Nobody likes getting negative feedback. As humans, we crave affirmations as a way to tell us we’re on the right track. And because we hate getting negative feedback, we also refrain from giving it.
Focusing on the positive doesn’t help us grow, though. Sure, you want to know what’s working so you can keep doing it, but you won’t make any changes if you don’t recognize what isn’t working. Without change, you can’t develop and grow, whether it’s personal or professional.
In the workplace, receiving and giving negative employee feedback can be a delicate matter. As a manager, knowing how you’re helping employees is critical to the growth of the business. You wouldn’t want to stop doing things that motivate employees, right? What may be just as important is understanding what doesn’t help or resonate with employees, along with the things that employees wish you’d do.
This is where negative employee feedback comes in. Let’s cover how negative feedback can help your department and organization thrive, as well as what you can do to get negative feedback without putting employees in a situation that makes them feel threatened or uncomfortable.
The challenges of soliciting negative employee feedback
Direct, unfiltered employee feedback paves the way to growth. This type of feedback is rarely given, however, in part because it can be difficult to receive it without feeling attacked. Yet, a Harvard Business Review study found that 92 percent of employees were driven to perform better when they received negative feedback, provided the feedback was given appropriately.
As you might expect, people generally don’t ask for negative employee feedback, and this includes managers. We’d all rather focus on the positives. Direct reports might hold back from offering negative feedback out of fear of retribution, and they may not consider that their feedback might be just what you need to help themselves develop their professional lives.
This dilemma between managers and employees asking for and getting negative feedback holds organizations back from having candid conversations. And, to be fair, it can be a slippery slope. No matter how much you understand that negative employee feedback will help you succeed as a manager, it can still be hard on an emotional level to hear negative feedback and not feel defensive. Employees may reveal what they don’t like about your performance or how they don’t agree with your initiatives.
Fortunately, there’s a way you can ask employees for negative feedback anonymously. Anonymous employee assessments are a simple, effective way to give employees a chance to say what’s on their mind without having to worry about facing consequences. Assessments also give managers time and space to digest the feedback before moving forward.
How to handle negative employee feedback
It’s easy to get started with employee assessments. Organizations often send them to everyone in the company to get a sense for how employees feel about the company, as well as how they feel about their respective departments and managers.
As feedback is collected, you might see some negative feedback regarding your department, team, and even yourself. Note that this can be difficult to manage if you aren’t prepared.
Here are three steps to prepare yourself for negative employee feedback so you don’t get caught off-guard.
1. Treat it as a learning opportunity
Framing employee assessments as a learning opportunity instead of a criticism can help you take a step back emotionally and look at the feedback from a purely strategic point of view.
Employees aren’t making personal attacks. They’re helping you see what you can be doing better to help them improve their performance.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Through employee feedback, you’re discovering which habits and actions negatively impact people.
2. Assess your role in creating the sentiment
We’re often quick to get defensive when faced with negative feedback, whether personally or professionally. Rather than reacting in a defensive manner, take a step back. Understand why employees and direct reports feel the way they do, and then assess what role you played in causing them to feel that way.
Is there a process in place that makes employees feel anxious? Are you creating unrealistic expectations? Do you criticize too much and praise too little? There are many things you can do to make the work environment better for everyone, and it starts by understanding what needs aren’t being met.
3. Know this is empowering you to make change
You can’t change a problem if you’re unaware of it. Getting negative feedback is the only way you’re going to be able to move forward with changes that will motivate employees and keep them happy. Knowing your team’s sentiments is the first step you can take to make improvements to the work environment and positively impact their productivity.
Benefits of negative employee feedback
Is leadership listening to employees? There are many benefits to listening to those who question company policies, systems, and procedures. Employees who challenge you are the ones who’ll generate positive change in the company.
Per ResearchGate, there’s a correlation between negative feedback and enhanced creativity. The study determined that we’re pushed to think more creatively when we feel socially vulnerable. As the initial sting of negative feedback wears off, people can zone in on a creative task and be more inventive and focused.
Opportunities to grow
By actively recruiting feedback about how to improve decision-making and team processes, you’re helping invest team members more personally in the outcomes. In this way, even if employees aren’t involved in the decision-making themselves, they still feel their voices are being heard, which helps them to grow and continue offering insight.
By accepting negative feedback from employees and making changes based on it, you demonstrate that everyone’s opinion is valued. This creates trust between you as a leader and the people who report to you, which is fundamental to instilling a company culture that places value on employee happiness and accepts accountability for mistakes.
Open yourself up to negative employee feedback today
Be open to receiving unfiltered, negative feedback and you’ll find that building trust among employees becomes easier, helping the organization grow.Olumo offers a simple platform that employees can use to give wholly anonymous feedback. The identities of respondents are protected and not revealed, thus creating a safe space for true voices to be heard. With our employee surveys, assessments, and polls, you can get answers to your most important questions in a comfortable and safe fashion.