You’ve seen it in the news: Companies making headlines as employees comes forward about harassment, discrimination, and other unresolved issues that have created toxic work environments. Just recently we’ve seen this with companies like Apple, Goldman Sachs, and Johnson & Johnson.
Some of these incidents may be intentional maliciousness on the part of individuals in the company. But how many of these can be attributed to processes simply not working? How many of these employees reported wrongdoing, yet never had it resolved because of inefficient processes behind the scenes? Yet we found that 51% of HR professionals said they would only be somewhat surprised, or not surprised at all, to see their company in the news.
Since the gathering, management, and resolution of employees falls to HR, we wanted to better understand what their processes are like, where their bottlenecks are, and what they believe would improve the feedback process so that employees stay safe. Here are some of the key takeaways from “The State of HR Departments and Employee Feedback” report.
The top challenge for HR departments? Managing employee feedback.
The number one struggle for HR departments is managing employee feedback once it’s received. This could be due to any number of reasons, including having inefficient processes for managing reports once they come in — especially since we found that HRs are still using one-off Word and Google docs to manage each report and spreadsheets to track cases. Challenges could also stem from a lack of time, resources, and staffing. For example, a new report from Paychex finds that 70% of HR leaders say this past year has been among the most challenging in their career, and 98% say their role has changed over the past year. However, the longer reports take to resolve, the longer employees are experiencing the issues reported, and the more likely they are to leave.
Only 47% of HR departments believe their feedback approach is “very effective.”
When it comes to collecting and resolving employee feedback, less than half of HR leaders say the methods they currently have in place are very effective at gathering honest feedback. This could mean that either the tools they have in place aren’t getting used, or it could mean that the tools in place are gathering “light” feedback about the workplace: niceties or benign suggestions that don’t really tell the story of what’s going on in the workplace. In that case, tools need to be evaluated for their trustworthiness, as there’s a reason why, despite having tools available, employees aren’t being honest through them.
Are they getting honest feedback? 72% don’t think so.
Nearly three-quarters of HR leaders don’t believe they’re receiving honest feedback from employees about the state of the work environment, and only 38% of HR leaders are “highly confident” they’re hearing about workplace issues. HR leaders are sensing that employees are holding back. Why?
We can better understand this failure point by understanding why employees don’t report in the first place. The reason that comes up most often is fear of retaliation. They don’t speak up because they’re afraid of the negative consequences that may come from doing so, including not being considered a “team player,” having job duties or opportunities withheld, or even being forced out of their job entirely. Harvard Business Review points out that “Retaliation is astonishingly common,” citing that 68% of sexual harassment complaints made to the EEOC and 42% of LGBTQ+ discrimination reports include instances of retaliation with them.
Other reasons for not reporting include employees not knowing if their issue was big enough to report, or that they wouldn’t be believed if they did report. Others don’t report because they don’t trust that their workplace will do anything about it.
HR professionals believe more feedback options would help.
According to our survey, HR leaders believe that they can get more feedback by offering more options to employees. Yes — but only if they’re the right tools and approaches that employees will actually use.
As we saw above, there are a number of reasons why employees don’t report, which means offering tools to help overcome the barriers to reporting. Offer anonymous channels, which provide reassurance that those who report won’t be found out and retaliated against. Increase conversations, education, and encouragement around what should be reported, so that employees won’t question if it’s a big enough deal or not. Finally, not reporting because “nothing will be done anyway” means that employees aren’t seeing the follow-through on reports.
The best way is to start with the employee. What would they use? What could help reduce the hesitancy to report? Not only will you be offering tools employees will use, you’ll be gaining their trust in the process.
As for offering more digital options, apps and online platforms are the way to go. Offering easy-to-use platforms through which employees can report can help streamline the process, and keep reports in a centralized area where HR can then follow the cases to resolution. Digital options also allow for encryption and other security measures to make reporting truly anonymous.
53% think employees will more likely share feedback through anonymous channels.
We found that 53% of HR leaders believe employees are more likely to share feedback anonymously. However, in our other reports, we’ve found that upwards of 90% of employees say they are more likely to report if given ways to do so that are anonymous. This split shows that there’s a disconnect between what HR leaders believe are the right tools for their organization, and the tools that employees will actually use. If employees are more likely to report issues through anonymous channels, then provide them that. Otherwise, it’s back to square one: Not getting truly honest feedback.
Improving Employee Feedback for 2022
This list may seem daunting — there’s a lot to improve upon! — but committing to finding a better way to listen to employees, to resolve their issues, and to create a more engaging and healthy workplace for them is always the first step.
Claire Schmidt is the founder and CEO of AllVoices, an employee feedback management platform that enables anyone to anonymously report harassment and workplace issues directly to company leadership. Before founding AllVoices, Claire served as VP of Technology and Innovation at 20th Century Fox. In 2010 she helped found and lead Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, a nonprofit organization which deploys technology in innovative ways to fight child sex trafficking.