How To Respond To Negative Feedback

Sophia Lee
March 2, 2021

Most companies recognize the value of collecting employee feedback. But that’s only half the equation. The way you respond to what your employees are saying – especially when the feedback is negative – can have a huge impact on your company culture. 

When employees don’t feel heard, they may perceive a lack of psychological safety and be discouraged from sharing feedback in the future. On the other hand, when employees feel like they’re being listened to, they’re 4.6 times more likely to be empowered to perform to the best of their abilities. 

How to respond to negative employee feedback

While every company’s response to negative employee feedback will vary, we outlined four recommendations to help you get started on the right path.

1. Understand the big picture

When analyzing employee feedback, it’s helpful to take a step back and understand the big picture – rather than focusing on a single comment. While it’s important that every piece of feedback be given proper attention, the ultimate goal is to identify holistic trends that are occurring in the organization so you know where action needs to be taken. For example, let’s say you received the following feedback: 

  • “I don’t feel like I have anyone to talk to about my mental health issues.” 
  • “My manager shuts down when I try to bring up concerns about my workload.” 
  • “The leadership team doesn’t seem to recognize how stressed employees are.”  

All of these comments are slightly different, but they point to the fact that employees are looking to their employer for more space, resources, and education around wellbeing in the workplace. They could also indicate that there are problems when it comes to creating a psychologically safe environment for employees. 

It may be tempting to skip this step and just follow your intuition on which piece of negative feedback to focus on. But keep in mind that humans naturally bring biases into the decision-making process, which frequently lead them astray. The more objective you can make the analysis of the feedback, the better.   

2. Prioritize which issues to take action on

After identifying a handful of themes from the negative feedback, choose one to two issues to prioritize. If you try to address all the problems at once, you’ll likely end up overwhelming your resources and making promises to employees that can’t be kept. You can always revisit issues down the road when the time is right. 

It can be difficult to sort which issues to tackle first. Again, you don’t want to rely on your intuition for this. Instead, use the following questions to guide your decision-making process:

  • Is this issue affecting a significant number of our employees? 
  • Does this issue undermine our company goals, values, and mission? 
  • Do we have the resources to effectively address this issue?
  • Will we see tangible and impactful outcomes by addressing this issue? 

If you want to take this process a step further, create a “scorecard” and ask several managers or senior leaders to fill one out for each issue. This will help you more objectively identify which problems to focus on first. After narrowing down the list to one or two issues, work with company leaders to design a program or initiative that will directly address the problem you’re trying to solve.

3. Communicate next steps to the organization

Once a plan is in place – whether that’s launching a new wellbeing initiative or introducing a new policy – communicate the next steps to the rest of the organization as soon as possible. Timeliness is key here. Why? An unpleasant employee experience can negatively impact psychological safety by up to 35%, so the last thing you want to do is to leave these issues unaddressed for longer than necessary. 

When communicating with your employees, make sure to provide all the necessary information. This includes an overview of the constructive feedback that was received, how the company decided which issues to focus on first, and what the plan of action looks like – including goals, timeline, and intended outcomes. Here are additional recommendations to keep in mind: 

  • Choose the right time and place. Be mindful when communicating with the rest of the organization. While it’s usually appropriate to share updates during company-wide gatherings, some issues require more sensitivity. Sexual harassment, for instance, may be a topic that’s better communicated in smaller groups or between managers and their respective teams. 
  • Encourage employees to continue sharing feedback. While the plan of action is being implemented, encourage your workforce to continue sharing feedback with the organization. This not only strengthens your culture of feedback but also shows employees that their thoughts, suggestions, and ideas still matter in this stage of the process. You can also use the feedback to make adjustments to the initiative, as needed. 
  • Have a separate conversation with managers. HR needs the cooperation of managers to effectively create change within an organization. That’s why it’s important to have a separate conversation, or even a dedicated training session, with managers to help them understand why certain actions are being taken, what their role is, and how they can best support their employees when it comes to the issues that are being addressed. 

4. Measure progress 

It’s not enough to launch an action plan and assume that it’ll be successful. HR teams need to follow through and make sure their initiative is having the intended impact. Again, this strengthens your culture of feedback because employees will see that their comments are being heard and acted on, which encourages them to continue making suggestions.

Pulse surveys are a great way to measure progress. Use this tool to collect information about sentiment, outcomes, and impact. Once you have the data in hand, share progress with the rest of the organization so everyone is on the same page and knows that this initiative is making a difference. You can also use the feedback you collected to inform future programs. 
It’s always tough to receive negative feedback from your workforce. But this is also an opportunity for your organization to address problems early and create a workplace where employees feel safe, heard, and appreciated for speaking up about the issues that matter to them.

Are you interested in providing your employees with a safe, anonymous way to report issues? Request a demo to learn more about AllVoices.

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