Employees aren’t robots. While some of them may have simple concerns about general operations around the workplace, others may be concerned about bigger problems like fraud, discrimination and harassment. Unless they allow employees to voice out their concerns, employers won’t be able to identify problems at the workplace or work towards improving them.
In most cases, employees prefer expressing their concerns to an immediate supervisor or manager. And instead of appreciating this effort, most supervisors are likely to either offer empty promises or retaliate improperly, both of which will discourage the employee from expressing concerns in the future.
It is being realized with increasing urgency that employee feedback is critical to business success. Unless the employer-employee relationships are maintained in an amiable manner, employers will not be able to gain trust and loyalty from the employees and hence they will remain uninformed about pressing problems at the workplace.
For these reasons, Human Resource Managers everywhere are implementing complaint-gathering solutions like hotlines and employee surveys to identify problems areas in the office and to lead much-needed organizational changes.
Ordained by Law
Following the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 in the US, all public limited companies were ordained by law to set up telephone hotlines that could collect information in a confidential manner so that employees could report illegal practices inside the company. This trend quickly caught up with privately held companies as well.
However, convincing employees to use these tools is an entirely different matter. Even though companies have a lot to gain from operational hotlines and employee feedback, there’s little effort being put into promoting these channels in the right manner. The current culture and open-door policies implemented at most organizations are inadequate in bringing out the desired result.
Timely feedback can not only improve relationships inside the office but also prevent costly lawsuits and encourage profitable innovation. But unless employees trust these channels, such information exchange is least likely to happen. HR has a major role to play in facilitating employees and ensuring 100% anonymity for the reporter. Not only this, they need to review employee feedback on a continuous basis, improving them in every possible way.
Listening to Employee Feedback
Strong internal communication channels are definitely preferred by most employers as it suggests internal strengths and stability. There are several ways to encourage employees to speak up, which include:
- Hosting employee focus groups
- Establishing telephonic and web-based hotlines
- Through employee satisfaction surveys
- Suggestions put forth in Suggestion Boxes
- Training supervisors to be more receptive towards co-workers
Of these, the most popular medium of communication is the supervisor/manager. Employees generally feel comfortable sharing their burden with immediate bosses, provided they are willing to listen. If someone from HR is known to be a good listener and to strive for employee rights, she/he is likely to receive more open critiques and suggestions than anyone else in the company.
Informal feedbacks are likely to contain more useful information than formal ones. Soliciting these required companies to train managerial staff in asking open-ended questions and listening to employee answers sincerely. Not only this, to make the employee feel valued, most companies require managers to thank their staff for offering their feedback.
If there’s something that can be done about the employee concern, it should be put through. Or if there’s nothing that can be done, the manager needs to convey it respectfully, explaining the reasons clearly to get the employee onboard with company’s policies.
Some companies have certain periodic events where all employees come directly in touch with the senior management, facilitating them in voicing their concerns. However, such methods are not always practical, especially for very large and global organizations. Employee hotlines are a better way of gaining company insights.
Hotlines enable employees to share their feedback anonymously to a third-party service. There is little fear of repercussion and low probability of the call being traced back to the employee. The interviewer can then prepare call summaries and forward it to the company for further action. For someone who isn’t very comfortable with calls, a similar model is employed that involves emails.
Despite all of this, lack of knowledge and publicity of the channels means the employees will still fear to share their feedback. There’s a pressing need for companies to educate their employees regarding internal communication channels and hotlines. Also, to make sure all employees are taken care of, companies need to have different hotline channels like calls and emails for different kinds of employees.
Is it Effective?
The number of people utilizing these channels is representative of its success. However, these percentages are quite low, not necessarily because employees don’t have anything to report but because most of them might not even know that such a channel exists.
A better way to judge the success of these hotlines is to analyze the data collected. Even if these do not state the issue explicitly, they are quite indicative of underlying problems in a specific area. Follow-ups may be necessary to reach a positive conclusion.
Employers also need to evaluate hotlines based on how they’re handling phone calls and reporting issues. Language may become a barrier to reporting when a company’s employees come from mixed backgrounds. Employers need to make sure these issues do not impact the quality of employee feedback.
Lastly, employees need to be made aware of the activities ensuing from their complaints. They need to be given a complaint number for easy follow-up. Alternatively, a general memo can be circulated across the office with updated actions list to keep everyone in the loop.
In the end, this decision lays with HR. They’re responsible for setting up communication channels between the employees and the employers. They need to make sure employee feedback is being given its due share of importance. After all, promises without actions don’t really matter.