Employee Feedback

How to Respond to Negative Employee Feedback About Your Business

December 31, 2020
November 7, 2023
John Allen
Lattice Team

This story is a guest contribution from RingCentral, a global video messaging and virtual phone systems provider. Learn more about their offerings here.

As a leader or founder, negative feedback about your business hurts. While you might feel like your company deserves a “best place to work” award, perhaps employees disagree. Naturally, you’ll want to find out why.

Take negative employee feedback in stride: You can use it to improve yourself, your leadership style, and your business. And thankfully, there’s an array of people management tools you can leverage to drive engagement and track feedback. Here are five tips for how to respond to negative employee feedback.

1. Think before reacting.

Your first instinct may be to reply straight away, but that would be a mistake. Take a deep breath and give yourself time to process the feedback. While you shouldn’t don’t do anything rash, don’t take too long to respond, either. You don’t want employees to think you’re ignoring their concerns. A timeframe of a couple of days is a good benchmark.

For example, let’s say a customer service teammate complains that your call center software isn’t up to scratch. Their reasons? The current platform is outdated and relies too much on physical hardware. Take a moment to consider their points.

Can you see the potential short and long-term benefits of implementing a change? What are the pros and cons of switching at this time? Have you received similar comments from employees or even clients? Do your due diligence and don’t get emotional.

2. Don’t take it personally.

This sounds obvious, but don’t take criticism to heart or let it spoil your day. Remember to ask yourself what the feedback actually means. It doesn’t imply you’re a horrible person or a weak boss — the comments may h more to do with the technology the company uses or the atmosphere caused by an employee conflict.

For example, if an employee reaches out with feedback that your company’s task management software isn’t serving the team well, don’t take it as a personal attack because you inherited the system or even signed the contract. As a leader, your sole responsibility is to empower your team to do its best work — meaning that allegiance to any vendor or tool can’t stand in the way. Listen to employee feedback with an open mind and, if applicable, research alternatives.

3. Obtain more information. 

Get the full picture before deciding how to proceed. Is it an objective opinion? Are there supporting examples? Do others agree? Does the person who put the feedback forward have suggestions for how to improve things?

Without being dismissive, ask follow-up questions to show you care and better understand the problem. Based on that information, you can decide what opportunities are the most pressing and make changes. This can be done through employee surveys, or look into the possibility of how to start a conference call and have focus group discussions for real time feedback.

For instance, if you receive feedback that your small business isn’t giving back to the community, ask the person to provide you with more detail. What do they think you can do to remedy the situation? Did they have any specific causes in mind?

You’ll then be in a better position to contemplate the issue and examine solutions. You may consider working with a charity or offering staff paid volunteering days. Reaching out to local nonprofits and setting up knowledge-sharing workshops may be an option.

Going back to technology, let’s say a remote teammate thinks your video conferencing software is lacking. Use that as an opportunity to learn from them, the user. Ask them to provide their personal, specific video conferencing definition — in other words, what do they expect from a solution? What features do they need, and why? This approach is similar to how product teams interview clients to understand their needs and expectations ahead of a major launch. 

4. Make positive changes.

After you’ve gathered information, it’s time to act. If one of your developers feels mentally and physically exhausted, for example, they may place some of the blame on you. Burnout can affect health and wellbeing and lead to negative feedback. Ask clarifying questions to start arriving at potential solutions.

Are they saying “yes” to every project
even if they’re overloaded? Are they taking proper breaks during the day? Do they need time off? Are they a remote colleague who feels isolated because you haven’t been using web meeting software or virtual team-building events to engage them? Brainstorm with your People team to devise strategies to ease the pressure.

If you’re juggling a lot of employee feedback, consider starting with the things that are easy to fix and will get you results straight away. That way, your team will see that you’re serious about improving. You’ll then be in an excellent position to concentrate on longer-term strategies and address more complex areas.

Coping with workplace criticism is hard, but it’s your job to handle unfavorable comments well as a manager or business owner. There are methods you can adopt to achieve that. Investing in a people management platform can help, too.

Remember, not hearing any feedback may be a sign of disengagement — so thank employees for their constructive criticism and follow through.