Employee Feedback

Richard Gettys (Scholarship Winner)
Do you want to help your employees stay longer, be happier and feel valued? Getting feedback in the right way can increase job satisfaction and help your leaders reach their goals.

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What Is Employee Feedback?

Do you know what your employees like most about working for your organization? Do you know what aspects of working for your organization are most painful? 

Engagement vs. Feedback

Employee engagement is how involved your employees feel in their work and is closely tied to how productive and happy employees are. Gathering feedback in the right ways is a key way to help improve engagement.

Types of Employee Feedback

People in your organization spend dozens of hours each week thinking about doing things better. Chances are high that they have ideas to help your organization reach its goals more efficiently. While you won’t always be able to do everything your employees suggest, eliciting feedback will generate more ideas about your employees’ core concerns.

Suggestions

Suggestions focus on actions that people want to happen. While helpful to understand how to take action, suggestions don’t describe the core concern people are trying to resolve. Leaders typically respond well to suggestions after they understand the core problem the suggestion is trying to solve.

Complaints

Complaining gets a bad reputation but can be very helpful in getting you to understand people’s core concerns with a problem in the workplace. Consider getting suggestions after you feel like you understand the complaints better.

Ratings and Rankings

Numbers employees assign to issues are most helpful when there is something to compare against. For example, having someone tell you that they would rate their satisfaction with your company a 5 out of 10 might seem bad, unless you know that they rated it a 2 out of 10 last year. Ratings or rankings are much more helpful when combined with follow-up questions about why the employees chose their rating.

Observing

Watching how your employees’ actions are different from what they are supposed to do can help you see problems within your organization. Asking them why they do things differently can help you figure out improvements. 

Why Is Employee Feedback Important?

Without gathering employee feedback, you’re missing key insights to help your organization meet its goals.

  • Improve engagement. Employees act more responsibly when they realize they can influence bigger decisions. Asking about their ideas can help them be more responsible and effective.
  • See blindspots. Hearing from people on the front lines can help your leaders see key opportunities or threats to your organization that they would have missed without getting employee feedback. 
  • Get evidence to make change. Rather than relying on what you or your CEO thinks employees want, you can hear straight from them about key issues they face. Collecting feedback allows you to feel more confident when tackling issues. Referring to others’ comments helps you be more convincing when speaking up to leaders. 

When it Makes Sense to Gather Employee Feedback

Because it takes your time and others’ time to get feedback, it makes sense to focus on areas where you can do the most good.

  • Improving things relevant to employees’ jobs. Getting ideas from a receptionist about improving the front-desk experience for customers makes sense — getting their ideas about meeting financial ratios probably does not. Employees may feel frustrated if they are being asked to do someone else’s job.
  • Improving employee satisfaction. Employees are already thinking about how they can be happier at work. Asking directly about how you as HR can improve their work experience can help them feel that you care.
  • Focusing on possible change. It is wise to focus on getting feedback where your organization can make a change in the short term. Executives will probably feel that suggestions to shut down the company aren’t helpful, and employees who make suggestions but see no change may feel discouraged.

What to Include When Gathering Employee Feedback

Getting good feedback can be tricky. Common roadblocks to good feedback include people telling you what they think you want to hear, fear of backlash or not wanting to complain. Here are some ideas to get people to open up about real issues in your company.

Tell Them What Will Be Done With Their Ideas

Being upfront about what their feedback can and can’t do in the organization can help employees trust you and make it so you get relevant suggestions.

Tell Them if Their Comments Will Be Tied to Their Names

Employees will speak up more honestly if they know what identifiers will be attached to the comments they make. Tell them if their name, age, gender, or job role will be attached to their comments. Make sure to keep any promises about what will and won’t be shared about who is making each comment.

Allow People To Back Out

Trust and respect are more important for the long-term health of your company when compared to any feedback you might get. Show people respect by allowing them to opt-out of offering feedback. If someone gives feedback but asks you not to share it with anyone, it is wise to respect their wishes.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Focus on questions that allow people to explain things in their own words. Beware of telling people what to think by the way you ask your questions. For example, rather than asking, “How happy does working nine to five make you?” you might ask, “How do you feel about working nine to five?” It is always okay to ask follow-up questions that get more details.

Be Grateful

Always thank people for their time. Follow up afterward by letting people know when a suggestion they made is changing your organization or if progress is being made on an issue they raised. Employees who see their feedback making an impact are more likely to offer more input in the future and feel more positively about their job.

How Do I Get Employee Feedback?

There are many ways to get ideas from your co-workers.

Conversations

Asking people questions about how they are doing is a great way to start getting feedback. People love to talk about their work and often will have great ideas if asked about ways to improve their work. You can use these conversations to know what kinds of questions to ask in surveys.

Surveys

Having pre-planned questions that you ask everyone can help you see which issues are the largest in your organization. You can ask questions that ask for a rating of your organization and questions that allow people to talk freely about their feedback. You can ask these questions in one-on-one interviews, group interviews, or in online survey platforms like Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, or Google Forms.

Anonymous Links

Some employees may feel uncomfortable sharing ideas about how to improve their work. Giving them ways to speak up without it being traced back to them can lead to valuable ideas that you couldn’t elicit in any other way.

Exit Interviews

Employees leaving can be a great source of insight into how your organization can improve. They typically are more likely to speak about sensitive topics.

Public Information

There are many websites where employees post reviews about their current or former employers. Glassdoor.com, Monster.com, and even Google reviews can help you get feedback on your company. While giving feedback about salary and benefits, these reviews often discuss aspects of work that are great or could be improved.

Employee Feedback Tools

Feedback Questions

It is important to be asking the right questions. Here are some question lists that you can borrow from:

Survey Tools

There are a number of survey tools that can help you get feedback from employees and can even make it so you never have access to the names of people who respond.

Google Forms

  • Pro: Free version has full features. 
  • Con: Costs money for added privacy.

Qualtrics.com

  • Pros: Well-designed. Pre-packaged employee feedback questions.
  • Cons: Paywalls to get premium features. Complex for first-time users.

Outside Experts

Having outsiders collect feedback can be helpful. Employees may be more comfortable sharing sensitive information if they know the person asking has no history in the organization.

  • Student interns. Nearby colleges and universities likely have students in sociology, anthropology, or business programs who have been trained to ask good questions and are looking for internships.
    • Pros: Low cost. Academic advisors can help. Not threatening to employees.
    • Con: Less experience
  • Consultants. Many companies are happy to come in and help you gather feedback.
    • Pro: Professional accountability. Big name offers legitimacy. Experience.
    • Con: High cost.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About

What if we can’t do what employees suggest?
Sometimes employees make suggestions that your organization just can’t act on right now. Even if you can’t do everything that an employee might suggest, their comments almost always highlight a core concern that you can take action on.
What do I do if my boss wants to know who made a specific comment?
If you promised not to share names, tell your boss that you could only get good feedback by promising to keep names confidential. Sharing this information would hurt your ability to get good-quality ideas in the future. If it might help the person’s career, consider reaching out and asking if it is okay to share their name.
What do I do if a leader ignores feedback?
There are often good reasons not to do exactly what people suggest in the way that they suggest it. However, suppose you feel that good points were raised but are being ignored. In that case, you can gather more information and help the leader see that many employees are saying similar things or show evidence of a similar suggestion working in another company.
Richard Gettys (Scholarship Winner)

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