When we think about giving feedback in the workplace, we tend to think about bosses letting their subordinates know how they’re doing, work-wise.
But employees know that this goes both ways -- as much time managers spend managing you, you do a lot of hard work managing your boss. This working relationship puts them in a good position to critique their managers’ management style and serve feedback in the other direction. Employees also have the most knowledge about which policies and procedures are or aren’t working. Feedback employees give to their bosses even has a name: upward feedback. Unfortunately, many workers are scared to offer constructive feedback to their superiors because they think that by doing so they’ll fall out of their boss’s good graces -- regardless of whether they have a good manager or difficult boss.
But when organizational culture encourages employees to give upward feedback, companies benefit in a number of ways:
- Employee morale shoots up. Team members never have to wonder about whether their bosses care about their ideas and suggestions, and might even get to see their ideas put into practice. This works to build trust over time between managers and direct reports, making for a more effective working relationship. Employees' job satisfaction also tends to go up because employees feel they have more say in their work life and therefore feel more engaged.
- Managers become more engaged, too. Nearly two-thirds of employees want more actionable feedback. That’s because they can leverage it to become more effective in their roles. Managers are employees, too, and the best ones are always trying to improve—just like the star employees that work for them. Receiving feedback regularly can help your manager change for the better, and an employee has a different professional relationship -- and thus gives different feedback -- compared to their manager's co-workers. When they hear feedback, managers understand where they can invest in terms of their professional growth, especially if they want to become better leaders.
- Profitability increases as well. According to a Gallup survey, managers who receive feedback lead teams that are 8.9% more profitable than those who do not. This makes sense: When bosses know where changes need to be made and follow through on those suggestions, teams become happier and more productive—which translates into more sales.
Despite these benefits, it can still be difficult to get employees to buy in to the idea that they need to tell their bosses what they’re doing wrong. In order to build the best company, organizations need to create cultures that encourage employees to give their bosses effective feedback—no matter how uncomfortable that might be for feedback-averse managers or more introverted employees. Otherwise, bosses will remain stuck in their less-than-optimal ways and discouraging policies will remain in place, disengaging employees.
But there are several tactics both organizations and employees can employ to increase the chances they unlock the full promise of upward feedback:
- Managers should be ready to hear it. First thing’s first: If managers want employees to give upward feedback regularly, they need to let their teams know, very clearly, that they want to hear it -- and mean it too. Even if it might make them uncomfortable, or even if they're scared they might get bad news, managers have to be receptive to feedback. Great leaders know that they have room to change and develop, and hearing feedback on a regular basis can empower managers to do so. Managers should also acknowledge that they understand employees might feel awkward critiquing their superiors, and ask specific questions on what they want to hear from the employee.
- Find a tool that makes feedback easy. To streamline the upward feedback process—and ensure honest feedback is given—use a modern performance management platform that makes it easier for your employees to deliver feedback anonymously. This is also where managers can create clear long-term goals that their manager can keep track of.
- Suggest employees prepare remarks ahead of time. Prior to relaying feedback during a 1:1 meeting or check-ins, employees should do their due diligence to make sure that they know exactly what they want to say, and what relevant information they think would help their manager's career development. Plus, not all upward feedback needs to be constructive criticism! Like any employee, managers will benefit from positive feedback as well.
- Let employees know that it’s their perspective that matters. It’s impossible for an employee to truly understand the scope of their boss’ job. In certain ways, a manager's upward feedback can be even more valuable than a manager's peer feedback. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees should give feedback that’s based on their own observations. Encourage the use of data to support their point of view.
- Encourage suggestions, solutions, and guidance. As with employee feedback, suggesting a solution or goal to work towards is a great boon for upward feedback. Small tweaks to what a boss needs to change about their work style might make a huge difference to their direct reports. For example, if your boss is always leaving early while the rest of the team stays late, suggest they redistribute some work so everyone’s load is lighter—allowing folks to leave earlier. Also, employees pointing out the behaviors of successful managers can help managers learn from example. Once again, data can strengthen the employee's case; in this example, let the manager know that research says more than half of U.S. workers are burned out.
The sooner companies understand that feedback can be a two-way street and incorporate upward feedback into their ongoing operations, the better off they’ll be. Engagement will increase for both managers and employees. In turn, workers will be happier—and that happiness will translate into a healthier bottom line.