Here’s What You Should Do When an Employee Has a Complaint

As a leader, it’s likely that you are the person who employees will come to when they have feedback about the company. What should you do when their feedback is negative?

Feedback from employees is vital to creating a positive culture within the company. Both positive and negative feedback should be considered. Instead of dismissing negative feedback, you should embrace it: if addressed properly, negative feedback can act as the first step towards a healthy, positive work environment.

What Makes Up a Positive, Safe Work Environment?

Every company should strive to create a workplace that is safe and positive — but what does this mean? A positive work environment will have these positive qualities:

  • Employees are given proper training and clear, reasonable instructions, and they feel trusted.
  • Employees are safe from discrimination, harassment, or bullying.
  • There is a sense of accountability rather than blame.
  • All communication is clear and respectful.
  • Employees know that they can express concerns or share feedback without fear.

READ MORE: The Key Elements of Any Successful Organizational Culture

Why feedback in the workplace is so important

Don’t view feedback as an irritant or a distraction. Feedback is actually essential to a positive work environment. The ability to receive and act on feedback is an important quality for a leader to have. By accepting feedback, employees will feel heard, become more engaged, and feel a sense of purpose or belonging. Plus, being open to feedback will give you the chance to be made aware of ongoings in your workplace. Plus, ignoring feedback puts your workplace at risk of having employees lose their motivation and happiness.

READ MORE: Promoting Psychological Safety in the Workplace

How to ask employees for feedback about the workplace

Rather than waiting for employees to come to you, it’s smart to approach them for feedback. This demonstrates that you value the opinions of your employees. When you ask, be open as possible, and avoid being defensive. Instead, show a genuine interest in your employee’s opinions. Be an active, open listener, and make it clear that you are willing to take action. Make sure to pay attention to non-verbal cues — some employees will express their opinions through gestures rather than words.

READ MORE: How to Establish Trust in the Workplace

What to do with negative employee feedback about work culture

When an employee approaches you with negative feedback, take the following steps to create a satisfying outcome.

Be appreciative

No matter what follows, your response should indicate that you appreciate the honesty from the feedback shared. If your employee feels like they are being heard and that their concerns are being considered or respected, the progress to recovery is already on the right path.

Ask the right questions

When an employee shares negative feedback, ask questions that indicate that you care and that you want more details. Avoid asking “yes or no” questions that ask employees to simplify their answers. Instead, ask open questions that will lead to productive conversations. Good examples include:

  • What seems inefficient or needs more clarity?
  • What frustrations have risen from your concern?
  • What outcomes are you afraid of?

Get examples

An employee might express negative feedback using generalized language. To pinpoint a solution, ask for specifics. Some of these details may seem inconsequential, but they may be important. Precise details can help you indicate whether the issue is stand-alone or indicative of a larger pattern. In either case, you should give these details consideration.

Prioritize the burning issues

Negative feedback may bring forward multiple issues, and you may not be able to address everything at once. Try to determine which issues require immediate attention. A threat to safety, an issue that hinders completion of immediate tasks, or an issue which multiple people are affected by may deserve higher priority. The key here is to balance short-term and long-term goals.

Consolidate smaller issues

Have multiple employees made the same comments? Have multiple concerns arisen that might have the same outcome? If so, they should be discussed together. They will likely share a solution.

Develop a S.M.A.R.T. action plan

Your entire approach should be solution-driven, and that will require deliberate action. Rather than taking a trial-and-error approach and hoping that your attempts to solve the problem works, you can take careful, effective steps.

To do this, make a S.M.A.R.T. action plan. Your actions should be…

  • Specific: Make your actions and intentions clear. Don’t leave room for misinterpretation.
  • Measurable: It should be undeniably evident that your solution has or has not worked. The most common way is to introduce the element of time — set a time by which the solution should be implemented.
  • Achievable: Ensure that there is a clear path towards your solution.
  • Realistic: Your solution should be free of fallacies, and you should not ask anyone to achieve or provide something they likely can’t.
  • Timely: Your solution should be implemented quickly enough that the problem cannot grow worse.

Follow up with the employee(s)

It is vital that you ensure that the employee who gave negative feedback is satisfied. Ask if they have seen or felt any changes, and if ongoing actions could use any tweaking, or if they have any more concerns.

Be transparent and communicate results with all employees

Whenever significant changes are made in the workplace, all employees should be informed. This way, everyone will be on the same page, everyone will feel valued, and any further feedback or insight can be shared.

Follow your action plan and ensure its completion

Your action plan should be followed as precisely as possible. If you face challenges along the way, work on them, rather than letting them derail the process.

The Takeaway

If an employee approaches you with negative feedback, you should listen closely and work towards a satisfying solution. By following the steps above, you’ll pivot closer to a healthy, safe, and welcoming work environment for all.