You might think that enough has been written about employee feedback. Surely both leaders and managers have received this message loud and clear, right? And yet according to a study by employee engagement company Office Vibe, 65% of employees want more feedback than they’re getting. In this article, I’ll explore the importance of feedback, some of the reasons why managers still aren’t giving enough of it, and what happens in the absence of adequate employee feedback.
The Importance of Employee Feedback
Let’s get one thing out of the way early on: An annual performance review does not constitute adequate employee feedback – not even close. If the annual performance review is the sum total of your employee feedback program, you’re not doing your business any favors. For feedback to be effective, it needs to be both frequent (quantity) and effective (quality). Here are some stats from the previously mentioned Office Vibe study that helps put the feedback issue into perspective:
- Companies that do regular employee feedback have 9% lower turnover rates.
- Employees who feel ignored by their manager are twice as likely to be actively disengaged.
- Among employees who receive little or no feedback, 4 out of 10 are actively disengaged.
- 82% of employees appreciate feedback, whether it’s positive or negative.
- Among highly-engaged employees, 43% receive feedback at least once a week. Among low-engagement employees, only 18% get feedback at least weekly.
This all makes good common sense, if you think about it. How can workers know if they’re meeting expectations if there isn’t regular, clear, effective feedback? To put it another way, employees cannot learn and grow unless they’re receiving good feedback on a regular basis.
Barriers to Providing Adequate Feedback
Knowing there are such obvious benefits to providing good feedback to employees is one thing. Actually doing it is apparently another thing entirely. Why don’t managers take giving more feedback seriously? Here are a few reasons:
- Giving Feedback is Difficult: Some managers shy away from being more actively engaged in giving feedback because they feel uncomfortable when the feedback is going to be of a sensitive nature, constructive criticism, negative, and so on. But let’s call this what it really is, which is nothing more than an excuse. Yes, providing honest feedback can put you in some tricky situations that go outside your comfort zone. Get over it. But I’d also be willing to bet that many of the managers who give this excuse also haven’t received adequate training on how to give all kinds of feedback and make it effective. So, this one turns out to be a two-fold problem: Managers not being willing to do the hard work of feedback and the company not providing managers with enough training on how to do it.
- There’s No Time for It. Sorry, but once again I have to call this out as an excuse and not a good reason. Providing your employees with the guidance they need to become peak performers should be at the very top of the list for every manager. For any given employee, it might not need to be anything more than a 5-10 minute conversation in a given week. Others might need more. But to throw up your hands and say there isn’t enough time for it is not acceptable. From the company perspective, I would make providing adequate feedback one of the performance metrics for managers, but I would track it by asking the manager’s direct reports about the quantity and quality of feedback they get. This would quickly get managers on board, and also identify those who need additional training to get better at giving feedback.
- Inadequate Manager Training: This has already been mentioned in both the other reasons, but it needs to be called out separately on its own. The all-too-common scenario that happens in many businesses is that high-performing employees get promoted into management positions. But do they receive adequate training to excel as managers? If they’re not good at giving feedback, then the answer is no. Companies owe it to everyone in the organization to make sure anyone promoted into management from within is given the tools and training needed to be a good manager, including giving employee feedback.
- Lack of Feedback Culture: If managers don’t receive adequate training on giving good feedback, it may indicate there’s an even bigger company issue: Lacking a feedback culture throughout the organization. Does upper management and leadership encourage feedback? Even better, do they model it themselves with their own direct reports? Is feedback built into every managerial job description as a core duty? These are larger cultural change issues that might need to be addressed. But in the meantime, managers should be giving good feedback to employees even when it’s not part of the organizational culture.
In the Absence of Feedback
If employee feedback is lacking, your company will be missing out on some of those statistical benefits mentioned earlier. But what’s even more interesting is to understand what happens in the minds of employees when feedback is absent. After all, workers who don’t receive feedback are going to assume something about what it means. Here are three stories that employees tell themselves in the absence of feedback:
- I must be doing fine. Some workers will naturally assume that nearly any kind of attention from a manager must be a bad thing. After all, managers are busy people, so if they’re taking time out of their schedule to talk to you, it must be because you’re causing some kind of trouble. The lesson here is that some employees need to be educated about the purpose of feedback, and to expect it. And if the employee’s own performance ideal is to only “not cause trouble,” this isn’t exactly the mindset you want, is it? It sets the bar far too low, and also means they probably won’t bring important issues to their managers for fear of causing trouble!
- My manager must think I can’t take it. There will be a group of employees who, in the absence of feedback, will assume that the manager thinks they wouldn’t take feedback well. This could point to a lack of feedback culture and lack of clarity/expectations around feedback. Your employees ought to know that feedback is going to happen, and that it will happen in a climate of psychological safety. If your employees fear they will be punished for making a mistake, you’ve got some serious cultural issues to address in your organization. And if you’re a manager who refrains from giving feedback because you fear it won’t be received well, then you need more feedback training. You should be modeling accountable behavior by giving feedback. Remember how important feedback is to engagement and performance improvement. Learn how to do it well and everyone will benefit.
- My manager thinks I can’t change. Another set of employees will explain the lack of feedback as an indication their manager must think they won’t be able to change, learn, improve, or grow. If you’re a manager who actually does think this way, you’re shooting yourself in the foot because you won’t give those employees the very resources and encouragement they need to change and grow. Give employees what they need to improve in spite of what you think and watch them prove you wrong!
Make no mistake, in the absence of adequate employee feedback, workers are going to interpret what that means – most of which doesn’t reflect well on themselves or their managers. The issue of good feedback is one that needs to remain a top priority for businesses of all sizes. Ignoring it could be one of the most serious barriers holding your company back.