Employee feedback is an incredibly important tool for businesses to be able to assess employee engagement and morale, learn more about job performance, hear about workload concerns, and even surface issues around harassment, bias, and workplace safety.
But employee feedback only works when there’s a commitment on both sides.
Employers need to commit to asking for feedback, and addressing it when they get it. Employees also need to commit to giving open and honest feedback about their experience. Otherwise, employees don’t feel listened to, and employers are blind to what’s going on in their workplace.
Are workplaces succeeding in soliciting feedback from their employees? Have they offered multiple channels to do so, communicate the value of feedback, and act on the feedback they receive? Or are employers simply sending out a yearly engagement survey, collecting data without any action, and checking a box on their feedback commitments?
We wanted to know if this process is indeed functioning the way it should across workplace cultures and environments — or if the feedback process is broken overall, and is in drastic need of mending.
On March 29, 2021, we surveyed 817 individuals from the US who are employed full time, to ask them about the feedback programs at their workplace, if they’ve ever given feedback, and ways employers can improve employee feedback.
Here are some of the insights we gained into employee feedback:
36% either don’t have a feedback program or aren’t aware of one at their company. Additionally, 37% either don’t have an open-door policy at their workplace, they don’t know about one, or work has a policy that’s not being upheld.
79% have shared feedback with their employer. 21% have not because they either didn’t have feedback, or they felt it wasn’t important, it wouldn’t be confidential, nothing would be done about it, or they feared repercussions.
Only 38% believe that feedback will lead to complete change. 44% believe that only incremental change will come of giving feedback, and 18% believe no change will come of giving feedback.
74% would be more inclined to share feedback if it’s truly anonymous. However, 16% still wouldn’t share because they doubt it would be truly anonymous, and 11% still wouldn’t share feedback regardless of anonymity.
41% have left a job because they didn’t feel listened to. Additionally, 37% have left a job because they felt feedback wasn’t being taken seriously in their workplace.
Some appreciate feedback simply because it happens, but others need action. 44% say feedback makes them feel heard simply because their workplace asked, but 40% need to see action come from giving feedback to feel truly heard.
Employers can improve by implementing change, ensuring anonymity, and normalizing feedback. Employees want to see their employers take feedback seriously and take action, ensure that their workplace has 100% anonymous feedback channels, and make giving and receiving feedback a part of work culture.
Part I: Who We Surveyed
On March 29, 2021 we surveyed 817 individuals from the US who are employed full time, either for hourly pay or salaried, in order to better understand their experience with employee feedback programs at their workplace.
53.6% of our respondents are female, and 46.4% are male. Our largest respondent group ranges in age from 35 to 44 (39.7%), with the next largest group ages 25 through 34 (25%). 6.1% are between the ages of 18 and 24, 16.7% are between ages 45 and 54, and 12.6% are above 54.
Most are mid-level in their position at their company
When it comes to the role at their company, over half of our respondents are mid-level (56.2%) employees. 15.7% are entry-level, and 28.2% are senior-level.
Most work in medium-sized businesses
Our respondents are evenly spread out across companies of different sizes, but the majority (34.3%) work at medium-sized companies, with 100 to 999 employees. 21.1% work at small companies with less than 100 employees, 29.6% work at large companies with between 1000 and 9999 employees, and 15.1% work at enterprise companies with 10000+ employees.
61% manage someone at work
Since the majority of our respondents are mid-level, we wanted to know if they manage anyone. 61.4% are responsible for managing someone at work, while 38.6% are not.
The majority have been at their workplace for over five years
Next, we wanted to know about longevity at their company, and our respondents skew having been at their workplace longer. Only 8.6% have been there less than six months, while 11.9% have been there between six months and one year. 36.8% have been at their company between one and five years, and 42.7% have been there over five years.
45% work full time in a workplace, while 30% work fully remotely
Since engagement functions differently between in-person and remote work, we wanted to know who was in an office and who was not. Nearly half of our respondents (44.6%) replied that they are in a workplace full-time, while 30.4% are fully remote workers. One-quarter (25.1%) are split between in-person and remote work.
Our 817 respondents come from a variety of work experiences. They’re entry-level or senior, have been in their workplace for only a few months or have been there for a number of years. They work at small businesses and large enterprise companies. They work in an office, remotely, or a hybrid of both. Some manage others and some don’t.
This means that they have a variety of experience with how feedback is asked for and given: Big companies probably have a different approach than small companies, senior-level employees may approach feedback differently than entry-level, and remote workers may have different needs around feedback than in-person employees do. These variety of experiences help inform the questions we asked.
Part II: Employee Feedback Programs
The old adage is that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” which is why employee feedback is incredibly helpful to an organization: It allows them to get a sense of employee engagement, what’s positive about the culture, and issues that need to be addressed. Yet employers approach gathering feedback in different ways, so we wanted a better understanding of what programs are being used, how often they’re being used, and what employees are sharing — or if they’re sharing anything at all.
36% either don’t have a feedback program or aren’t aware of one at their company
We started with the basics: Does your employer have a program in place that routinely asks for feedback from workers? 63.6% replied that yes, their employer does have some kind of feedback program available. But 24.7% replied no, that their employer does not have a program for feedback in place. Additionally, 11.6% responded that even if their employer does, they’re not aware of it.
This means that 36.3% of employees are not being actively asked by their employer to provide feedback, nor do they have a method through which to do so.
Companies most frequently encourage in-person feedback, followed by engagement surveys
If their employer does have a feedback program, we were curious about what that program looked like, and asked our respondents to choose all that applied. The most frequently used program is encouraging in-person feedback at either a manager meeting or a team meeting (55.3%). Next, respondents cited that their workplace uses yearly or bi-annual engagement surveys to solicit feedback (47%). Workplaces also use more frequent pulse surveys (35.6%), as well as digital suggestion boxes (31.4%) and physical suggestion boxes (23.6%). Those who replied “Other” cite that their employer uses annual performance reviews, quarterly manager meetings, or that they encourage direct email.
Most employers asked for feedback once a month or once a quarter
Next, we wanted to know how often they ask for feedback, and found that the frequency varies. For 20.3%, it’s a weekly ask for feedback. For 23.7%, it’s once a month. For 23.5%, it’s once a quarter. For 19.3%, it’s once a year. For 13.1%, it’s never, or they are not aware of asks for feedback happening.
We also found that the frequency of asking for feedback depends on the size of the organization, too. Small and medium businesses look for feedback weekly or monthly — more frequently — while large and enterprise businesses look for feedback quarterly or yearly — less frequently.
79% have shared feedback with their employer, while 21% have not
Now that we know the frequency at which feedback is asked for, and through what methods, we wanted to know if our respondents had ever given feedback. 79.4% have given feedback to their employer; 20.6% have not.
Not surprisingly, the percentage of respondents who have shared feedback goes up with seniority: 74.2% of entry-level employees have shared, while 86.1% of senior level have shared. Additionally, only 57.1% of those who have been in their workplace for less than 6 months have shared, whereas 82.8% of those who have been in their workplace for over five years have shared. This could simply be timing — the longer you’re there, the most likely it is you’ve shared feedback — but it could also signal that the more senior level you are, the more comfortable you are with giving feedback.
Additionally, 77% of women say they’ve given feedback as compared to 82.3% of men.
Employees are sharing feedback through surveys or in-person meetings
When they shared feedback, in what way did they do it? The majority of our respondents are sharing their feedback through a survey, whether it be a pulse survey or a larger engagement survey (57.5%). The next popular way of sharing has been through an in-person meeting (50.9%). Respondents have also shared feedback via an email directly to their manager (38.1%).
Only 17.1% report that they shared feedback through an anonymous hotline. Those who answered “Other” mention feedback on a suggestion card or through a drop box, or giving feedback through a peer rep from the department.
Employees are sharing about improving morale, praise for a coworker, or concerns about workload
We wanted to know what type of feedback was being shared the most, and here’s what we found:
- Improving employee morale (42.7%)
- Positive feedback on a coworker (41.8%)
- Concerns about workload or stress (37.3%)
- Feedback on company culture (32.8%)
- Workplace safety (31.9%)
- Feedback on company transparency and communication (29%)
- Job duty dissatisfaction (24%)
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion issues (20.8%)
- Pay inequity (18.3%)
- Unfair treatment or favoritism (16.2%)
- Harassment (14%)
- “Other” responses include improving the customer experience, asking for a raise, concerns over job materials or work equipment, office space layout, training questions, and work duties
Employees are most sharing concerns about employee morale and ways to improve engagement, as well as concerns around workload and work stress, company culture, and workplace safety. What’s being shared the least, however, are concerns about harassment, bias, pay discrepancies, and diversity and inclusion issues — which are also impactful and potentially detrimental issues to the company.
Employees don’t share because they feel it’s not important enough, it wouldn’t be confidential, or that nothing would be done
For those who have not shared feedback with their employer, we wanted to know why. For 30.7%, they simply didn’t have any feedback to share.
But for 21%, they didn’t feel as if it wasn’t big enough or important enough to share. 17.1% didn’t share because they were concerned about it being confidential or anonymous, 14.1% didn’t share because they didn’t think anything would be done about the feedback, and 12.2% didn’t share because they feared repercussions.
Among the answers in “Other,” one respondent noted that no one asks, they worry about repercussions, and know nothing will change. Another noted that their employer only asks yes or no questions on surveys, and doesn’t leave room for other written feedback.
For women, their primary reasons for not sharing were concerns around confidentiality or anonymity (18.6%), and thinking it wasn’t important enough to share (17.7%).
For entry-level employees, their primary reasons for not sharing were being afraid of repercussions (22.5%) and thinking it wasn’t important enough to share (20%).
For remote workers, the biggest reason they didn’t share was because they had concerns around confidentiality and anonymity (24%), but for in-person workers, they didn’t share because they thought nothing would be done about it (19.4%).
37% don’t have an open-door policy — or they do and it’s not being upheld
We often hear about workplaces having open-door policies (whether it be a physical or metaphorical door) that invite employees to be able to approach managers or others in leadership to give feedback freely. 63.2% of our respondents replied that their workplace does have an open-door policy.
However, 19.1% responded that while their workplace does have an open-door policy, the workplace doesn’t uphold it — meaning that they say they’re open to employee feedback, but their actions suggest they’re not. Additionally, 7.8% replied that their workplace does not have an open-door policy, and 9.9% thought their workplace might but they were not aware of it. This means that 36.8% of employees are not given an “open door” to giving feedback at their workplace.
In looking at company size when it comes to open-door policies, we also found inconsistencies. Respondents who work at large and enterprise businesses had higher responses of “Maybe, but I’m not aware of it,” at 12.4% and 11.4% respectively. Medium-sized businesses were more likely to have an open-door policy that isn’t upheld (22.5%). And small businesses weren’t likely to have a policy at all (14.5%).
When it comes to employee feedback programs, employers are utilizing a number of different approaches, including encouraging in-person feedback at meetings, engagement and pulse surveys, and digital or physical suggestion boxes. They tend to ask for feedback monthly or quarterly. If employees do give feedback, they tend to do so through engagement or pulse surveys first, then through an in-person meeting or email.
But that’s if employees give feedback, not when they give feedback. We found that 36% of respondents report that their company either doesn’t have a mechanism for feedback in place, or if the company does, the respondent isn’t aware of it. Additionally, 37% report that their company either doesn’t have an open-door policy that would welcome feedback, does and they’re not aware of it, or does have an open-door policy that the company doesn’t uphold.
Additionally, many haven’t given feedback because they felt it wasn’t important enough (though there may not be such a thing as feedback that isn’t important enough), they were concerned about anonymity, they felt nothing would change, or they were afraid of repercussions for giving feedback. In our next section, we’ll look more at these impacts of sharing feedback.
Part III: Impacts of Feedback
Feedback is a two-way street: Employers should actively solicit feedback from their employees, employees should feel safe and eager to give feedback, and then employers should take action on that feedback. But is this loop happening? Are employees feeling that their employers are proactively addressing feedback, or is their employer’s inaction around feedback enough to make them think about leaving the company in general?
Only 38% believe that change will come from sharing critical feedback
Now that we know one of the reasons why our respondents are not sharing feedback is because they don’t think anything would be done about it, we wanted to bring that question to the whole group: If you had critical feedback to share with your employer, do you believe any change would come of it? Only 38.2% believe that change would come. But nearly half our respondents (43.9%) felt that change would only be incremental, or that the issue would be somewhat resolved. 17.9% believed no, that change would not come out of their sharing feedback. This points to an underlying issue of mistrust in the entire process.
In looking at different segments, we found that women are less likely to believe change would happen; only 29.5% replied that they believed change would be made. This is compared to male respondents, where 48.3% believe change will be made.
Interestingly, 37.5% of entry-level employees believe complete change will come from sharing critical feedback. However, this number goes down to 30.7% with mid-level employees, then goes up to 53.5% with senior-level employees. This could be due to optimism when first starting, then perhaps seeing change not come about at mid-level, then knowing that they themselves can affect the change at senior-level.
35% believe their employers to be very receptive to feedback, and 45% believe them to be somewhat receptive
Overall, how receptive to feedback do they believe their employers to be? Only 35% answered that they believe their employer to be very receptive to feedback. 44.6% replied that they believe their employer to be somewhat receptive to feedback, which means that their company is sending an inconsistent message..
14.3% replied that their employer is somewhat unreceptive, and for 6.1%, they believe their employer to be very unreceptive to feedback, which fosters a culture of silence.
We found a big split in responses from entry-level and senior-level employees here. For entry-level, only 30.5% believed their employer to be very receptive to feedback, yet 52.6% of senior-level felt their employer was receptive. There was also a lower response among respondents who work in large or enterprise businesses (32.2%).
Those who manage employees felt that their employer was very receptive as well (42.2%) — perhaps because they manage part of the feedback process. This is, in comparison to those who do not manage anyone, where only 23.5% felt their employer was very receptive to feedback.
74% say they would be more inclined to share feedback if it was truly anonymous
Since we learned that employees didn’t share feedback because they were concerned about it being anonymous, we wanted to know if they would be more inclined to share feedback if it was anonymous. 73.8% replied that yes, they would be more inclined to share feedback if they could do so fully anonymously. 15.5% said they still wouldn’t share because they would doubt if it were truly anonymous. 10.6% said that no, they still wouldn’t share the feedback anyhow.
In looking at those who manage employees and those who don’t, 80.3% of managers said they would be more inclined to share if anonymous, with 7% saying they wouldn't share, and 12.8% having concerns about true anonymity.
Yet for those who do not manage anyone, only 63.5% would be more inclined to share if it was anonymous; 16.5% still wouldn’t share anyway, and 20% wouldn’t over concerns about true anonymity — meaning they’re more likely to stay silent than their managers.
For female respondents, 69.9% said they would be more inclined to share, but 11.4% still wouldn’t, and 18.7% have concerns around anonymity. This is in comparison to 78.4% of male respondents saying they would be more inclined, 9.8% who still wouldn’t share, and 11.9% who have concerns over true anonymity.
41% have left a job because they didn’t feel listened to
Knowing that positive employee engagement is a key part of employee retention, we wanted to know if our respondents have ever left a job because they felt like they weren’t being listened to. 41.3% replied that yes, they had left a job for that reason, and 18.2% replied that they hadn’t left, but have thought about it — which means 59.4% have considered a job change because of a lack of feedback. 40.5% have not left their job because of this reason.
The number of those who have left slightly raises with senior-level employees to 46.5%. This is in comparison to entry-level, where 36.7% have left, and mid-level, where 39.9% have left.
But where this number jumps is with fully-remote workers, where half (49.6%) have left a position because they felt they weren’t listened to. This is in comparison to in-person workers, where only 33.8% have left. This signals the importance of listening and asking for feedback with a remote workforce, who may find it easier to simply leave — or who may be cut out of feedback channels that in-person workers typically have access to.
37% have left a job because they felt feedback wasn’t taken seriously
Similarly, we wanted to know if any of our respondents have left a job because they felt that feedback wasn’t being taken seriously. 36.5% replied that yes they have left a job because of this, and an additional 20.1% hadn’t left but thought about it, for a total of 56.6%. 43.5% replied that they had not left a job because of this reason.
The number of those who have left slightly raises with senior-level employees to 39.6%. This is in comparison to entry-level, which is about the same at 39.1%, and mid-level, where 34.2% have left.
Like above, we also saw that employees who are fully remote are more likely to leave a position because of this reason (43.6%) than in-person employees (30%).
44% feel feedback does make them feel heard, simply because they’re asked — but 40% need to see action
Since our respondents have left positions because they didn’t feel like they were being listened to, we wanted to know how they felt about employee feedback programs: Do they help them feel heard, or are they empty initiatives? For 43.8%, employee feedback initiatives do make them feel like they’re being heard, simply because the employer is asking and the initiative exists. For 40.4%, however, they only feel like they’re heard when they see something done about the feedback given — it’s not enough that the initiative exists, but something has to be done. 15.8% replied that initiatives in general do not help them feel heard.
Other segments who replied that feedback made them feel more heard simply because they were asked include entry-level employees (42.2%), senior-level employees (59.1%), fully-remote employees (49.2%), and men (56%). Segments who said they only felt heard when they saw something done include mid-level employees (47.3%), in-person employees (41.2%), and women (46.5%).
Ways employers can improve include implementing change, ensuring anonymity, and normalize giving feedback
Finally, what could employers do to improve the employee feedback process? We asked our respondents to choose all that applied, and here’s what they wanted:
Take feedback seriously and implement change (68.4%): This was the primary thing respondents want to see employers do. Don’t just have a feedback program to have a feedback program, but make efforts to fully resolve the issues that arise, and show that action is being taken.
Ensure anonymity and confidentiality (57.3%): We saw above that employees would be more willing to provide feedback if it was anonymous. Employers need to think through ways to provide anonymous and confidential channels in order to get more authentic feedback.
Normalize giving and receiving feedback in the workplace culture (40.7%): Employers should also look at ways to better weave in various methods of feedback to make it part of workplace culture, so that employees know that giving feedback is just something they all do.
Showcase and talk about the changes taken as a direct result of feedback (36.1%): In addition to taking action when issues arise, employers can also be more vocal about the steps taken to address the feedback they receive. If employees know action will be taken, they’ll be more inclined to give feedback.
Stress the importance of feedback more (35.5%): Again, if employers increase the conversation around the importance of giving feedback, it will become more of a part of company culture.
Solicit feedback in-person or at team meetings rather than through a survey (31.7%): Employers can’t just rely on gathering data from a survey, where employees may not be able to fully express their feedback, but should actively build a culture of face-to-face feedback, relationships, and engagement.
When it comes to the impact of feedback, employees feel like there’s something missing. 38% believe that if they share critical feedback, change won’t be made, and while 80% say they believe their workplace is receptive to feedback, over half of that number feel that their employer is only “somewhat” receptive, not fully receptive. Additionally, 41% have left a job in the past because they didn’t feel that their employee listened to them. These aren’t just statistics: This reflects a reality where morale, engagement, and retention are significantly impacted.
So what can employers do? While many of our respondents felt heard simply because they were asked, many said they wouldn’t feel heard until there was action, and that’s the primary steps they suggested: Employers need to take feedback seriously and implement change from it. This can not only build confidence and trust, it can elicit more feedback if others see something will be done about it. Respondents also want employers to ensure anonymity — 74% say they’d be more inclined to share feedback if it were truly anonymous — and to normalize giving and receiving feedback so that it’s not an unfamiliar, once-a-year thing.
What we’ve found is that while in some cases, the system of employee feedback is working to not only surface issues and ideas, but that action is also taken to remedy what’s been surfaced. However, many employees feel unheard by their workplace, and doubtful any change will come from what they tell their employer. They also want to see changes in the form of offering more anonymous reporting, and normalizing feedback in the culture. And if employees don’t feel heard or that their feedback is doing any good, they’ve shown that they’ll leave a company for another.
For employers, having a robust feedback program in place isn’t just about getting some survey data. It’s a way to connect with employees, boost their morale and engagement, and retain them for the long term.