Having a good workplace culture matters. Cultivating a welcoming, exciting, innovative culture can attract new talent, increase engagement and set a trajectory for future growth.
But many times companies offer only what they think employees want — like a ping pong table or unlimited snacks — yet neglect listening to the real needs of their employees, like the need to feel heard and the desire to contribute to creating the culture they work in.
Too often ignoring these needs results in employees feeling disconnected and unengaged – and ready to quit.
To improve the culture, it pays to improve your approach to employee feedback first.
Different kinds of feedback
Employee feedback programs can take many different forms. They can be a yearly engagement survey, or monthly or weekly pulse check surveys.
Employees can be encouraged to give feedback at weekly one-on-one meetings with their managers, or at monthly or quarterly staff meetings. Employees may give feedback through email, or through physical or digital suggestion boxes.
Whatever form it takes, the intention is the same: To find out what your company is doing to succeed and where you can make improvements, and how your employees are feeling about working there.
Employee feedback, therefore, is a two-way system: Employers need to actively ask for feedback to check on how their workplace is doing. Employees also need to feel encouraged and comfortable giving honest feedback about their workplace and engagement.
Employers then need to act on that feedback to ensure that improvements are made to the culture, and that employees stay engaged.
But what happens if that system doesn’t work?
The cycle breaks
A new report on “The State of Employee Feedback” finds that 36% of employees say their company doesn’t have a feedback program, or if there is one, they’re not aware of it.
Additionally, 37% say that their employer doesn’t have an open door policy or their company doesn’t uphold it. This means that many employees aren’t even given the opportunity to give feedback to begin with. Fast Company found similar numbers, where 49% of employees report that they are not regularly asked for their ideas.
What’s worse is that 62% of employees feel that even if they do give feedback, the issue won’t be fully resolved, according to the report. And many report withholding feedback because they felt it wasn’t important, it wouldn’t be confidential, nothing would be done about it, or they feared repercussions.
This shows the breakdown in what could be a healthy feedback system. If companies aren’t actively seeking feedback, they’re unaware of not only how their employees are engaging in the workplace, but are depriving themselves of being alerted to potential workplace issues, like bias, harassment, or bullying, which could cost money and reputation.
Additionally, employees who can’t give feedback or feel like their employer doesn’t want to hear from them can feel unappreciated and disconnected, leading to engagement and morale issues, and high turnover.
How can this be fixed? It’ll take some deliberate effort on the part of the employer, but one way to improve your feedback program is to implement a truly anonymous system of feedback.
Anonymous feedback initiatives
There’s a reason why 74% of employees say they’d be more willing to give feedback if it were truly anonymous. It’s not enough for an employer to demand that their employees simply give more feedback without recognizing why they might not be speaking up or why they edit their feedback before giving it.
Many entry-level employees won’t give critical feedback because they don’t feel it’s their responsibility to do so, or they fear retaliation or losing their job and won’t take the risk — in fact, retaliation is the most commonly reported workplace issue according to the EEOC.
Too often women and minority communities won’t report because they feel like they won’t be believed. So when feedback isn’t anonymous, you’re not giving voice to your entire workforce.
By providing anonymous channels of feedback, employers are giving their employees a way to speak freely and comfortably. And more honest, unedited feedback can help give employers a better picture of what’s going on in their workplace.
But anonymous feedback isn’t just about the feedback itself. Increased willingness to give feedback means increased participation in the workplace, with employees feeling more confident that they can contribute to the culture.
This boosts engagement and feelings of belonging, which boosts productivity. Gallup reports that highly-engaged teams see a 41% reduction in absenteeism, a 17% increase in productivity, and upwards of 59% less turnover.
Increased engagement and feeling heard also increases retention, and can save on having to keep filling positions, which can cost six to nine months’ worth of that employee’s salary, according to SHRM.
Additionally, our report found that 41% of employers have left a job because they didn’t feel heard, so providing better ways of giving feedback will create an environment where employees want to work.
Giving anonymous ways to report may also make employees with more sensitive feedback around racism, bullying or harassment feel more comfortable in sharing it. This can alert you to issues going on in your workplace and gives you the opportunity to resolve them before someone quits or it plays out in the media — like it did for Susan Fowler after she left Uber.
Ultimately, setting up systems for collecting anonymous feedback is an empty exercise if you don’t act to resolve or address that feedback.
Employees want to see that their workplace is taking feedback seriously and addressing issues. It not only shows that employees are being listened to, but it encourages employees to give feedback if they see that the process is working. A successful system of employee feedback only works if the loop of asking/giving/acting works.
It is possible to fix a stagnant culture, or one with rising distrust, or one that’s seen a lot of turnover, and it starts by rolling out an anonymous feedback program.