7 common frontline employee feedback mistakes

Posted on: March 12, 2024By: Patrick Icasas

There’s a right way to collect employee feedback, and there’s a wrong way. We’ve all been on the wrong end of that exchange at least once (30-minute employee surveys, anyone?).

And that’s when we’re already deskbound—supposedly an ideal arrangement for surveys. How much more difficult will this task be for frontline and deskless workforces that don’t sit in front of a computer all day?

Employees Sharing Feedback

The frontline workforce presents a unique set of challenges to any managers or organizations when collecting feedback, which makes it even easier to make mistakes. And mistakes result in the opposite of what you’re trying to do. Instead of boosting engagement and positivity, you are at risk for disengagement and negativity. 

We get it: collecting and acting on feedback at scale isn’t easy for any frontline organization. But identifying the common missteps is a critical part of improving the process. 

1. Only asking for employee feedback once a year

12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days.

There’s a lot that can happen in that amount of time. An employee can have a brilliant idea, or they can have a personal crisis. There could be a serious team challenge, or a big company opportunity. 

All of them can pass you by if you only ask for feedback once a year. 

And it’s not like employees are avoiding you; they want to talk. 58% of employees wish their company conducted employee engagement surveys more frequently. But only 20% of U.S. employees say that they’ve had conversations with their manager in the last 6 months. 

Frontline employees especially need this attention due to the nature of their work arrangement. It’s generally faster-paced and more eventful than in other areas of the company, which leads to less time for administrative concerns, and so management needs to make more of an effort to engage them instead of waiting for the employee to raise their hand. 

You’re not going to be agile enough to react to timely ideas or mission-critical problems if you hear about them a year after the fact. 

2. Being unclear on what employee feedback you want

Frontline employees have lots of ideas. They’re in the thick of things, seeing customers at their best and worst, or they’re toiling at the core of your production and distribution. They see things that you can’t. They have a great sense of what will work and what won’t.  

But you have to ask the right questions in order to draw that information out. 

Vague and broad questions can confuse employees. They end up asking more questions in response: What exactly are they asking for? When’s the right time to share my ideas? Will I get in trouble for volunteering this information?

Wondering if you’re guilty of being unclear with your feedback? Well, have you sent any of these questions to your workforce…? 

  • How can the company improve?
  • Do you have anything you want to say?
  • I’m looking for ideas… (and end there)

These aren’t going to get you valuable feedback. Instead, be very specific. Are you asking for employee feedback about the hiring process? Thoughts on shift schedules? Do you need ideas on how to boost summer sales? Or how to address employee burnout? These are the questions that are going to tap into your employees’ experience and expertise. 

3. Not having the right employee feedback channels in place

There’s a time and a place for everything—including employee feedback. 

Sometimes employee feedback is sensitive or private, like if it involves a manager or another employee. These cases are best handled in anonymous or private channels. Other times, an employee’s idea is too good to keep private, and would be better off on an online forum where the rest of the organization can brainstorm and contribute.

If you don’t have either of these options, you’re limiting the avenues through which employees can communicate with you. Employees would normally not air private griefs in a public company forum. (Or, if they do, then that means your workforce is seriously past the breaking point, and you need to take action now.)

Feedback can also get stifled by access to proper feedback channels. Depending on the communication tools you use with your employees, there’s a chance they don’t have regular access to the channels to share real-time feedback. And what good is valuable consumer insight if you can’t get it right away? Plus, it’s unlikely an employee will even remember to share the information if they have to wait until they’re home post-shift. 

A digital platform is a great way to provide always-on feedback channels to frontline workers—that way, they can log insights and ideas as soon as they come up, right from their phone. 

4. Making your employee feedback channels time-consuming to use…

Some companies love to make extensive employee survey forms in the hopes of “being thorough.” And while your intent is good, the actual effect is not. According to SurveyMonkey, survey abandonment rates increase for any survey longer than 7 or 8 minutes. Completion rates can drop anywhere from 5% to 20%. 

And while the study notes that employers may “push” respondents to complete the survey (and thus increase completion rates), people tend to rush through long surveys and are less likely to give genuine or thoughtful responses. 

In fact, the study found that employees give higher-quality responses when taking a shorter survey, because they take more time on each question.

5. …or impossible to find

Employees can’t provide feedback if they don’t know where to go. If your employee feedback channels are difficult to find or access, then your employees might assume that you don’t actually want feedback at all. 

Don’t just assume that your employees know how, or where, to give feedback. Find ways to share your channels often and consistently. Just remember: being clear and direct about the types of feedback you want will also help to keep your channels front-and-center for your workforce. 

6. Not building up psychological safety with your staff

If you worked in an environment where head office ruled with an iron fist and had a closed perspective, would you feel safe volunteering an opinion?

Of course not!

But even in some supportive and enabled frontline environments, there can still be a lack of the psychological safety that fosters true feedback-sharing. In other words, employees get the message (from managers, from corporate, from each other) that speaking up is not a wise career move. 

And sometimes that lack of psychological safety flows in both directions. One survey found that 69% of managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees, and 37% said they’re uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they think the employee might respond negatively to the feedback. If employees know that managers don’t want to talk to them, even if they don’t know the reason why, it kills any motivation they have to talk open up. 

7. Not following up 

So you’ve gone through the effort of sprucing up your feedback collection channels, communicated it to all your frontline workers and assured your employees that their opinions are valuable and will be heard. Responses flow in and you have a hefty chunk of employee suggestions and feedback to peruse, which you do. 

But then when it comes time to take action, the feedback loop comes to a standstill. No change. Not even thanking people for their opinions. What was it all for, then?

Not only are you tanking morale when you ignore feedback, you’re missing out on an opportunity to boost morale. 90% of workers said that they’re more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve found an environment where management cares about their opinion enough to actually make positive changes. That’s a real rarity!

Even the best companies in the world commit some of these employee feedback blunders. But the more aware you are of the potential pitfalls, the better chance you have at getting it right. After all, the goal isn’t just a smooth collection of data. It’s about ensuring that every single employee in your organization has a voice—and a role in helping your company to thrive. 

Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a freelance writer covering the topics that matter most to L&D and HR professionals, with occasional forays into CPG and fiction writing.

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