Useful employee feedback: how to ask, analyze and apply it

‘No brainer’.

That just about sums up the consensus around staff engagement. 

How engaged people are in their working lives matters for many reasons. High engagement is good for employees, but not just for employees. Companies benefit significantly too: one recent study found that high employee engagement increases profitability by 21%

But here’s another recent finding: only 36% of employees are actively engaged in the workplace. In other words, most organizations are failing to unlock the benefits that come with a highly engaged workforce. 

Low levels of employee engagement are a particularly pressing issue among frontline workforces. The upshot of that regularly features on the news these days: many frontline sectors suffer from high staff turnover, leaving (too) many vacancies in crucial areas. 

Disengaged employees tend to jump ship at the first opportunity. And when they do, everyone loses: working lives become unsatisfactory and transient, and soaring hiring costs only add to the woes of organisations already hit particularly hard by Covid. 

So employee engagement is not the cherry on the top; it is your bottom line. And it won’t just happen: to achieve it, you need to get a number of things right.

One of those things is that you need to know how your employees are experiencing their jobs, their working lives. You need feedback.  

Not surprisingly, this is where many frontline organisations struggle. Why? Because they typically rely on outdated and ineffective employee feedback processes that were designed for white-collar, salaried employees. 

The net effect is that many frontline workers simply have no way to make their voices heard and no way to shape their own workplace. No wonder, then, that engagement levels tend to be so low – and staff turnover so high.

Employee feedback: why does it matter?

The benefits of employee feedback are well-known, but they are usually only discussed in a particular context. That context is that you should be keeping your expensive, professional employees happy to reduce hiring costs and retain talent. Which is true.

But the same argument applies to your frontline employees, for a bunch of reasons:

  • Regularly losing frontline employees interrupts work, causes major efficiency losses and destabilizes your workforce.
  • As your public-facing workforce, frontline workers are your organization’s biggest ambassadors.
  • Inefficiencies in your frontline translate into direct inconveniences for your customer base (for example poor service, lack of product knowledge). 

In other words, when we’re talking about frontline employees, collecting and acting on feedback isn’t just about employee satisfaction. Employee engagement has a direct impact on customer experience too –  and with so many businesses competing on CX, you want to give yourself as much of an advantage here as possible. 

Frontline employee feedback should offer valuable insights on what’s working, what isn’t, and how to better run the company to delight your customers and keep them coming back. 

Here are some ways to achieve that.

How to collect employee feedback

Four women running an employee feedback session.

Employee feedback falls into two categories. 

  • Quantitative: numerical survey scores
  • Qualitative: expansive spoken and written feedback

Both are vital for identifying key improvement areas and acting on them. Quantitative feedback helps you measure sentiment objectively and keep track of trends in employee engagement and the customer experience in the long term. Qualitative feedback allows you to explore issues more deeply and take on board new ideas about how to make improvements.

Most of the feedback you gather will need to be anonymous employee feedback, so your workers can make their voice heard without fear of repercussions. 

The old-fashioned chat

Genuine, face-to-face conversations give employees the chance to open up about their ideas for improvements. Engaging in a friendly conversation with an employee will also show your interest in, and commitment to, hearing their point of view. Don’t be afraid to be really open-ended here: it’s natural for employees to be reticent about singling out something or something specific. You can gradually direct the conversation towards the concerns you pick up on. 

A few potential openers:

  • What could make our processes more efficient, do you thinkt? 
  • How are you getting on with these tools? Is there a tool you wish you had? 
  • Do you feel supported? Do you feel listened to? 

Employee surveys

You can take different approaches to employee surveys. 

There is, of course, the traditional annual employee engagement survey. You send out an employee feedback form once a year with expansive text-answer questions. 

If you’re absolutely sure that these work for you, all the better!  But you may want to consider the following potential drawbacks:

  • Busy employees don’t like long surveys, so response rates tend to be low
  • In-depth written responses are harder to keep anonymous, which also affects response rates.
  • If employees only have one opportunity per year to provide feedback, your survey risks taking the stopper out of a backlog of frustrations. This can skew results negative and turn your survey into a venting opportunity, rather than one for meaningful dialogue. 
  • Surveys take a long time to process. Any insights received when you sent the surveys out might not be so relevant by the time you process them. 
  • Generalist surveys create such a range of responses that it’s difficult to target specific areas. Ultimately, the feedback is too broad to respond to, and because of that no-one feels listened to when the improvements they want don’t appear.

Instead, we recommend: 

  • Keeping it short –  one scale-based question and an optional text box for further comments is much more manageable for employees. 
  • Keeping it regular –  monthly quick ‘pulse’ surveys allow you to measure sentiment in real time, rather than six months after the fact. 
  • Keeping it targeted – ask for feedback about one specific area, so that the scope for making improvements is manageable. 

For example, you might send out a monthly survey focusing on one question –  much like CSAT or NPS surveys do with your customers. This could be as simple as: 

On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied are you with the amount of training you receive from your line manager? 

1 2 3 4 5

Any further thoughts?  

<Optional text entry box>

This is also much easier for employees to answer anonymously. 

Exit interviews

HR exit interviews are a great source of qualitative feedback because employees tend to be less inhibited – they are leaving the organization, after all…

Yes, there are instances where these will be too cathartic to be useful (some employees use them to get everything off their chest as they leave), you will get a good general sense of why people leave. You may even find a few great suggestions for process improvements that have previously been overlooked. 

How to analyze and apply employee feedback

Collecting, processing and analyzing employee feedback might sound like a mammoth task. The good news is that there are plenty of employee feedback tools that will save a lot of time. 

Perhaps the most useful of these is an employee feedback app. You can often find employee feedback as a feature of a more general employee app or mobile intranet app. This  is an effective way to gather employee feedback because: 

  • you can reach your entire workforce –  remote and frontline as well as desk-based.
  • most employees check their smartphones several times a day. With pulse notifications, you can increase response rate significantly on mobile. 

Many employee feedback apps have discussion forums attached. These can be a great way of running virtual focus groups and engaging more casually with your workforce about any improvement suggestions they have. You could create forums for feedback on a  particular issue or keep it open-ended as a sort of virtual ‘suggestions box. 

There is also a fantastic range of automated tools on the market today that help you categorize and analyze employee feedback for key themes and improvement areas. You can find these as standalone tools or embedded into employee feedback apps:

  • Automated survey software, this allows you to send surveys and track real-time feedback 
  • Text analytics: software that helps you scan written feedback for key themes, problems and improvement areas.
  • Natural language processors: perform the same function as text analytics tools but for spoken word. 

Acting on employee feedback

If you don’t act on employee feedback, your workforce will become disillusioned and consider their input pointless. 

Ultimately, this creates a vicious circle. Employees don’t respond to feedback requests. You can’t make meaningful improvements. Employees provide even less feedback. You get the idea. 

This means that communication –  letting your workforce know exactly what you’re doing to address their concerns – is as vital as the actions you take themselves. A good place to start is by creating a communication plan that you can follow whenever you need to respond to feedback. 

This could include: 

  • what you were gathering feedback for
  • a summary of your key findings
  • any major improvement areas identified
  • action plans to address these improvement areas

A few final thoughts

Your employees don’t expect everything to be perfect in their workplace, all the time. What they do expect is that you listen to their concerns and act on them. 

If you can do this –  and show that you’re doing it – you can expect a more productive, more engaged workforce, equipped to do its job well. This translates into major CX benefits as engaged employees provide better service. 

Above all, aim for genuine connection and genuine transparency. If your employees feel like they can be honest with you, you’ll get more in-depth feedback and will be able to make more impactful improvements.