Ask And Ye Shall Receive

The benefits of asking for feedback in the workplace.

Employee retention should be a top priority for any company. High turnover rates do not reflect well on a business, but it can be a challenge to figure out where the problem lies.

Albert Hirschman, author and economist, offered a theory in his 1970’s work Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Hirschman concluded that, when faced with dissatisfaction in the workplace, an employee will ultimately choose to either exit the job or voice their concerns.

But how much can talking about conflict really benefit a work environment, and how can management approach these difficult conversations?

It can be stressful to bring up issues, especially in a situation where there are power dynamics and pay cheques at play. With many options on the current job market, (unemployment rates are at an all time low), employees will generally avoid talking about their dissatisfaction, choosing instead to look for something more suitable.

But just because a staff member isn’t starting difficult conversations, that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say.

There is a simple, effective way to nip an employee’s wandering eye in the bud: ask them for feedback. Keep it non confrontational, anonymous even.

In a recent study by Harvard Business Review, frontline workers in an Indian garment company were asked to take anonymous employee satisfaction surveys during a time of year that typically lead to unrest among the staff. Curiously, this was the time that immediately followed an annual wage increase.

The study found that many staff members were upset by the inconsistency in their wage increases. Some years were significantly higher than others, leading to disappointment when the boost was a minor one.

In the months that followed the wage increase, employees that participated in the anonymous survey were 20% less likely to leave than their unsurveyed coworkers.

Even employees that felt extremely disappointed in their wage increase were more likely to have a better attendance record if they’d been asked their opinion.

When staff members feel valued, they are more likely to be actively engaged in the workplace, and actively engaged employees have a better sense of loyalty compared to those who see their job as a means to an end.

Of course, there are more benefits to employee surveys than an improvement on turnover rates. Frontline employees are dealing with a completely different side of the business than higher ups, and often have insights that may increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, or even enhance brand identity in the community.

It’s impossible for management to know everything that’s going on with their workers, and asking for feedback isn’t a cure all. But facilitating honest dialogue can be a huge leap toward better job satisfaction and, ultimately, a healthier workplace.