting employee feedback.  These methods normally include things like surveys, suggestion boxes, polls, and employee forums.  There is definitely a commitment to collect employee feedback and to give employees a voice in most organisations.

Giving employees a voice is a key part of any employee engagement strategy.  However, there is more to having a ‘voice’ in the workplace that a suggestion box or annual survey.  Simply providing one-off opportunities to gather employee feedback isn’t enough to motivate, empower and engage your workforce.

Employee Feedback: the power is in how you handle it

The real power behind gathering employee feedback is found in how an organisation handles it.  Do senior management openly welcome the feedback?  Is it accepted and valued ‘warts and all’?  Or is it ignored and clearly not wanted?

Too often it is assumed that employees will be happy just to have had their say and the feedback goes unheard or even ignored.  Your employees notice when the feedback they provide is ignored.  They notice when their voice goes unheard.

I recall an organisation with an employee forum facility on their intranet.  During a period of significant structural change and in the absence of communication, an employee used the forum to compose a very clever critique of the change process, how it was being managed and how it made employees feel.  I was asked for some quick advice on how to handle the critique. 

 

My advice focused on openly welcoming the critique, inviting the employee for a coffee and having a good chat with her.  This was a great opportunity to learn from an employee willing to put her name to how she felt.  “Do not take it down and do not take it personally” were my closing words.

 

A few months later, I was chatting to a member of the management team who recalled how it had been decided the critique was too ‘offensive’ and had to be taken down.  He spoke about how employee morale stagnated even further, absenteeism increased and a lack of trust between employees and management.  “It should never have been taken down” he reflected.  “It made us look weak and that we didn’t care about what the employees had to say or how they felt.”

Handling Employee Feedback the Right Way

This was a key moment for the management team to either build staff morale or create an atmosphere of mistrust and disengagement.

So, how can you handle employee feedback so it plays a positive role in motivating and engaging employees?

  1. Recognise the experience, knowledge and expertise in your workforce

This is a key step in how you handle employee feedback.  By letting your employees know that you value their experience, knowledge and expertise, they will feel much safer contributing their thoughts, opinions and questions.

  1. Do not fear “opening the can of worms”

This is an excuse for organisations not to ask the hard questions.  Of course, there are some issues that remain at the top table.  But there are also questions that need to be asked and your employees invited to contribute.

  1. Agree Parameters

When we are asking the hard questions for our clients, we often agree parameters around the answer.  Done tactfully, we can encourage positive and constructive answers rather than enter an emotional discussion about the cause, not the solution.

  1. Potency

Employees need to see that their contributions are considered and taken on board.  It is important that you are ready to discuss these.  Most employees are clever and experienced enough to know that not all suggestions will be implemented.  It’s a good feeling, though, when your contribution is considered.

  1. Feedback is always welcome

Don’t just wait on the annual survey or the tired suggestion box in the corner of reception to gather employee feedback.  This causes information overload for senior management and a time lag for employees.  Leave the feedback channels open 24/7.

  1. Anonymous or non-anonymous?

Why not both?  We help our clients provide both anonymous and non-anonymous employee feedback channels.  Sometimes people want to say something without being identified and sometimes they want to ‘own’ their suggestion.

How do your employees feel about your willingness and ability to handle feedback?  What will you do to encourage more employee feedback?
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