By Tom Silk, Executive Vice President of WorkStride
It’s a difficult thing to balance protecting your company’s image with the need to get honest, frequent feedback from your employees. One thing you should never do is let fear drive you to cut off all feedback mechanisms. Millennials especially are used to being able to review and comment on everything online — their friends’ photos, news articles, restaurants, and even their doctors. If you don’t offer these same outlets within your company, your employees will find another way to get the information out there.
Below are some common fears that keep managers from asking for employees’ opinions and how to overcome them:
Fear 1: Hearing the truth.
No one likes negative feedback — it stings! Even if you logically know that it’s beneficial, it’s often hard to proactively ask for it. But when you’re managing a company, hearing the concerns of your employees is essential.
It’s important to let your staff know that you care, that you hear them, and that you will make the utmost effort to make their work experience a positive one. It’s always better to take the hit and make the fix than to let it fester until you lose your top performers and you’re stuck scrambling to fix what drove them away.
Fear 2: Employees will comment negatively about the company.
This is a very real fear… I mean, have you seen the internet? It’s chock-full of offensive comments that nobody would dare utter to another human being’s face in real life. It’s horrifying to think of a disgruntled employee logging in to Glassdoor and ranting about your terrible management practices. That’s why you should offer your own internal mechanisms — pulse surveys, anonymous suggestion boxes, forums, etc. If you give employees an outlet within the walled garden they’ll be much less likely to feel the need to air dirty laundry in a more public arena.
Fear 3: Employees will waste too much time on social sites (even internal ones).
What do you consider wasting time? Nobody can sit like a robot at a computer for eight hours a day, with zero physical or mental breaks. Short online breaks to get your mind off work for a second and connect with friends or co-workers can often help productivity. Within the workplace it can also help to nurture friendships and build a great company culture. Like any other policy, there will be employees that abuse it. Guess what — those same employees would not be desirable to keep around whether you offered access to social media or not. Wasting time was not invented along with the internet!
Fear 4: We might not be able to fix everything that’s wrong.
You cannot please everyone. Not only that, sometimes you simply do not have the resources or ability to fix every problem as quickly as you’d like. This is a tough reality that any business owner or manager learns, and it cannot be helped. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to avoid acknowledging the problem altogether. Be honest with your employees about the obstacles you face in making their requested changes, and even ask for their help in coming up with creative solutions. Transparency and collaboration are trademarks of organizations with great cultures.
As scary as it can be to invite open commentary from your staff, it should scare you even more to think that a few dissatisfied employees are ranting in secret to their co-workers, spreading dissatisfaction, while you have no idea that something is wrong. It’s far better to know about it and be able to address the situation right away before it becomes an organization-wide disease. Let’s also not forget that you might hear some positive things!
Think about why you might be afraid of feedback. Perhaps you do not have a good pulse on the company culture, or you know that things are bad and you’ve been hoping to continue to ignore them. Either of those situations is much worse than a constructive comment or two that you can see and address. In fact, acknowledging complaints, taking them in stride, and making the effort to remedy them will show your employees that you are open to feedback. Employees may feel more encouraged to come directly to you in the future so you can keep the conversation offline.
Tom Silk is Executive Vice President of WorkStride, provider of SaaS-based employee recognition and incentive systems. He joined the company as its first salesperson in 2000, and under his leadership the organization has grown from a small startup to serve more than 120 corporate customers, including several Fortune 500 companies.