If you give your employees the opportunity to give you their feedback, some of it will inevitably be negative. But how exactly are you supposed to deal with negative feedback? Here are some things managers should do to handle negative employee feedback well.
The first thing you need to understand about how to handle negative employee feedback is that your employees aren’t saying you are a horrible person by giving negative feedback. Worst case scenario is they are just pointing out flaws in your management approach that they believe you can improve.
You shouldn’t take the negative feedback about your organisation personally. Your employees work hard for you and care about the future of your business. Use the negative feedback as a building block to build a better organisation, become a more effective manager and grow into a stronger leader.
However, it won’t always initially feel this way, and that is why many managers struggle with how to handle negative employee feedback but despite the fact that employee feedback can sometimes be harsh and even borderline offensive, it’s important to always view it from the angle that it is something to be grateful for.
In fact, negative employee feedback is way better than no employee feedback. You should really start worrying when your employees don’t bother even offering negative feedback because that indicates that they actually no longer care at all about what happens to your company.
Approaching it with a sense of gratitude and realising that it is nothing more than an opportunity for improvement can help you shape your reply to be as useful as possible. Negative employee feedback is meant to help your company evolve and improve and can also contribute your personal evolution as a manager as well, and here are the key steps to take in handling it.
Don’t respond right away
You will be tempted to respond to your employees right after receiving negative feedback but you should just take a deep breath and relax instead. You don’t want your emotions to get the best of you and say something you may later regret and possibly even be unable to take back and apologise for.
Even if you receive this negative employee feedback in person, where it can be even more overwhelmingly tempting to automatically reply, you are still allowed to take some time to process what the person is saying before you say anything.
That said, you should talk with your employees not too long after receiving the feedback e.g. later that week. The last thing you want is their negative feedback going too long without being addressed as they might start thinking you’re dodging it altogether.
Ask questions surrounding the feedback
To fully understand the negative employee feedback you receive, it’s very important to ask the right questions, and this applies to both the employee who is giving it and you the manager receiving it.
While processing it, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this negative employee feedback factual?
- What examples can I think of that support this feedback?
- What should I do differently now that I know this?
- How come I didn’t notice this on my own?
You should also probe the employee giving it with the following:
- What examples do you have to support this feedback?
- How do you think I can change and/or improve from here?
- How long have you noticed what you are pointing out?
- What areas of the organisation does it affect the most?
Finding all of the answers to these will help you figure out where to go next and will help you pay more attention to similar problems going forward. Having a logical thought process is the first step in how to handle negative employee feedback effectively.
Putting yourself in the shoes of whoever is giving it by asking the right questions helps you understand their perspective better, figure out how you can use this feedback positively and also prevents you from giving an emotional reaction to what you just heard.
Focus on the pressing issues
With a barrage of negative feedback thrown your way, it’s easy to fall into a panic of thinking that every problem has to be solved immediately. However, doing too much at once may actually turn out to be counterproductive and only make things worse by stretching everyone, especially managers, too thin.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how you should choose what to focus on when it is time to handle negative employee feedback. You can choose to tackle the problems that are cutting across departments or choose to take on the top problems facing each department individually.
It is strongly recommended that you start with the issues that get repeatedly raised by multiple employees as these are the problems in your organisation that can be characterized as systemic.
Clarify about the pressing issues
As you narrow down your focus on the key issues that have been raised, it’s also important to get clarification directly from the source of the negative feedback i.e. your employees.
For example, employees may have said that they are not happy with their hours. It would be easy to assume what they’re looking for is less because they are working too much. However, asking employees to explain further may surprise you.
You could find out instead that their dissatisfaction stems from the rigidity of their working hours and that they simply want more flexible hours rather than fewer ones.
Show your employees that what they say matters to you
It doesn’t make sense to ask your employees for their feedback if their thoughts are just going to fall on deaf ears. After processing the negative feedback you have received to your employees, let your actions prove you care about what they have to say and that their thoughts actually mean something to you.
You should schedule a follow-up meeting with your team to discuss potential solutions to the problems raised. Your employees are very likely to have great ideas as to how to improve things. Listen to what they have to say and endeavor to put the best solutions suggested into practice as soon as possible.
This is an easy way to give your employees a better sense of ownership and improve their engagement.
Come up a game plan
Once you have received negative employee feedback, talked to your employees about it, and heard many possible solutions to the problems affecting your organisation, the last step in how to handle negative employee feedback is putting together a game plan to address these concerns and weaknesses.
For example, if many of your employees complained about it in their feedback, you may decide to encourage more remote working. This is not a switch you can make overnight so you would need to slowly but steadily roll out more measures that allow your employees to work away from the office.
Don’t ask your employees for their feedback only to ignore all of it. If you ask your employees for feedback and that feedback doesn’t result in any changes, they will feel cheated out of their time, effort and emotional labour too.
Bottom line: if you are going to ask your employees for their feedback, you need to be prepared to do something with it even if you don’t like what you hear.