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Updated Oct 24, 2023

Honest Employee Feedback Starts at the Top

Honest feedback from employees is critical to improving your business's culture and internal operations.

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Shayna Waltower, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Smart leaders know that a strong company culture and good workplace relationships are founded on open, honest input from everyone in the organization. The higher up you are, the more important it becomes to stay in touch with the day-to-day environment by communicating with the staff that are doing the work. Giving them the opportunity to provide transparent, direct feedback can strengthen your company and help you succeed.

Honest feedback starts at the top

In most cases, your employees don’t waltz into your office once a quarter to give their opinions about your company and their experiences working there. That’s why you should encourage your employees to share their perspectives and ideas.

Making employee feedback part of your everyday operations takes some effort, and it starts at the top. It requires you to create a company culture in which sharing feedback feels natural for employees.

“Management must clearly spell it out as a company goal,” said David Hassell, CEO of employee engagement software 15Five. “Find quick and painless ways to check in with employees on a regular basis and ask questions that spark valuable conversation. Like any habit, implementing an employee feedback system may take a bit of time to get used to. But the payoff is big – empowered employees, increased productivity and extraordinary innovation.”

Start by scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, and offer the floor to them for at least a portion of these meetings. Additionally, set regular intervals for more in-depth performance reviews, and include opportunities for employees to give feedback on the company and their managers as part of these reviews. Establishing these practices sets the stage for a company culture rooted in 360-degree feedback and collaboration.

To be a good manager, you must lead by example, so take opportunities to offer feedback to your employees and ask the same of them – it may take a while, but if you put in the effort, you will see your team begin to respond in kind.

How employee feedback benefits a business

Establishing a culture of feedback may take some effort, and sometimes receiving critical feedback may be uncomfortable. Still, the benefits outweigh the growing pains. When you have a healthy culture of employee-employer feedback, expect the following benefits.

Improves the ability to detect and resolve issues early

Employee feedback is good for more than getting an overview of how your company is running. It can also help identify potential problems among your staff before they occur.

“Employees are positioned to see things that are oftentimes not readily visible to the manager,” Hassell said. “They have an inside perspective on what’s working and what’s not. Gathering employees’ honest feedback is critical for tuning in to the myriad of internal and external details that essentially keep the company running.”

Managers are charged not only with setting schedules and keeping employees on task, but also with seeing the bigger picture and planning for pitfalls before they occur. But the only effective way to do so is to have an open channel of communication with team members who can provide an array of perspectives about what’s going on in the trenches.

Makes employees feel valued

Employees who are given the opportunity to provide feedback to their employers feel valued. According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workforce Report, only 21% of employees feel their managers care about their opinions and recognize their work.

“It [stems from] a basic human need for recognition. People on the frontlines are closest to the problems [in an organization], and asking for feedback [shows that] management cares and will do something about it,” said David Niu, vice president of innovation at Limeade. 

Asking for feedback shows employees that management respects their insights and wants to act on their experiences. Gathering feedback can boost company morale and lead to higher employee engagement, which leads to improved productivity and reduced employee turnover.

Helps managers improve their skills

Too often, employers focus on performance from bottom to top. However, managers need feedback just as much as any other employee. Managers rely on a range of soft skills to do their jobs, including communication, planning, and strategizing. Sometimes managers have blind spots to areas in which they’re deficient, which could hinder the team in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. Feedback can help illuminate these blind spots.

For example, employee feedback may identify that certain managers are poor communicators or lack particular leadership skills needed to do their jobs properly. This gives managers the opportunity to improve in their roles and develop the skills they need to better lead a team.

Prevents conflict among employees

Another important benefit of employee feedback is workplace conflict prevention. If employees are encouraged to give their opinions freely on a regular basis, problems can be identified early on. Small annoyances quickly transform into major issues if they aren’t addressed swiftly, but feedback can help managers ameliorate the issue before it comes to a head.

If staff know they are allowed to speak up without fear of retribution, disagreements can be resolved before they become major problems. All workers should feel confident that managers have an open-door policy regarding issues with clients and colleagues.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Gathering feedback from your employees can help you identify issues within your company early on, help your employees feel valued, and resolve conflicts.

Tips for encouraging employee feedback

Many employees are hesitant to give the honest truth directly to their bosses, especially if it means they’ll have to disagree with or criticize their immediate supervisor.

“People hold back because it’s their boss and they’re afraid,” said Niu, whose company recently published a guide to conducting successful employee surveys.

Creating situations that make employees feel safe and supported when they speak up is critical to establishing a culture of feedback. Though employees might not be immediately inclined to share their honest opinions, there are a few ways you can help get them comfortable.

Use anonymous surveys.

Allow employees to anonymously share their responses. This approach can appease any concerns an employee might have about their opinions being traced back to them. As a result, they’ll be more likely to freely share their responses. While anonymous employee surveys can ease these fears, make sure you’re asking the right questions in the right ways.

“There is an art to asking questions, and doing it well can make employees feel empowered and valued, rather than interrogated while giving managers information and insight to help drive success,” Hassell said.

Acknowledge your employees’ responses.

Receiving honest feedback from employees begins with creating a culture of trust. Respond to your employees’ feedback to make sure they are comfortable sharing their thoughts, Hassell said. Even if you can’t do anything about the situation, acknowledging the comment means you are listening, which makes the employee feel heard and valued.

Host events that encourage open communication.

Niu also advised holding regular town hall-style meetings during which your employees can ask you anything. Another option to try is small luncheon events to reduce the pressure of speaking in front of the whole company. Invite fewer than 10 employees, preferably ones from the same team, and encourage them to share honest opinions about operations. Hold these regularly to include all team members.

Never ignore feedback collected during these events. Although you may not be able to honor all requests, implement changes when you can to show that you’re listening to what employees have to say and taking it seriously. Even when you can’t, acknowledge feedback and thank employees for their contributions.

“You may get some hard questions, but don’t shy away from any of those,” Niu said. “Incorporate company values when asking for feedback.”

Hosting town hall-style meetings or small luncheon events can create open environments where your employees want to share their honest feedback.

Positively accept the feedback you receive.

The way you handle employee feedback is very important. Any type of feedback should be met with positive language. If the employee hears phrases such as “I don’t think so” or “that’s a problem,” you will have a difficult time opening the lines of communication. Be encouraging at all times, even if the employee is saying something you disagree with completely. The fact that they’re even offering feedback is a positive development for the type of culture you’re trying to build, so honor it accordingly.

Creating a space for open communication

Gathering feedback from your employees is key to moving your company forward based on the people most involved in your day-to-day operations. As you build a space where your employees can feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions, keep a consistent open-door policy. This way, you’re inviting your employees to share their ideas even when you’re not sending out surveys. You’ll remove communication barriers between employees and company leaders – and show your employees how much you value them.

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Shayna Waltower, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Shayna Waltower is a business journalist with a multimedia background. She spent years doing on-the-ground reporting in local communities from coast to coast before narrowing her focus to helping small businesses nationwide streamline operations, attract customers and improve profitability. Waltower, with her previous experience in storytelling across mediums (broadcast, social media, etc.), enjoys not only producing digestible guides for business owners that break down complex topics but also helping entrepreneurs competently convey their brand stories to consumers. Over the years, Waltower has developed expertise in a number of wide-ranging but critical business areas and topics, including POS systems, workplace management and cybersecurity.
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