The Painless Way to Handle Negative Employee Feedback

5 min read
Jan 18, 2017

handling negative employee feedback

In an ideal world, whenever you asked your employees for their input they’d shower your organization and every member of management with never-ending praise. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever solicited employee feedback knows all too well, that’s never the case.

When companies use employee feedback surveys, the responses that come back contain the good, the bad, and the ugly. While managers may expect feedback to be negative in certain areas — like a recently started initiative that employees constantly grumble about — they may also receive less-than-optimal input regarding a key team member they thought everyone loved, for example.

If you give your employees the opportunity to give you their feedback, some of it will invariably be negative. But how exactly are you supposed to respond to negative feedback? Here are some things managers should definitely do after hearing negative feedback — as well as what they should definitely avoid doing:


Do: Understand That All Feedback Can Be Used as a Tool for Improvement

Your employees aren’t telling you that you are a terrible person by giving negative feedback. In the worst case scenario, they’re just pointing out weaknesses in your management style or initiatives that they believe could be considerably more effective.

Don’t take the negative feedback about your organization personally. Your employees work hard for you and care about the future of your company. Use the negative feedback as a stepping stone to building a better organization and becoming a stronger leader.

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Don’t: Respond to the Negative Feedback Immediately After Receiving It

You may be tempted to talk to your employees the moment after you’ve received negative feedback. But take a deep breath and relax. You don’t want your emotions to get the best of you and say something you may later regret.

Once you receive negative feedback, take some time to collect your thoughts. Write down some bullet points to share with your workers that outline the results of the feedback and the plan moving forward. That said, you’ll definitely want to talk with your employees shortly after receiving the feedback (e.g., later that week).


Do: Be Honest and Transparent With the Results of the Feedback

The more transparent and honest you are with your workers, the more transparent and honest they’ll be with you. While you might be tempted to keep some of the less flattering feedback you receive to yourself, the employees themselves know what they shared with you. If you try to hide some of the more negative things (that, when you take a step back, happen to appear to be true), word may get around that you were beating around the bush — which could erode trust.

In certain cases, you may want to tone down the language, at least a bit, but be truthful with your employees. You’ll earn even more respect.


Don’t: Take the Negative Feedback Out on Your Team

As noted above, being on the receiving end of negative feedback can hurt. There’s no shame in admitting that. But the last thing you want to do is let negative feedback change your mood and your demeanor. Don’t let it turn you into a mean person.

By opting to solicit employee feedback, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. If you take negative feedback out on your team by being a jerk, you certainly won’t help improve culture or strengthen engagement.


Do: Prove to Your Employees That What They Say Matters to You

There’s no sense in asking your employees for their input if their advice and thoughts are just going to fall on deaf ears. After summarizing the negative feedback you’ve received to your employees, let your actions prove that you care about what they have to say and that their advice actually means something to you.

Once your employees are aware of the negative feedback, schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss potential solutions or improvements. Odds are some of your team members will have great ideas as to how to improve things. Listen to what they have to say and put the best solutions into practice. That’s an easy way to give your employees a better sense of ownership.


Don’t: Thank Your Employees for Their Feedback Only to Ignore All of It

According to our Engagement Report, 70% of employees say that it’s too hard to get all of their work done every week. That being the case, the last thing you want to do is give your workers additional tasks that ultimately end up being completely meaningless.

If you ask your employees for feedback and that feedback doesn’t result in any changes, your team won’t exactly be inspired. Instead, they’ll feel cheated out of even more of their time. Bottom line: if you’re going to ask your employees for their feedback, you need to be prepared to do something with it.


Do: Devise a Game Plan That Addresses Your Employees’ Concerns

Once you’ve received negative feedback, talked with your workers about it, and heard many possible solutions to the problems that are hurting your organization, it’s time to put together a game plan to address concerns and weaknesses.

For example, if your company uses an on-premises communications platform and many of your employees complained about it in their feedback, you may decide to use a cloud-based business messaging service instead. In that case, you probably wouldn’t want to make a switch overnight. Instead, pick a date in the near future, let your employees know of the impending switch, and hold a training session beforehand. Once you’ve switched, evaluate the success of your actions over the next several weeks.


Don’t: Think Your Work Is Done After One Round of Feedback

As a manager, your goal should be to continually improve your organization. That being the case, it’s simply not enough to ask for feedback one time, make changes, and think your work is done.

Great businesses ask their employees for feedback on a regular basis. That way, they are always able to leverage the best ideas and nip any potential problems in the bud — before they spiral out of control.

While it’s not always easy to receive negative feedback, you can’t expect to improve without it. By regularly soliciting your employees’ feedback, being honest about the good and the bad, and taking proactive steps to enact the best ideas, you’ll go a long way toward strengthening your company and improving engagement. That’s the ticket to a spectacularly happy and productive workforce.



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