The State of HR Departments and Employee Feedback

20 Min Read
The AllVoices Team
November 2, 2021

The last thing any organization wants to see is their name making headlines for failure to address their employees’ issues. But we know that’s the world we’re in right now: Employees, frustrated with how organizations are ignoring reported internal issues like discrimination, bias, and harassment, or who have experienced retaliation because of their reports, are turning to social media as a way to expose the truth of their situation and hold their organization accountable.

Issues in the workplace never start at the social media level. They begin with employees who either don’t have channels through which to give feedback and raise concerns at work, who do have channels but see that reports don’t get addressed or resolved, or who have reported in the past and suffered consequences for doing so.

Part of the challenge isn’t just creating a welcoming, encouraging environment where employees feel safe and eager to report. It’s having the tools and resources available to HR departments to be able to receive, track, and resolve those reports. It’s also aligning feedback options with how employees are most willing to report, to ensure that all issues are being raised before they balloon out of control.

In this report, we’ll look at the ways HR professionals approach collecting feedback, assumptions they make about the quality of the feedback they receive, how they’re managing that feedback once it gets into their office, and how they intend to address feedback needs into the future.

Methodology:

On September 6, 2021, we surveyed 209 HR leaders that held manager, supervisor, leader, director, VP, or executive level roles. The survey was conducted online via PollFish.com using organic sampling through Random Device Engagement (RDE). 

Key Findings

Here are our key findings from surveying 209 HR professionals about how they manage employee feedback.

Only 47% believe their feedback methods are very effective. Additionally, 25% believe their methods of gathering feedback are “not very effective” at all.

More options, and more digital options would help. HR departments believe that the key to more feedback is by offering more options to employees.

72% believe that the feedback they receive isn’t honest. Additionally, only 38% of HR leaders are “highly confident” they’re hearing about workplace issues.

53% believe employees are more likely to share feedback through anonymous channels. HR professionals also believe that the primary reason employees don’t report is because of fear of retaliation.

The top challenge for HR departments is managing employee feedback. They believe that user-friendly platforms, encouragement from leadership, and more awareness will encourage more reporting.

Part 1: Profile of Who We Surveyed

On September 6, 2021, we surveyed 209 HR leaders in the U.S. All of our respondents hold titles of manager, supervisor, leader, director, VP, or an executive level role.

The majority fall between the ages of 25 and 44 (59.8%), while 19.1% are between the ages of 18 and 24, 9.6% 4 are between the ages of 5 and 54, and 11.5% are over the age of 54. 

The majority of respondents (25.8%) work in HR in the technology sector. The next largest sectors represented are services (8.1%) and retail (8.1%), finance (7.7%), and state and local government (6.7%).

Our HR respondents are also somewhat evenly distributed across company size: 23% work in a small business with 1-100 employees; 29.7% work in a medium-sized business with 100-999 employees; 27.3% work in a large business with 1,000-10,000 employees; and 20.1% work in a major corporation with over 10,000 employees.

The average HR team size for our respondents is either 31-40 people (18.2%) or over 51 people (18.2%). 12% work on teams with 1-3 people; 17.2% work on teams with 4-10 people; 11% work on teams with 11-20 people; 10% work on teams with 21-30 people; and 13.4% work on teams with 41-50 people.

Section Summary:

In brief, our respondents are HR leaders spread across differently-sized companies, mostly in the technology sector.

Part 2: Available Feedback Options and Their Usage

Collecting employee feedback and surfacing issues in the workplace starts with having methods of collecting it, and ensuring that employees are actually using those channels. What options for feedback are out there, and how well do HR professionals believe they’re working? Are there also better options that aren’t being utilized that might be more favorable to employees?

Pulse surveys, whistleblower hotlines, and face-to-face reporting are the most utilized.

Since we want to learn more about HR teams’ work with employee-reported feedback, we first wanted to learn what types of feedback are typically offered to employees the most and least frequently. It seems that all of the options provided are being offered in some capacity, but here’s what we found (we asked them to choose all that apply):

Pulse surveys (48.3%): These are occasional check-ins — monthly, quarterly — to survey employee engagement, workload levels, and other metrics, and are the most frequently used by HR teams to gauge not just where their workforce stands currently, but can use the data gained from pulse surveys to compare changing attitudes over time.

Whistleblower hotline (44.5%): All companies are required to have a whistleblower hotline, which allows employees to anonymously report wrongdoing in the workplace, from fraud to harassment to discrimination. According to our respondents, HR teams rely on these methods a lot as well.

Performance reviews (42.6%): Usually held annually, performance reviews are the opportunity for managers to give feedback to and set goals with their employees, but it can also be used by employees to express praise or concern to their supervisors.

Open door policy/face-to-face reporting (40.7%): An open door policy encourages employees to “stop in” whenever they have questions or concerns about their workplace environment. The open door typically belongs to a manager, director, or HR.

Email/Slack (39.7%): Organizations are also encouraging their employees to use internal channels like sending messages via email or Slack to give feedback or report concerns.

Feedback meetings (34.9%): Another method is to hold feedback meetings, where employees are asked to share their thoughts about the work environment, raise any concerns or issues they see, and brainstorm about ways to improve the culture.

Exit interviews (32.5%): Exit interviews are another alternative in which to gain insights into the workplace environment — though unaddressed issues or concerns raised at an exit interview may be the reason why the person is leaving.

Suggestion box (34.9%): A less favorable method is to use a suggestion box, where employees can write out their feedback on slips of paper and drop them anonymously in a box.

Anonymous reporting options (34.5%): These reporting methods could include the aforementioned whistleblower hotlines, suggestion box, or any pulse surveys that are designated as anonymous. It could also include other anonymous options as well.

Engagement surveys (34%): Similar to pulse surveys, these are surveys conducted typically once a year that ask employees about their level of engagement at the organization, and what could be done to improve it. Even though most organizations give these, our HR respondents may not see engagement surveys as a way for employees to give feedback, and simply as a check-in.

Anonymous surveys (31.1%): The least employed resource, according to our respondents, are anonymous surveys. This could simply be because they don’t use them, or because they don’t have a method in which to give anonymous surveys.

Only 47% believe their feedback methods are very effective.

In terms of the effectiveness of these various methods in gathering open and honest feedback from employees, 47.4% of respondents feel that their methods are “very effective” at gathering honest feedback. 27.3% feel that they’re “somewhat effective,” and 25.4% believe they’re “not very effective” at gathering honest insights and feedback.

For the quarter of HR leaders who have feedback tools that are ineffective, if those respondents are aware that their tools are not effective, why keep using them? Why not find tools that are effective at gathering feedback, and that can help improve employee experience and workplace culture? We wouldn’t want to think that they’re just putting out feedback tools just to check a box and say they’re doing something without committing to improving the workplace. But what might really be going on is they don’t know any other alternatives: as we’ll see, many HRs are unaware of better methods, or simply don’t have the resources to try other options. 

More options, and more digital, virtual, or automated options would help encourage feedback.

What methods do our HR respondents believe would help encourage employees to give feedback more often? Here’s what they thought would be most effective (we asked them to choose one):

Having more options to gather feedback (23.4%): Our HR respondents believe that having more options available to employees will help encourage more reporting, as more options give employees the ability to give feedback in ways they’re most comfortable — especially if they’re anonymous channels. We’ve found in our reports that if given an anonymous option to do so, 74% of employees would be more likely to report issues and share feedback.

Having more automated/digital/virtual options for them to report (21.5%): As the world quickly shifts to virtual tools and automation, as well as towards a younger workforce, HR departments are seeing the benefit in moving feedback tools to digital. Considering that 36% of employees say that they either don’t have a feedback program or aren’t aware of one at their company, offering more options might also help raise awareness to feedback channels as well.

Other options include:

Having a culture that encourages trust (12%): Having tools available is helpful, but also having a culture that encourages and supports giving feedback is key to encouraging more reporting.

Having a central location where employees know where to submit feedback (12%): Often employees don’t necessarily know how to report feedback, so having a centralized place where they can should encourage more reporting. 

Having higher frequency of reporting meetings/options (10.5%): Another way to encourage feedback might be to have more frequent feedback meetings, more frequent messaging, or more frequent surveys, so that the topic of reporting stays top-of-mind.

Having systems in place to help build trust (10.5%): Similar to the answer above, having systems in place that build trust — like structured ways to submit feedback, or ways to track a report to see if it was resolved — can encourage more reporting.

Having an anonymous way for them to report (10.1%): Similar to the answer above, putting anonymous channels in place may be one of the options that our respondents believe could increase feedback in their organization.

49% believe that offering anonymous feedback would improve company culture.

We already know that if given an anonymous option to do so, 74% of employees would be more likely to report issues and share feedback — and this number jumps to 85% when specifically reporting harassment. But how do our HR respondents think about how offering an anonymous option to report feedback will affect company culture? 48.8% of our respondents believe that offering an anonymous option would improve company culture. However, 27.8% believe it would deteriorate company culture. 23.4% weren’t sure either way.

The half that say it will most likely improve company culture are probably aware that employees are more likely to report issues and wrongdoing in the workplace if given an anonymous option through which to do so. If employees are more inclined to report through anonymous channels, then more workplace issues will surface and the workplace environment will improve, which can improve engagement, happiness, and productivity.

However, the 27.8% who say that having anonymous feedback would deteriorate company culture are somewhat common, as there are companies who won’t allow anonymous feedback. They insist that all feedback must be given face to face, and say that anonymous reporting hurts trust and transparency. But that approach doesn’t consider the reality of those who fear speaking up, or can’t take the risk to speak up, specifically women, minorities, and entry-level employees. So the question is whether anonymous reporting will in fact deteriorate company culture, or if some HR departments just think it will, but aren’t necessarily aware of the reality of their employees’ needs.

49% of HR leaders would be very surprised if they saw their company in the news for an HR-related scandal.

Presuming that HR knows the dynamics of their employees, and effectively gathers feedback on their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, we wanted to know how surprised our respondents would be if they saw their company in the news for an HR-related scandal. In other words, how surprised would they be if something was going on in their workplace that didn’t get brought to their attention, or taken care of properly?

48.8% of our respondents said they would be very surprised to see their company in the news, which means that they believe all internal issues are being raised and resolved. 24.9% said they would be somewhat surprised if their company made the news. However, 26.3% said they would not be very surprised at all, meaning that they know issues either aren’t being raised, or aren’t being resolved.

Considering that this number is self-reported about an HR department the respondent runs themself, it could be skewed a bit more favorably. But if only 48.8% is the favorable skew of HR departments believing that they’re doing their job in an air-tight way, then there’s a very real underlying concern that HR is not taking care of employee concerns thoroughly.

Section Summary:

What we found through our questions about the type of feedback options available to employees is that HR departments are most often using pulse surveys, whistleblower hotlines, and performance reviews to surface issues likes workload stress, safety issues, discrimination, and other things that can negatively impact the work environment.

However, only half of HR departments believe these methods are effective in actually gathering actionable feedback from employees, and only about half of HR departments believe that they’re addressing all necessary feedback before it could end up in the media. Yet the solution to being able to gather more actionable, honest feedback seems to be to offer more options to their employees.

This may be true, that by offering more options, employees can be more aware of the channels available, and pick which one suits them best. But it still begs the question: Will more options help, or will they crowd the space too much? What about fewer options, but that are the right options for employees, and that will increase reporting in the ways employees want the most?

Part 3: The State of Reporting

Soliciting employee feedback is for the purpose of improving the workplace culture, and surfacing issues or concerns that need to be addressed before they lead to lawsuits or employees leaving. But are those issues being surfaced, and is HR really receiving the open, honest feedback they need to improve the work culture?

72% of HR leaders believe that the feedback they receive isn’t 100% honest.

We wanted to know of the feedback our HR respondents receive, how much do they believe is honest feedback from employees? This wouldn’t necessarily mean true reports versus falsified reports, but reports that are genuine about the circumstances going on in the workplace, instead of glossing over the issue or saying that everything is fine when it’s not.

We found here that most HR professionals believe that their employees aren’t being genuine and honest about the issues they experience or the nature of the culture in which they work. Only 28.2% believe that the majority of the feedback they receive (76% to 100% of it) is honest. 31.1% of our respondents believe that only 51% to 75% of it is honest. 21.1% believe that only 26% to 50% of it is honest. Finally, 19.6% believe that 0% to 25% of feedback is honest. 

Only 38% are highly confident they’re hearing about policy issues or employee discomfort.

HR can’t do anything about issues they don’t know about. We wanted to understand how confident our HR respondents were that they were hearing about issues in the workplace, specifically breaches in company policy or employee discomfort in the workplace.

37.8% say that they’re “highly confident” that their employees are reporting issues in the workplace. While we would hope this number would be much higher, these HR respondents are most likely getting a steady, significant amount of feedback reports, and are able to interact with their employees in a trustworthy way to hear about issues.

23% say they’re somewhat confident they’re hearing complete feedback, which could mean that they’re getting reports, but perhaps lower than expected, or that issues are arising without them being aware of it.

15.8% of our respondents are not very confident they’re hearing about issues. This could be a work environment in which HR might be the last to know if issues are happening, when they should be the first.

Finally, 23.4% say that they actually don’t know if they are or not. This could mean that these respondents are working with few feedback reports that aren’t giving them insights into the culture, or they’re so siloed they don’t have any connection to the culture.

Employees are less comfortable reporting sensitive issues than they are general feedback.

Next, we wanted to know what our HR respondents believed about the comfort level of their employees in reporting different types of feedback. When it comes to reporting general feedback, like suggestions on how to improve process or policy, 38.3% of our respondents believed that over 60% of their employee population would feel comfortable doing so (61%-100% of employees). However, when it comes to reporting more sensitive issues, like discrimination, sexual harassment, fraud, or other issue, only 33.5% of our respondents believed that over 60% of their employees would feel comfortable doing so (61%-100% of employees). In other words, our respondents see employees being more hesitant to report sensitive issues than general feedback.

Additionally, 8.6% of our respondents replied that they didn’t know whether employees would feel comfortable reporting general issues, yet 12.4% didn’t know if employees would report more sensitive issues. Not only are employees more hesitant to report sensitive issues, HR has more uncertainty around their employees reporting sensitive issues.

We found a similar response in our “State of Workplace Wrongdoing” report. Employees were more likely to report issues like safety concerns or fraud, but saw them less frequently. However, they were less likely to report issues like harassment and discrimination, but they saw them more frequently. What this shows is that while employees are less likely to witness harassment and discrimination — more sensitive topics — and HR seems to have some awareness as to that fact. The challenge to HR, though, is how to encourage more reporting of more sensitive topics?

HR believes employees don’t report because of fear of retaliation.

For the employees that are not reporting issues they see in the workplace around them, why aren’t they? We wanted to know from our HR respondents what they felt the top answers would be, and here’s what we found (we asked them to pick one):

Fear of retaliation (27.8%): The biggest barrier preventing employees from reporting issues at work is a fear of retaliation, or fear that their reporting will cause them to be shunned, denied work, viewed as “not a team player,” and more. In our “State of Workplace Harassment” report, we found that 24% of employees who don’t report state a fear of retaliation for not doing so. Additionally, the EEOC reports that retaliation is the most commonly reported issue in the workplace.

There is no feedback culture that encourages them (21.1%): The second strongest reason employees don’t report is because there isn’t a culture of feedback that encourages reporting, or that has normalized expressing feedback freely and without fear of consequence. In fact, in our “State of Workplace Wrongdoing” report, only 63% of employees believe their workplace wants them to report, and 21% believe that their workplace actively does not want them to report wrongdoing. 

Time constraints (18.7%): Another reason employees may not report is due to time constraints: they’re too busy to report, or they may need to take time to figure out how to go about reporting, if the method to do so isn’t clear.

They don’t know who to report to/where to report (13.9%): Employees may also not be reporting issues in the workplace because they don’t know where or how to report it, either through a lack of communication about how to report, or confusion over which tools will be most effective. In our “State of Workplace Wrongdoing” report, we found that only 44% of employees were aware of a reporting tool or hotline, while 36% say their workplace doesn’t have a method and 20% weren’t sure if their organization has one.

They don’t want to get involved (9.6%): Another reason employees may not be bringing up issues at work is thinking that they don’t want to get involved in something that may be potentially impacting to their career, or they have a lack of awareness around bystander intervention methods.

Don’t think the offense is serious enough to report (9.1%): Finally, employees may not be reporting because they don’t think the issue is serious enough or a big enough issue to report — which could also stem from not having a culture of feedback that encourages it, or not knowing what should be reported or not. In our “State of Employee Feedback” report, we found that of those who didn’t share feedback, 21% said it was because they felt the issue wasn’t important enough.

53% of HR leaders believe that employees are more likely to share feedback if they were to remain completely anonymous.

What would help employees who don’t bring up issues in the workplace report more, and would offering anonymous channels make employees more likely to share? Over half (52.6%) of our respondents say yes, they believe that offering anonymous channels would encourage more reporting. 23% replied no, that they don’t think it would encourage more reporting. 24.4% weren’t sure whether it would or not.

As stated above, we’ve found in other reports that if given an anonymous option to do so, 74% of employees would be more likely to report issues and share feedback (this number jumps to 85% when specifically reporting harassment). This number is significantly higher than what HR professionals reported, meaning that there’s a disconnect in understanding the positive impact anonymous reporting could have in encouraging more employees to report.

47% are highly confident that employee feedback will lead to change.

When employees report issues or concerns, it should not only lead to resolution, but change within the organization. But how confident are HR professionals that change will happen as a result? Luckily, we found that nearly half (46.9%) are “highly confident” that employee feedback will lead to change within the organization. 30.6% are somewhat confident that change happens, while 22.5% are not very confident at all that employee feedback leads to change. 

While HR professionals are somewhat enthusiastic that feedback will lead to change, employees are less so. We found that only 38% of employees believe the feedback they give will lead to change. Whether employee or HR, there is a lot of room for growth when it comes to improvements in workplace feedback culture. 

Section Summary:

The questions in this section uncovered how HR departments think qualitatively about the feedback they receive, and some of their assumptions around why employees report or don’t report.

We found that HR sees that their employees are more comfortable giving feedback about general topics, like procedure changes, than they are about sensitive topics, like discrimination, and in our other reports, we found that this is indeed the situation for employees. 

HR is also aware that employees who don’t report issues are probably not doing so because of a fear of retaliation, and in our surveys with employees, we found that to be true as well.

However, only 53% of our HR respondents believe that employees are more likely to report feedback if given anonymous options. Yet we’ve found that 74% of employees say they’re more likely to report issues if given ways to do so that are anonymous — and when asked specifically about reporting harassment, this number jumps to 85%. Providing anonymous options seems to be a major way to increase reporting, and especially that sensitive reporting that employees are reluctant to report, yet HR professionals don’t seem to be fully aware of this.

Unfortunately, another perspective that both HR and employees agree upon is that feedback reports aren’t leading to change within the company — which is an issue with tracking, management, and follow-through.

Part 4: Feedback Management and Workload

Now that we know the different types of feedback options organizations make available to employees, and the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of them, we now want to trace the course of feedback from employees to the HR department. What happens to feedback reports one they’re in the hands of HR, and does HR have the capacity and resources to adequately handle those reports?

29% of HR professionals want less feedback.

In our previous section we talked about different methods of feedback, and about ways to increase feedback. But does HR want more feedback? 46.9% say that yes, they want a lot more feedback from their employees, and this can signal two things: These HR professionals either have the tools and resources in place to accept more feedback, and desire to hear any and all concerns in their workplace — which is an excellent approach. Or, these HR professionals realize that their employees are holding back for, and sense that there should be more feedback coming forward. Either way, about half of HR departments are open and willing to embrace the feedback their employees should be sending.

However, 24.4% want the level of feedback to stay the same, and 28.7% say that they prefer less feedback from employees. This most likely is not HR professionals wanting their employees to keep quiet about issues in the workplace (we hope), but points to a lack of resources and ability to handle the workload. Wanting less feedback means you’re overwhelmed with the feedback you already have.

This unfortunately aligns with what we found in our “State of Employee Feedback” report, where only 35% of employees believe their employers to be very receptive to feedback. If HR departments don’t want more feedback, even if the reason is because they’re understaffed or under-resourced, then they’re sending the message clearly to employees that they’re not receptive to their concerns.

Managing employee feedback is the top challenge for HR departments.

HR departments have a lot to balance, and so we wanted to know what their top challenges are at the moment. They’re mostly facing many challenges all at once, but here’s what they said (we asked them to select all that apply):

Managing employee feedback once it’s received (42.6%): The biggest challenge for HR departments is managing employee feedback, which would inherently be due to the system used to track. Decentralized systems, using hard-to-track assets like individual emails or documents, having too many hands or not enough hands on the feedback, and not having a way to visualize follow-through could contribute to this challenge.

Communicating with company leaders about employee feedback (39.7%): Another challenge is coordinating with leadership about employee feedback. This could be helping leadership understand the value of instilling a culture of feedback in the office, and guiding them on actions to take that will affect change top-down. Or the challenge could be around bringing specific workplace issues raised by feedback to leadership, and getting them to take action. Either way, our respondents are finding barriers to that collaboration.

Lack of importance/priority the company puts on the HR department (39.7%): Our HR respondents also find challenges in the fact that they feel overlooked by the rest of the organization, that their work is often deprioritized, or that they focus just on hiring and administrative tasks, and fail to understand the work they do in ensuring that employees are happy, safe, and fulfilled in their job roles.

Lack of tools and/or people to help monitor employee feedback (37.8%): Another big challenge for our respondents is simply a lack of tools to help them monitor and track employee feedback — like above, with the challenge of managing employee feedback once it’s received — and also simply not having the people available to track the feedback once it comes in.

Lack of visibility into true company culture (37.3%): This challenge could also stem from the lack of priority or importance the company puts on HR, which could create siloing that leads to a lack of visibility into what’s truly going on in the company culture. Not knowing how employees feel or their experience in the workplace means not knowing how to help them.

Lack of budget to implement employee feedback (36.4%): The bottom line is a challenge, too, as HR departments simply face a lack of fiscal resources in order to put in place structures and systems to help gather and track employee feedback.

Lack of budget and/or HR staff (23.9%): Finally, as seen above, a general lack of funds and staff is an overall challenge to HR departments today.

The majority manage employee feedback with Word docs or Google docs.

Having a method of management makes tracking reports and following up on their resolution can either make handling feedback easier or worse. What kind of methods do our HR respondents use to track employee-reported feedback? The majority (29.2%) use either Word docs or Google docs to track employee feedback, 17.2% use a spreadsheet to do so, and 16.3% use Google forms to track feedback. 19.6% use an internal channel like Slack, Trello, or email, and 17.7% use a third-party tool or platform to track their employee feedback.

If HR departments are using Word docs, emails, and chat apps to track employee feedback, then it’s no wonder that the top challenge of HR departments is managing employee feedback once it’s received.  

42% say that feedback reports have increased over the past year.

There has been a lot of uncertainty in the past year — an ongoing pandemic, racial unrest, the continuing #MeToo movement — so we wanted to know how events over the past 12 months have affected reports of feedback. The majority (28.8%) of HR respondents say that reports have increased significantly. 15.8% say reports have only increased slightly, and 15.3% say they have stayed the same. For 17.7%, reports have decreased slightly, and for 12.4%, reports have decreased significantly.

It’s not just the bigger issues of this past year that are sparking more reports, but ongoing harassment despite the shift to virtual, too. In our “State of Workplace Harassment” report, we found that 38% of employees still experienced harassment while working remotely, and 24% of employees believe harassment got worse through remote work channels like through email, video conferencing, chat apps, or by phone.

HR receives 16 to 20 pieces of employee-reported feedback each week.

Next, we wanted to know how many individual pieces of feedback employees report in any given week, and we found that it’s on the higher side. 23.4% report receiving 20 or more pieces of feedback each week, 26.3% (the majority) report receiving between 16 and 20 pieces of feedback each week, and 23.4% report receiving between 11 and 15 pieces each week. 15.3% receive 6 to 10 pieces per week, and 11.5% receive between 1 and 5. 

Only 46% say employee-reported issues are getting fully resolved.

Employees report feedback with the expectation that it’ll be fully resolved, so how well are HR professionals resolving those reports? The majority (46.4%) say that employee feedback issues are being fully resolved, while 29.7% report that employee issues are somewhat resolved. 23.9% say that issues reported by employees are not being resolved at all.

This seems to correlate with the way employees see their issues being resolved from our other reports. We found that only 54% of employees have their reported issues fully resolved, while 12% see no action from their workplace, and 14.7% aren’t aware of any action taken.

The top priority for HR departments is building trust with employees.

In addition to the top challenges above, we want to know the top priorities for our respondents’ HR departments. Here’s what they said (we asked them to choose one):

Building trust with employees (22.5%): The biggest priority by far for HR departments is building trust with their employees, as trust can go a long way towards encouraging more feedback, and seeing HR as a valuable culture and career resource in general. Building trust with employees around feedback means taking reports seriously, handling them with care and sensitivity, and following them through to resolution. In fact, we found that 37% of employees have left a job because they felt feedback wasn’t taken seriously.

Sourcing more tools to garner feedback from employees (10.5%): Above, our HR respondents stated that offering more options for employees to report would increase feedback. One of the top priorities for HR departments is being able to create or source those options, implement them, and see widespread adoption.

Finding the balance between helping employees and helping the company/my employer (9.1%): Another top priority for HR departments is finding the balance between serving and supporting their organization’s employees, and supporting and furthering the goals of leadership. 

Tracking employee feedback reports once they’re created (8.1%): We saw above that one of the challenges for HR departments is being able to track employee feedback once it’s submitted. Therefore, a priority for HR departments is putting in place processes and procedures for managing feedback.

Figuring out proactive solutions to toxic work culture (8.1%): HR departments are also prioritizing combatting toxicity in the workplace, and determining methods on how to shift the dynamics of work culture.

Other priorities include:

Employee retention (7.7%): HR departments want to ensure that employees are engaged and feel a part of the mission of the organization, enough so that they’ll stay around.

Employee recruiting (7.2%): HR departments also need to prioritize recruiting and hiring, though for our respondents, that’s much less of a priority than building trust with current employees.

More training (6.7%): Employee training — onboarding, compliance training, career development, and more — is also an area in which HR needs to focus.

Helping improve our public reputation (6.7%): This is less of a priority for HR, but some are focused on helping the organization improve their public reputation, perhaps in the wake of a scandal.

Employee safety and well-being (5.3%): Surprisingly lower on the list of priorities is employee safety and well-being, which could be attributed to our respondents seeing safety as a function of facilities or operations teams.

Helping ensure our company avoids employee lawsuits (4.8%): Low on the priority list is helping to avoid employee lawsuits. However, our respondents may understand that building trust with employees, giving them methods to submit feedback, and tracking that feedback to completion will inherently avoid lawsuits.

Helping my employer meet compliance needs (3.4%): The lowest priority seems to be helping to meet compliance needs, though HR may see this role as reactionary — Tell us what training employees need? — rather than overall compliance management.

Section Summary:

The major takeaway from this section is that HR has a number of opportunities for improvement when it comes to managing employee feedback. In a previous section, we found that only half of HR departments believe that their efforts in gathering employee feedback are effective. In this section, we found that managing employee feedback is a number one challenge, and is most likely due to the fact that the majority of HR departments are managing feedback piecemeal through Word docs and emails. As the volume increases — which, for 42% of HRs, it has over the past year — they don’t have the tools to manage feedback to the point where many don’t want their volume to get bigger, and many want the volume to get smaller. Additionally, only 46% say that feedback reports are getting fully resolved.

We saw above that HR departments are not necessarily using the right targeted methods to cull feedback from their employees, and we’re also seeing here that there’s a lack in using the right kind of management system in order to effectively address those reports as well. 

Part 5: The Future of Employee Feedback Management

HR departments know the importance of gathering feedback from their employees, but is a focus on feedback one of their priorities for the coming year? We wanted to know more about the future of feedback and the approaches HR departments want to take to improve employee feedback.

Top priorities for the next year include training, employee experience, and analytics.

Above, we asked what the current priorities are for HR departments. Now, what do HR professionals view as their top priorities for the upcoming year? Here’s what they’re anticipating (we asked them to choose one):

Training tools (19.1%): The biggest priority for the next year is training tools, which could include onboarding new hires, COVID-19 health and safety training, bystander intervention training, upskilling, tech tools for remote workers, and more. These are immediate, practical, applicable needs for the business.

Employee experience (13.9%): Another priority for the next year is a focus on the employee experience, and especially ensuring that engagement, productivity, and happiness remain high, especially as teams return to the workplace or relearn their dynamics remotely.

Data and analytics tools (11%): HR departments will seek to prioritize data collection and analytics tools, so that they can make better data-informed decisions about their initiatives, and see the impact their current initiatives are having on the workplace.

Employee mental health/wellbeing (11%): Another priority is a focus on employee mental health, especially as the pandemic has led to so much loss and uncertainty. Wellness programming and benefits had also been a rising focus of organizations before the pandemic, and will continue to be so after.

Talent acquisition (10.5%): HR departments will also be focusing on talent acquisition in this next year as well, not only addressing standard employee churn, but perhaps also looking to fill vacancies left by the Great Resignation. 

Managing employee feedback (9.6%): Managing employee feedback, which in previous questions has been such a challenge, is a bit further down on the list of priorities for the coming year. This could be due to anticipating other challenges, or our respondents may see it as part of managing the employee experience above.

Managing remote workers (7.7%): As more workers return to the workplace, or as employees remain remote yet have already figured out how to successfully work remotely, managing remote workers falls down the list of HR priorities for this next year.

DEI (7.7%): Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts will also be of low priority for this coming year, which may be due to having already focused efforts on DEI in the past. Respondents may also see this falling under employee experience and talent acquisition efforts as well.

Improving company culture (5.7%): Somewhat low on the priority list is improving company culture. Yet our respondents may understand that by focusing on training efforts, the employee experience, mental health and wellness resources, and other aforementioned aspects, they will inherently improve the company culture.

Employee retention (3.8%): Finally, employee retention is the lowest priority. It may seem antithetical, but again, our respondents may see that by improving other aspects of the employee experience, employees will want to stay.

User-friendly platforms, encouragement from leadership, and more awareness will encourage more reporting.

What approaches do HR professionals think would have the most impact in order to encourage more feedback and reporting from employees? Here’s what they responded (we asked them to choose all that apply):

More user-friendly reporting platform (44.5%): Our respondents believe that by having a more user-friendly reporting platform, employees will be more likely to report issues they find in the workplace. This might be because traditionally, ways to report have been hard to find, or may have involved a lot of steps to use. HR leaders see that providing a simple, straightforward tool will reduce barriers to entry.

Encouragement from leadership (42.6%): Our HR respondents all see that one of the biggest resources that can influence more reporting is encouragement from leadership. As we’ve seen in previous questions, creating a culture that appreciates and normalizes feedback can help increase reporting, and the culture is most significantly influenced by leadership.

More awareness around what discrimination is and how to recognize it (41.6%): Our HR respondents also believe that more awareness around what constitutes discrimination or other wrongdoing in the workplace will help employees identify it better, and report it. This can also help provide clarity around employees who don’t report because they aren’t sure if the issue is big enough to report.

Normalizing the conversation at work around reporting discrimination (41.2%): Additionally, our respondents believe that normalizing the conversation around reporting can help encourage it. This means regularly talking about reporting, the value in reporting, and the positive effects of reporting, so that those who have something to report don’t feel like it’s a taboo subject.

Ensure reporting is anonymous (38.3%): Another way to encourage more feedback is to provide methods of reporting that are truly anonymous. This gives employees the ability to communicate their concerns with decreased fear of retaliation, or taking risks they might not be able to take.

My company committing not to retaliate against employees for reporting discrimination (37.3%): Similarly, since our HR respondents see fear of retaliation as the primary reasons for why employees don’t report, they believe that a workplace should have a commitment to not retaliating against reporting employees in order to increase feedback.

Having a bystander intervention training (29.7%): Still important, but less so of a priority, HR respondents see having bystander intervention training — which would help empower employees who say they “don’t want to get involved” — as another way that might encourage employees to give feedback.

Employees knowing where to submit feedback (23.9%): Finally, our respondents believe that while important, ensuring that employees know where and how to submit their feedback would have the least impact.

Many of these align with suggestions from employees we found in our “State of Workplace Harassment” report. They said that the top things organizations could do to improve the feedback process would be to:

  • Ensure reporting is anonymous
  • More user-friendly reporting platform
  • Encouragement from leadership
  • More awareness around what harassment is and how to recognize it
  • Normalizing the conversation at work around reporting harassment
  • My company committing not to retaliate against employees for reporting harassment
  • Having a bystander intervention training

However, the big switch in ranking is around ensuring reporting is anonymous. According to our previous report, employees believe this is the number one thing that organizations can do to encourage them towards more reporting. However, HR departments believe in prioritizing other tools and approaches first, and ranked it fifth. This shows a disconnect in what employees really need to foster more reporting, and what HR departments think they need.

Section Summary:

In terms of workload for the next year, HR departments are looking to focus on training, employee experience, and to incorporate more analytics tools in their work. However, despite knowing the value of employee feedback to the culture, and citing “managing employee feedback” as their number one challenge, managing employee feedback is sixth on the list of priorities for the next year.

In terms of adopting approaches to increase reporting in their organizations, our HR respondents said that they want to focus on more user-friendly platforms for feedback, engaging leadership to encourage reporting, and increasing awareness around what discrimination is and how to recognize it. These methods can certainly help! However, in our other reports, employees have made it clear that the one thing HR departments can do to impact employee feedback is by offering anonymous channels through which to do so — yet HR departments don’t seem to be aware of its importance, and have ranked it as the fifth most impactful approach.

Conclusion

When it comes to how HR departments are gathering employee feedback, managing it, and seeing it through to resolution, two main areas of improvement surfaced in our report.

The first area is around how employee feedback is gathered, and the effectiveness of the options available — and if they’re options that employees would actually use. HR departments have a number of avenues for feedback available, from pulse surveys to open door policy options to relying on whistleblower hotlines. But what we found is that throughout our responses, HR professionals see anonymous reporting as simply just another option. However, in our other reports, we found that employees are significantly more likely to report issues in the workplace through anonymous options. Once HR departments understand that anonymous options should be one of the primary options for gathering feedback, then they’ll most likely see more reporting, and see their efforts be more effective.

The second area that seems primed for improvement is in feedback management. HR departments cite that their main challenge is managing feedback, and they’re also seeing increased levels of reporting. Yet they’re attempting to manage feedback reports through individual Word and Google docs, on spreadsheets, or through a Slack channel. This means that there’s no centralized hub or platform where feedback reports are being kept, no one spot to where the lifecycle of resolution can be tracked, no metrics of how many reports have been filed and if they’ve been resolved, and no at-a-glance dashboard to see the true state of employee feedback resolution at the company.

Having a robust employee feedback program means that an organization can work to address issues in the workplace, and keep employee engagement and happiness high, all while keeping the organization out of the news. But this can only happen if employees are reporting, and if HR is adequately managing the reports.

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