Every organization wants to know that their employees are happy and engaged, feel excited to come to work each morning, and, if asked, would say your organization is a “best place to work.” But issues and concerns in the workplace—from not having the right tools to unsafe working conditions to harassment and discrimination—can not only prevent employees from doing their job to the fullest, they can cause an environment where employees don’t feel safe or comfortable.
But are these issues being reported, so your organization can address them? And the bigger question: Are these issues being tracked and resolved after they’re being reported? Possibly not. For example, in our recent report on the “State of Workplace Harassment,” we found that 44% of employees have experienced harassment at work, yet only 54% of those who have reported those incidents have had their issues fully resolved.
Employees are most likely giving you feedback about their experiences at work, but they may not be reporting the full realm of issues happening around them. This hesitancy is due to fear of being retaliated against if they do report, concerns that they won’t be believed, not knowing if the issue is important enough to report, or that the issue won’t be addressed even if they do bring it up.
We’ve all now seen employees use public platforms like social media to tell the truth about their workplaces that didn’t address their concerns, or workplaces that retaliated against them—recent examples include employees raising issues of discrimination and harassment at Amazon, a sexual harassment investigation at ABC News, and an SEC investigation of Activision Blizzard. By that point, any action that could’ve been taken internally to remedy the situation has passed.
This is why organizations need an employee feedback program that surfaces all the issues going on in the workplace, that uses channels employees are most likely to use to report, and that gathers and tracks all of those reports in a centralized location that can lead to better resolution.
Implementing a program isn’t just putting a platform in place and walking away. It takes inclusive planning, strategy, and getting buy-in from your employees. Here are five steps to take to implement a successful feedback program.
Action: Implementing a successful employee feedback management plan starts with evaluation, and learning the current feedback landscape so you can change it or build upon it. Start by taking inventory on the various ways both management and HR are collecting feedback. How many methods are there for gathering feedback, and what are they? What software or technology is being used, if any, to gather that feedback? Which methods are proving useful, in that it's surfacing honest feedback and being actively used by your employees? Which methods aren't surfacing honest feedback, or aren’t being used by your employees? Finally, how can the more successful methods fit into a comprehensive feedback strategy?
Tips for Success: You don't have to start from scratch. Locate that person in your company who's skilled at sourcing feedback, whether it’s through formal channels or informal. Is there a successful initiative already being used that has employee buy-in and trust? Expand upon it. Be open to the possibility of combining out-of-the-box HR solutions with creative thinkers who have gained employee trust already, like an employee who is an advocate for feedback and has created their own meeting agenda with a weekly check-in question, or an ERG that sends out quarterly surveys about DEI initiatives.
Things to Avoid: An organization is going to inherently think that they're doing well, and that wrongdoing doesn't exist in their workplace. So, when you evaluate your organization’s methods for collecting feedback, be sure to remain objective. Just because a channel for feedback exists doesn't mean that it's being used or well-received. Have enough awareness to cut losses and innovate forward, because continuing to use a badly-received process, even if it's paired with something new, won't improve the atmosphere.
Action: Now it's time to build. This includes formulating a feedback strategy, establishing the goals you want to achieve with the strategy, getting leadership and employees aligned on the same goals, and evaluating and selecting a feedback management platform to use. Here are some questions you should ask while building your feedback strategy:
The best strategy will be comprehensive and transparent. Plan to flesh out and share details on what the feedback response process will look like, and be transparent on how reports will be collected, how anonymity will be maintained, and how feedback will be addressed and acted upon.
Tips for Success: The easiest approach? One single tool through which you can easily encourage, record, track, anonymize, and analyze all forms of feedback. Think about how ineffective it is to track a direct message channel for instant feedback, a shared email for more formal feedback, a suggestion box, a whistleblower hotline, annual surveys... Not just track, but ensure each is being acted upon and resolved. Additionally, it’s challenging to compile the data and responses from each channel to track ongoing issues, the number of responses, how quantitative survey questions are changing, and other metrics tracking. It may seem daunting, but the consolidation of your current channels will be worth the time and effort in the long run.
Things to Avoid: Be clear on what employee feedback actually is, because "employee feedback" may mean "performance reviews"—i.e., manager feedback to employees about their performance—to those you're trying to get aligned to this new initiative. Or, they may think that since they already survey and check in with their teams, or have a "My door is always open" stance, then they're covered. But, as we've seen, there's much more work to do, and since the power has shifted to employees, there are new ways that employers need to think about feedback.
Action: Leadership can implement all the new initiatives they want, but it must be something employees feel they need and will actively use. The next step is to get employee feedback on employee feedback. If you're truly serious about implementing a feedback process that will be effective, and to demonstrate that you're committed to listening to your employees, source their feedback in the pre-planning stage. What has worked well, what hasn't? What's missing? This not only demonstrates the commitment to improvement, but being transparent about a new initiative, and receptive to feedback about it, will begin to build employee buy-in and excitement, and can surface advocates of the initiative who will spread the word.
Tips for Success: Make sure to have a diverse planning committee involved in building the strategy for the feedback initiative, especially considering that women, people of color, and entry-level employees are more likely to be hindered from giving feedback. Include a diversity of genders, races, employment levels, longevity at the company, and more. Treat the planning group like a microcosm of the initiative to come and give everyone at the table a voice. If you're not finding a range of volunteers, consider monetary or other incentives. Or, put out a call for nominations: Employees already know who in the office is sourcing feedback well, or those who are all-in with other engagement, morale, or DEI initiatives.
Things to Avoid: If you're not the one who runs your company, be sure to get buy-in from a member of the executive team. The tone from the top will affect employee buy-in, as they will see that their organization is truly serious about the initiative. Messaging from the top will also serve to align everyone under one goal.
Action: The successful rollout of a new employee feedback program isn't sending an all-staff email that it's been implemented, and moving onto the next job duty. It's going to take time to fully implement a new feedback program and—most importantly—to make it part of the workplace culture. Talk up the initiative and promote it constantly; overcommunication is a positive thing here, because more usage and adoption will lead to improved lives and an improved workplace. In addition to that launch email, send out company-wide reminders, incorporate quotes or reviews about the program from employees in the weekly newsletter, set aside time at the weekly or monthly staff meeting to talk about its importance, encourage managers to make it part of their one-on-ones, and add a link to the feedback form in your employee handbook, or even in your email signature.
Tips for Success: Don't source, choose, and implement a feedback platform, and then never leverage that platform's teams' expertise or resources. They can walk you through the process, from building your strategy to roll-out, and can help you develop your program, iterate based on early feedback, and provide educational resources, too. Invite them for a visit to an all-staff meeting to talk a bit about the platform as well, give a walk-through, or ease fears around anonymity and security.
Things to Avoid: Avoid being afraid of overcommunicating or oversaturating your employees with news of the initiative. You want them to use the new tools, and employees will respond positively when they see you consistently communicating that you care about what they have to say, are dedicated to encouraging their feedback, and that you're being transparent about the way you want their feedback. It also helps keep the way to report feedback top-of-mind, so when an issue does arise, your employees will know exactly where to go and what to do.
Action: Of course, keep in mind the end goals of implementing a feedback program: Resolving the issues in the workplace that arise. The good thing is that with a centralized feedback management platform that allows for easy gathering and tracking of reports, it should be much easier to see those reports through to completion. And once they’re completed, talk about it. Share the actions taken from the feedback and how it improved the workplace, from big things to small things. This will make the employee who gave the feedback feel like they've been heard and valued, and feel like they're contributing to the improvement of their workplace. Seeing that action is being taken will encourage others to give feedback, too.
Tips for Success: There's value in being transparent and vocal about issues that arise. Some feedback will be more heavy, private matters, but some feedback may be general workplace or operational suggestions, like expressing their concern over a lack of remote or hybrid work options. The best organizations will recognize that multiple pieces of feedback around the same topic can lead to a broad company-wide discussion about it, and may lead to new initiatives.
Things to Avoid: What not to share? Confidential, anonymous, or sensitive feedback. This means not talking about the topic, or sharing quotes from the feedback, or anything that would undercut the trust you've worked so hard to build. Additionally, keep stats about the feedback quiet as well, and don't share the number of reports you've received on one topic or another.
Making sure employees feel safe is the priority. So if your organization has decided that now is the time to implement an employee feedback program, follow the above steps to thoughtfully and deliberately roll it out. The increased employee trust and engagement, the impact on culture, and the impact on the bottom line will be worth it.