Teams with a culture of constructive feedback do better

Author: Victoria Kelleher 


Employee feedback is one of the most effective tools to assess the internal operations of an organisation. And it becomes especially important as organisations get larger, says Victoria Kelleher, XpertHR lead survey specialist in the US.

Without channels to collect feedback directly from employees, leaders must rely on their direct reports to escalate the issues they deem relevant enough to call for executive action. The more stratified an organisation's structure becomes, the more likely it is that information will be omitted or distorted on its path to the top.

Collecting feedback directly from employees through various channels can help leaders dodge the pitfalls of this game of telephone. Channels for employee feedback function like the immune system of an organisation. They collect information from every corner and fast-track it to the top. They bring problems which might otherwise fly under the radar to the surface. It is therefore crucial that organisations build processes to collect feedback regularly and cultivate a culture that encourages constructive criticism.

A culture of constructive criticism

There is a known relationship between employee feedback and employee retention. On the one hand, the simple act of inviting feedback sends a message to workers that their voices are valued and that leaders are working to find ways to improve the employee experience. Beyond this, feedback can also illuminate issues that need to be addressed to prevent a broader retention problem down the line.

The attitude leaders express in response to feedback is just as important as the opportunities they create for employees to submit it. A recent XpertHR survey in the US showed a number of interesting findings about the relationship between the culture around feedback and employee retention. Specifically, organisations with leaders who encourage employees to speak up about issues and accept constructive criticism without becoming negative were much more likely to report improvement in voluntary labour turnover rates over the past year.

Encouraging criticism and taking it well are essential steps to ensure employees feel safe expressing their opinions. Most respondents agreed with the statement "Employees at my company usually feel safe to be honest about their opinions and provide constructive criticism", but among those that disagreed, most reported that the current voluntary labour turnover rate at their organisation is now worse than it was last year. This result speaks to the importance of training people leaders to cultivate psychological safety in their teams.

Building avenues for employee feedback

Workers can see that it is more than just lip service when leaders put in the effort to establish organised processes for collecting feedback. One of the most common methods to collect feedback is through employment satisfaction (or employee engagement) surveys, which can be deployed on a regular basis to assess workforce sentiment and open opportunities for comment.

XpertHR's data found that organisations that use employee satisfaction surveys frequently tend to have better retention outcomes than those that do not. In fact, organisations that deploy employee satisfaction surveys very often have much lower average voluntary labour turnover rates (13%) than those that never run them or only run them occasionally (25%).

Organisations can also build other channels to collect employee feedback beyond employee satisfaction surveys. Some additional methods to gather feedback from employees include:

  • Onboarding surveys: Ask new employees targeted questions to identify any confusing steps in the hiring or onboarding processes.
  • Manager check-ins: Train managers to regularly check in with employees and escalate feedback wherever necessary to ensure each employee feels heard.
  • HR contacts: Ensure employees are aware of a second person they can contact in case the reason for a complaint involves an interpersonal conflict with managerial staff.
  • Anonymous feedback: Create a forum for employees to submit feedback anonymously so that fear of retaliation will not prevent them from speaking out.
  • Exit interviews: Interview employees who have chosen to leave in case the cause of their dissatisfaction is a broader issue that will later cause others to make the same choice.
  • Stay interviews: Check in with employees who continue to stay with the company to clarify the reasons they are satisfied in their positions and any insights they have on what can be improved.
  • Online forums: Screen sites like Glassdoor for reviews from prior employees that contain useful information that employees may not have been comfortable expressing in an exit interview.

Implementing employee feedback

The act of collecting feedback itself sends a message that employee voices are valued. However, it is equally, if not more, important to pay attention to the content of this feedback and address issues that come up. Reflecting this, the XpertHR survey found that those who agreed with the statement "Leaders at my company take employee feedback seriously and use it to guide decisions that improve the employee experience" were much more likely to report improvement in voluntary labour turnover over the past year.

If workers do not see their concerns and suggestions acted upon, they may conclude that submitting feedback is not worth the effort and stop utilising the methods an organisation has put in place. Because of this, it is essential that leaders regularly review the feedback that is generated from employees and use it to design targeted interventions after a pain point has been uncovered.

Although it can sometimes be difficult to ask for criticism and take it in your stride, an employee feedback loop is a cornerstone of a healthy work culture. The employee voice can capture the most candid picture of what working for your organisation is truly like, and it can also illuminate the obstacles that might prevent your workers from flourishing. What feedback strategies do you have in place?

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