There is no doubt that the success of a company is strongly influenced by the company culture and the every-day working atmosphere inside the company. Shouldn’t that imply a strong need for every company to do their best in order to create a good and productive working environment? A current study by the Federation of German Trade Unions (DGB) shows that there are still significant shortcomings in this regard in German businesses. Especially striking are the results of the statistics concerning climate of opinion: almost half of the respondents do not dare to voice their opinion in front of their supervisors. How can this be?
When managers don’t hear of problems…
… that does not mean they don’t exist. There can be various reasons why employees don’t voice concerns and issues. It might be due to a lack of appropriate space and opportunity for such feedback, or the habit of dismissing smaller issues as to unimportant to mention and thus letting them build up to a significantly worsening effect on the overall working climate. Last but not least, employees might simply be too afraid of negative consequences to say anything.
Everyone knows the stereotype of the dominant supervisor who doesn’t tolerate objections from anyone and reacts sensitively to any kind of criticism. After all – how much of a supervisor is someone who does not have control over everything at any given time and also knows better than his employees how things need to be done?
Irony aside: How much truth there is to this stereotypical image can remain an open question. Still, people in higher positions of power are at least more prone to this kind of behaviour – whether they are conscious of it or not. If you are a leadership position, simply ask yourself the following questions:
- How often do you cut off discussions with a swift authoritarian decision?
- When was the last time you received negative feedback from an employee? How did you react to that feedback?
- How often do you talk to your employees, aside from group meetings? What are the topics of those conversations?
- When was the last time you admitted to having made a mistake in front of your employees?
- When problems are brought to your attention, in what form does that usually happen?
These questions can also be a good method for self-reflection when you think that generally there is a good and open feedback climate between you and your employees. In daily business, personal principles can sometimes get a bit lost without you realising it. This makes it important to take a step back once in a while to make sure you are still on the set track.
What are the effects of a bad feedback environment?
What impact does a bad feedback environment actually have for a company? On the one hand, there is a lesser chance of discovering existing problems and the opportunity to make changes in time can be lost, which is bad for company performance.
But mainly, a bad feedback climate means unhappy employees. A working environment in which employees are not able to openly voice their opinion and talk about problems can be detrimental in many ways. A negativ working environment does not only impact employees’ motivation and productivity in daily tasks, but also their general physical and mental health. In the end, it also results in a higher risk of employees leaving the company. The study by DGB shows that on average one third of the questioned employees in a bad feedback environment think about changing employers. In a more open feedback climate this number is less than half the amount, at only 11 percent.
In conclusion, employers who don’t give their employees the feeling that they can voice issues and concerns, have to look for new employees much more frequently – and that is expensive.
Create spaces for feedback and improve the working climate
As you can see, there are many reasons to act against bad feedback climate as soon as possible. What can be done?
Finding the answer to this question is easier if you already managed to pin-point specific sources of the problem. In that case you can work out fitting counteractive measures right away. If this is not the case, the first step is a critical observation and analysis. One of the most conclusive ways is to question employees through anonymous employee surveys, whilst being very transparent about all processes yourself. Why is this survey being conducted? What happens with the results? Continuous pulse checks are especially effective, as you receive results in real-time and react to them immediately.
These surveys can not only be helpful short-term, but also in the long run, to maintain a positive feedback environment. Even with open and understanding supervisors, there are topics employees don’t feel comfortable bringing up directly face-to-face. In this case, anonymous surveys offer a safe space for the employee to approach the issue carefully and see how management reacts. Then the next step can be an open conversation.
In all this, there is one essential success factor: the openness of supervisors to receive criticism. This might also have to be trained and supported. You know the saying “Don’t ask any questions you don’t want to know the answer to” – it should be added: “… but also be aware of the consequences of ignorance.”