While it’s officially “spooky season,” there’s no need to be scared of what lurks when you ask employees for their feedback. Years of experience and reading of untold thousands of surveys has proven to us that employees are thoughtful, on the most part offering constructive and helpful ideas and input.

Truly, this should be no surprise – after all, your employees are invested in your business. They want to be engaged, energised by their work, and invigorated by the organisations’ greater purpose and mission.

The benefits of employee feedback

The benefits of inviting employees to share their feedback are manifold:

  • Engaging employees. Having a voice or feeling their opinions are heard is an important driver of employee engagement, making employees feel valued and also providing them an element of influence over their experience.
  • Improved organisational agility. Consistently gathering employee feedback – and giving them the means to offer feedback in real-time, on their schedule – enables the organisation to capture on-the-spot input that can lead to business improvement, enabling leadership to respond to changing circumstances or emerging opportunities.
  • Fostering innovation. The people closest to the work are often the ones with ideas that can lead to important innovation. Seeking and capturing their ideas can lead to a wellspring of innovation for the company.
  • A heightened sense of ownership and belonging. Taken together, having a voice, being able to improve work processes, and the ability to share ideas create a sum that’s truly larger than its parts: when you incorporate employee feedback into the organisation’s operating DNA, your employees become more personally invested in the business, and they truly feel as though they’re part of something bigger than just a daily job. This sense of belonging is one of the leading drivers of employee engagement and performance and plays a powerful role in retention, as well.

Our founder, Stefan Wissenbach, describes employee feedback as “diamonds beneath your feet,” meaning there’s incredible value to be had if one simply takes the time to look.

Whether or not it’s positive or more difficult to read, employee feedback is always useful. In almost every case, feedback falls into one of two categories, revealing either a misperception that needs to be corrected or an opportunity to improve. However, we recognise that not all feedback is positive, and for some leaders, that prospect is daunting enough to deter them from asking employees for their input.

How to respond to negative employee feedback

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” These are truly words to live by, especially for leaders, despite first being uttered by poet John Lydgate sometime in the 15th century.

Once you’ve accepted this, here’s a simple formula for processing less-than-ideal feedback.

1. Don’t react. Respond thoughtfully, bearing in mind that negative feedback is either an opportunity to correct a misperception or to make an improvement – both of which are beneficial to the business. Give yourself the time to think about where the other person is coming from, and what might have motivated their comments.

2. Ask the employee to elaborate – and do so with questions that will give you information you can act upon. Ask for examples, duration, and impact on their work or the business.

Pro tip: ask them their advice for resolving the issue – it’s an incredibly powerful move that both invites their feedback, and also asks them to consider other angles.

3. Be sure to follow up. Failing to respond to negative feedback only allows it to fester and potentially worsen. Acknowledging the feedback, and providing your own thoughtful response, will let the person who provided the feedback know they’ve been heard.

By the way, you don’t need to have the answers. Here’s a great example of how an executive handled and later followed up on feedback about executives’ reserved parking.

The necessity of courageous leadership

If in your heart of hearts, your instinct is to sidestep gathering employee feedback, we encourage you to consider the top two traits of courageous leaders from this oft-cited Forbes article titled, “10 Traits of Courageous Leaders”:

“1. Confront reality head-on. Ditch the rose-colored glasses and face the facts about the state of your organization and business. Only by knowing the true current state can you lead your team to a better place.

2. Seek feedback and listen. We all have blind spots that impact the way we interact with others. Unfiltered 360-degree feedback is not always easy to hear, but it can breathe new life into your relationships and leadership style if you listen and act.”

There’s another reason why seeking understanding of what employees are thinking and feeling (rather than relying upon assumptions or past experiences) is important: without the employee perspective, leaders often get it wrong. IBM found executives are very likely to overestimate the effectiveness of the policies and programmes implemented for employees. Microsoft revealed that bosses are out of touch, with 61% saying they were “thriving” during the pandemic, and taking “all or more allotted vacation days,” whereas the majority of employees responding to the same survey reported being overworked.

A good way to get a head start on the empathy required of today’s leaders – defined as the ability to imagine yourself in another’s situation – is to start by listening to your employees. And, by listening to employees, you’ll soon find that their suggestions and ideas will enable you to start doing things that are genuinely fantastic for the businesses.