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Why Employee Feedback is Crucial to Employee Engagement

Michael Vasey
Michael Vasey

Employees have ideas and questions, and they want to be heard. And when time is taken to listen to that feedback, employee engagement goes up. In fact, research indicates that “employee voice” is a significant contributor to overall employee engagement.

So how do we set up a feedback loop in an efficient and effective manner that gleans the most actionable insights for your company? The first step is creating an open environment for feedback. In other words, ask for it. Just keep in mind that asking comes with the requirement of following up on what you get in return.

“What will employees say?”

“What if the feedback is negative?”

“What if their expectations are too high?”

Over-thinking this feedback loop keeps some executives up at night thinking about all the “what ifs.” Resist this temptation to let your mind race, and remember that the research says it’s worth it!

There’s a bit of debate on how anonymity should play into company surveying, but we have found that it’s about pairing it with the right feedback channels. Here are a few ways you can start incorporating regular feedback into your daily interactions with employees:

  1. Manager one-on-ones. Bi-directional feedback can happen between an employee and their manager on a weekly basis. Clearly, face-to-face feedback isn’t anonymous, so it’s all about building trust. The ideal relationship is one where managers give proactive feedback to the employee around performance and personal goals. Employees in turn give proactive feedback about blockers and solicit advice.
  2. Formal performance review. There’s lots of debate on best practices for this that I don’t have time to address now, but this is a common feedback opportunity and typically isn’t anonymous. Regardless of how you do it, the best performance reviews confirm what goes on each week between manager and employee plus give the added opportunity to talk intentionally about how employee development interests intersect with company needs.
  3. Formal employee survey. You can’t improve employee engagement if you’re not measuring it. Your survey must be anonymous to encourage honesty but can include big demographic tags such as site, department, or tenure so management can act on the results in the necessary areas. Ensure that the primary purpose of the survey is to measure engagement instead of just satisfaction or happiness (things like workplace, pay, and perks). The key to this is in how the survey questions or statements are written. We recommend only including statements with a five-part scale response from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. Open comment sections in this survey are actually not a good idea because they tend to attract responses from just a few disgruntled employees. HR gets drawn in by these emotional words and overweights the comments compared to the more objective scale questions that every employee answers.
  4. Town hall meeting. This is typically a face-to-face meeting where management presents a business update and/or has an open employee Q&A. Clearly it’s not anonymous, so the downside is that typically only the confident (either positive or negative) speak up. The advantage of this format from the employee perspective, however, is that they get face time with management and hear them answer questions live. Usually actions speak louder than words.
  5. Informal suggestion box. We have found that the best way to open this feedback channel is to provide a digital anonymous comment box. Email is terrible for this because it’s not anonymous and a box on the wall really isn’t either. Our customers do this through their employee engagement app. Management reads the comments monthly and can respond in a couple ways: either they post a video to the app of an executive talking about reading the comments and responding to them, or they actually act on a suggestion and repromote what they did in the app. This closes the loop and encourages employees to leave more suggestions.
  6. Informal pulsing. This is where management or HR sends a proactive question to employees at just about anytime. This is typically anonymous to the person but tied to demographics as discussed above with the formal employee survey. You can conduct this through an online survey, but we have found the best response rates through an employee engagement app that ties an anonymous question to a push notification. Effective question types are multiple choice, open response, or attitude poll. Pulsing can be a good way to assess midstream movement or progress on issues related to prior feedback received through other formal channels above.

No matter the feedback channel, we find that employee anonymity and management acknowledgement spins the feedback cycle the fastest. So get out and talk to your people!


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