The importance of proactively encouraging employee feedback and complaints.
As part of a recent workplace review, we met with a senior executive of a medium-sized organisation. He proudly told us that three of the organisation’s key values were harmony, compliance and respect. “We all sing from the same hymnbook here”, he proudly said, “We understand our duties and where we sit in the hierarchy for getting things done”. He then informed us that the company had had no complaints of any sort for the last 18 years. He thought this was a good thing…
As the conversation progressed, he revealed that he feels perplexed and disappointed at the low response to his request that employees provide new ideas, as part of the business’ new focus on innovation. The more we found out about this organisation, the less we were surprised!
Although managers had a (theoretical) ‘open door policy’, they were incredibly busy. This, plus the strong formal hierarchy of the business, meant that managers were not considered to be approachable. You had to go in ‘armed’ as they were impatient with anything unfinished, left-field or which might result in extra work for them or their staff.
The outdated complaints policy included a strongly-worded clause which said that complaints that were found to be unsubstantiated and/or vexatious would lead to disciplinary consequences for the employee who made the complaint.
The annual performance process was conducted by managers inconsistently and rarely. When a performance discussion was held, it was a top-down delivery of feedback. Employees had little opportunity to discuss how they or their teams were travelling.
Every team meeting was run to a strict agenda, set by the manager, and the manager did most of the talking.
Overall, the workplace was very ‘old school’. Employees were actively discouraged from telling managers and leaders what was really going on in their day-to-day work.
At a later meeting, we asked the senior executive “How can employees be innovative, if they can’t even bring simple improvements or feedback to you and their managers about what they’re already doing?”. He asked, “Why wouldn’t they give me feedback, if they have something to say? We have an open-door policy.”. When we asked, “How often do you employees actually come to you and deliver unvarnished truths and criticisms, just because your door was open?”, he frowned, admitting, “None”.
The truth is, generalised invitations for feedback are never as effective as you initiating a conversation. You can ask your employees, in a variety of ways, what’s going on in the workplace and what the company can do better.
The Benefits of Knowing How Your Employees Really Feel
Your employees are on the front line. They interact directly with customers, suppliers and each other, and see how the processes are working day-to-day. They see the opportunities, the waste and inefficiencies, the customer praise and complaints, the risks and the wins, all first hand.
Managers know this, but they sometimes forget that employees care about how the workplace is functioning. Employees want a happy working experience, and also a workplace where work is conducted efficiently and to a high standard. Employees care about the customers, suppliers and each other – and it is in the employees’ interests that improvements are identified and implemented.
Although they have a vested interest in improving the workplace, the truth is that many employees feel uncomfortable about revealing concerns directly to their managers and leaders. They may:
- perceive that supervisors and managers are involved in the problem, or are subjective or have their own motives
- be concerned that their supervisor will take the feedback personally
- worry that another key employee is reticent to speak up
- recall that a previous complaint was brushed under the carpet or ignored (whether that perception is true or not), or
- not want to ‘stick their neck out’ or be seen as part of the problem.
For these reasons, don’t wait around for the one brave employee to lodge a formal complaint! Take active steps to find out what your employees really thinking, then you will be one step ahead.
By setting up various avenues for your employees to raise concerns and ideas for improvement, you will send a strong message that you care about their experiences at work, you value their ‘intel’ about the business, and you respect their judgment.
You will hear about conflict, trouble spots and risks before employees depart, make WorkCover claims for stress, call lawyers and unions or start complaining to customers. How many of you have stood in line in a retail store, waiting for a fitting room to be available, and had to listen to two customer service staff complain to each other about rosters, shifts and favouritism?
Other benefits of proactively encouraging employee feedback and complaints include:
- Engaged employees are less likely to leave, reducing turnover costs
- Employees who have had a say in business improvements are more likely to be ambassadors for your organisation
- Loyal and happy employees are more likely to want to keep customers happy, and also to support each other to meet team goals
What about the Floodgates?
As we talk with clients about proactively encouraging employee feedback and complaints, one common thing we hear is the fear of “opening the floodgates of complaints”. In our experience over the last 10 years, enhancing an organisation’s complaints processes, and being more encouraging of staff to raise concerns or ideas for improvement, does not result in an avalanche of complaints. There might be a small increase in the month or two after the processes are improved, but the increased number of complaints is not significant, and the complaints are not false or exaggerated.
Remember, hearing about a problem does not mean that the problem has been created – it was there already, bubbling away under the surface. If an employee brings a problem to your attention, they have gifted you the opportunity to address the problem before it starts causing more damage.
Think of it this way – would you rather wait for customer complaints, declining sales and nasty public comments on social media?
To learn more about proactively encouraging employeed feedback and complaints at your workplace, register now for our free webinar “Do you know how your employees really feel”, presented by Worklogic Co-founder and Director, Rose Bryant-Smith at 12.30pm on Thursday March 23, 2017.
About Rose Bryant-Smith
Rose Bryant-Smith is the co-founder and director of Worklogic. She is passionate about building ethical, productive and innovative workplaces. Rose leads projects about organisational ethics, risk management, corporate governance and organisational performance. Rose applies an astute rational approach, strategic thinking and practical problem-solving.
Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and create a positive culture at work. We can help you develop organisational values and codes of ethical conduct that provide a powerful framework for appropriate behaviour at work. We also deliver on-site workshops and interactive training programs to explore and reinforce your organisation’s values.
If your organisation needs help on proactively encouraging employee feedback and complaints please contact Worklogic.
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