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Creating a Workplace Culture That Empowers Employees to Give Honest Feedback

  • Employees are often reluctant to share feedback and opinions with managers, even if managers encourage them to do so
  • Recent research suggests that emphasizing that employees have a choice in how business is conducted can yield better results
  • Choice plays a strong role in a person’s workflow, so highlighting it as a key part of company culture can resonate with workers

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Managers often try to encourage employees to be open and honest in their feedback, saying their door is always open and suggestions are welcome. This approach can be a beneficial way of supporting innovation and identifying shortcomings in how a company does business.

In practice, however, employees are often reluctant to accept such invitations due to concerns that their suggestions will be turned down or even result in punitive action. Research shows that 85 percent of employees opt not to share feedback out of fear that it will be received negatively.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests a new way of encouraging employee feedback. Rather than simply telling workers that feedback is welcome, managers can potentially see better results by developing a company culture emphasizing that employees always have a choice in how business is conducted.

  • Researchers had participants assume the role of job applicants and review company brochures, one of which highlighted choice as a critical part of company culture and one of which did not
  • Study participants were consistently more willing to say they would give their thoughts, opinions, and ideas if they worked at the company that emphasized choice; respondents also said they were more willing to work for this business
  • Since choice is central to an employee’s own workflow, the researchers suggest that companies emphasizing choice is a way of reaffirming their role as a strong, independent person who can influence overall business decisions
  • The study also struck a cautious note, saying too many choices could easily overwhelm employees

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