How to respond to negative employee engagement survey comments

Getting bad feedback from an employee engagement survey can feel rough. But there are plenty of ways to respond, and to use this information to your advantage.

Abbi Melville • 
How to respond to negative employee engagement survey comments

So, your employee engagement scores and comments are in, and they unfortunately don’t look good. Of course, you knew when you started this exercise that if you ask your employees for honest feedback via an employee engagement survey, the likelihood is that it won’t be all positive, especially during times of change, uncertainty, or upheaval.

So, how should HR professionals and people managers react to negative employee engagement survey comments?

Reflect on your employees’ concerns

In the face of competing corporate pressures, or simply not knowing how to address the issues effectively, the issues can sometimes be brushed under the carpet without properly reflecting on the concerns. There are several negative repercussions to allowing this to happen.

For starters, employees may feel ignored, which could further reduce employee engagement, defeating the objective of the survey itself.

Also, if employees don’t feel heard or listened to internally, evidence tells us that they will voice their concerns elsewhere, harming your employer’s brand and ability to attract new staff.

The ‘Heard and Heard Nots study from the Workforce Institute revealed that, ‘47% of employees — and specifically 53% of younger workers — are more likely to share feedback anonymously via a third-party site, such as Fairygodboss or Glassdoor, than they are via internal channels, such as employee engagement surveys.

We know that companies aren’t willfully neglecting survey results: the follow-up action planning just gets buried under more pressing concerns. But the consequences of inaction are the same.

Put the negative feedback in perspective

It’s important to put the negative feedback in perspective: research from LSA global, who specialise in employee engagement surveys revealed that on average more comments are provided by disengaged employees than by highly engaged employees. It stands to reason as unhappy workers may be more likely to vent and leave comments.

Take a cathartic balanced view and trust in your organisational process to address the issues.

Use focus groups to identify problems and brainstorm solutions.

What should follow are employee engagement focus groups: department managers, people managers and HR managers should meet with their teams to discuss the findings in a constructive focus group format to encourage open communication.

Such an approach shows that your people managers welcome input, both positive and negative, and that you want to celebrate wins but hear the criticism and deal with it constructively.

These employee focus groups would include listening and brainstorming exercises where employees and people managers can air their problems and come up with ideas and solutions to make things better.

Corrective action planning can effect positive change and boost engagement

Action planning is the research-proven way to ensure that those uplifting, brainstormed ideas are implemented and effect positive change. Gallup’s polling data revealed that engagement survey respondents, ‘who strongly agreed that action plans from the last survey have had a positive impact on my workplace showed significant increases in employee engagement levels’.

Negative engagement feedback can be rightly addressed with corrective action planning.

Gallup had some extensive advice on effective action planning, and we’ve outlined three of the most pertinent points below:

  1. Select two or three key items to work on over the next 12 months.
  2. Brainstorm follow-up actions and complete an improvement plan.
  3. Follow up regularly on the plan, and on how people are feeling about the team’s progress toward meeting its goals.

One size does not fit all

Gallup also emphasised the point that one size does not fit all: some action plans were more standardised and some more tailored to the predicament.

For example, a team in a retail bank branch agreed to forgo formalized action planning, mainly because their team scores were consistently high. Instead, they elected to actively think about ways to improve the workplace as part of their daily routine and this was discussed with their manager every week.

Finally, it’s normal to receive negative feedback from your employee engagement survey and it’s normal to feel uncomfortable about it. People managers should take a balanced view of negative feedback, and then build and subsequently trust in their process for addressing feedback and improving the employee experience.

Have you received negative feedback in a recent employee engagement survey? What did you do to address it?  We’d love to hear your tips and tricks!