Let’s Address the Employee Feedback Abyss (Part 1)

Employee feedback - or the lack thereof - has been a topic of deep discussion amongst executives, businesses, and employees for quite some time. And it doesn’t seem to be going away.

This is because not much has changed. There are plenty of articles written and a few TED talks made, but few companies ever make the necessary changes - changes which require a reframing of the way organisations and leaders think about feedback.

Yearly performance reviews are archaic, and bi-yearly performance reviews aren’t too much better. With over 65% of all employees wanting more feedback, and 43% of highly engaged employees receiving feedback on a weekly basis, when will we learn?

Instead of blaming needy millennials or ignoring tangible evidence of the problem, let’s look at how the workforce and workplace changed in the past 20 years in such a way that feedback deficiencies are now one of the major and most expensive issues facing organisation’s today.

Democratisation of information

Today’s workforce have access to Linkedin, to online job boards, and to more frequent career moves. They also have access to a more democratised content world where they can access millions of articles, blogs, books, podcasts, online courses, and videos. This, along with increased access to higher education, has combined to result in a deeper and more frequent desire for on-the-job information gathering, with two out of three employees say workplace training plays an important role in their decision to stay with their current company or position.

A tighter everyday feedback loop

In addition, today’s technology and access to information has created a tighter feedback loop for every person on Earth. Most people in the developed world have a smartphone, and so have a constant mechanism for accessing instant feedback, all the time, every day. Ask google: answer. Text friend: answer. These feedback loops are instantaneous, unlike the workplace - where getting tangible feedback can take months or even years.

Millennials motivated by progress

Salary is important, of course, but it becomes somewhat irrelevant rather quickly in a professional’s ascension. Dan Pink, best-selling author and business writer, has frequently spoke about how to create enduring workplace performance, and talked about the fact that millennials differ most from other generations in their desire for feedback and progress, “Being able to create a program or conditions where people can pursue progress is in many ways, the chief job of bosses today.”

And what are the results of these changes..

Disengagement

Many of use take great pride in the work we do, and put effort in for intrinsic purposes. But this can only carry us so far - especially in a workplace setting. What a lack of feedback results in is disengagement.

Many of us have seen the metrics: about 30% of the workforce is engaged. And the feedback abyss is largely to blame. People can’t stay actively engaged with their work when they often don’t even know what their work actually means - or how it is being received. It is extremely deflating to put time and effort into a task, only to have that effort ignored. Or at least perceived to have been ignored.

Lack of motivation

Psychologists have long studied and understood that people can’t build sustainable motivation from ‘carrots’; and that these carrots like cash and incentive trips aren’t a sustainable approach to building motivation. In fact, they can have the reverse effect, sometimes even reducing motivation for complex or interesting tasks.

Instead, it is far more productive to provide people with frequent feedback that underlines their progress, purpose, and success. These basic communication patterns satisfy the innate human desire to feel important and needed.

High turnover

One of the most expensive outcomes of the feedback abyss is high turnover or low retention. Studies have found that over 25% of employee departures are due to a lack of development opportunities. One of the reasons that people don’t feel like they are developing, along with a lack of courses and regular mentoring, is because they are not given regular feedback, suggestions, or new advice. Nor are they given a stage (a feedback forum) to ask for development opportunities.

Employees are made to ‘do work’ in a silo. So they leave in search of a company who can help them learn new things; a company who gives them the opportunity to seek new things.

The feedback abyss and its resulting disengagement, lack of motivation and high turnover is costing organisations billions of dollars every year. And while there is no ‘cure’, finding everyday ways to satisfy the workforces need for feedback is certainly a step in the right direction - and will help recoup some of the billions.

So in part 2, we will look at how your organisation can build programs which cater to the reality of today’s workplace and workforce - and solve for the feedback abyss.

Because right now, both organisations and employees are losing.

Lance works for Mentorloop, the mentoring software platform that enables organisations to address problems like the feedback abyss through a bottom-up, people-driven approach to learning and development.

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