By Elena Fanjul-Debnam, Vice President of Labor Solutions, Emerging Markets
Worker feedback is critical to building a productive and engaged workforce. It has been said that companies with high engagement levels make two and a half times more in revenue than their competitors with low engagement levels. Highly engaged businesses also see a 20% increase in sales. Yet, worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged.
Both the right worker feedback collection system and the right response process are essential in order to deliver returns and truly impact worker productivity and engagement. Effective worker voice systems are composed of an ongoing cycle of decisions and actions that all impact one another. For example, a quality feedback collection system is rendered useless if workers don’t receive responses to their feedback. Conversely, a quality feedback response process is ineffective if workers don’t have an effective way to provide feedback in the first place.
FROM THE WORKER’S PERSPECTIVE
To maximize workers’ use of the system, it has to be anonymous, known, and accessible.
ANONYMOUS: Our team works with factories all the time and hears management sing praises about their worker feedback system:
“Our workers come into our offices and tell us how they feel every day. We address their issues on the spot. We have a great relationship with them.”
This alone is not an effective worker feedback system. While it is important to have open dialogue with employees and great to have an open door policy, when workers are unable to log their grievances anonymously, some will not come forward and serious issues may not be addressed.
KNOWN: Workers need to know about the system. It needs to be promoted consistently and openly. It should be discussed as part of the onboarding process, announced during team meetings, and posted in public places. If workers don’t know about the system, they won’t use it.
ACCESSIBLE: Whatever system you choose needs to be accessible to your workforce. If workers don’t use computers and don’t have email addresses, an email system would obviously be inaccessible.
FROM THE EMPLOYER’S PERSPECTIVE
For employers to get the most benefit from the system, it needs to be confidential, allow for anonymous two-way communication and organize and aggregate data easily.
CONFIDENTIAL: Employers are far more likely to seek worker feedback if they know the feedback is confidential and not shared with unions, their clients, or others. We have seen that many third-party helplines have low utilization, often around 2%, while those that are run by employers directly are much higher, around 25%. This also means that small misunderstandings can be kept from ballooning into huge complaints because management is able to address worker concerns quickly and directly.
TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION: If an employer has no way to follow up with a worker regarding a complaint or question, it is unlikely that they will be able to find an effective solution. For example, if a worker drops a message in a grievance box that says, “My manager hit me,” there are a lot of additional questions that need to be asked—like “who is your manager?”, or “when did the incident occur?” If the employer isn’t able to have a two-way, anonymous conversation with the worker, they won’t get the information they need to make necessary change. In addition, if they do solve the problem, they aren’t able to let the grieved worker know how it was solved, leaving workers feeling like their questions went unanswered.
EASILY AGGREGATED DATA: A system which collects data, aggregates and organizes it, allows top management to identify and follow trends and decide when executive action is needed. It also helps with investigations. If the same problem is being reported consistently by multiple people, or if there is a pattern to reporting, it can help investigators uncover the root of problems faster.
INVESTIGATION AND RESPONSE PROCESS
An effective investigation and response process is also necessary and must start with a response that will maintain the workers’ trust. It is important that workers feel like the system is truly anonymous, that their issues will be taken seriously, and action will be taken. That starts with a quick and respectful response. A response that will inspire a work culture of employee engagement and mutual respect is efficient, explained, and prompts action.
EFFICIENT: Efficiency is key to ensuring that a concern is properly addressed, and that both parties stay engaged and committed to resolving the issue at hand. Efficiency in responses is characterized by its directness, timeliness, and clarity. Even if you don’t have a resolution to the issue, or think the feedback is impractical, it is still important to respond directly, emphatically, and promptly. Across all of our clients at WPO, we see a direct correlation between the speed of response and the utilization rate—the faster the employer works to respond to the worker, the more likely the worker will use the system. A simple message like this is fine to start: “Thank you for your feedback, we are investigating and will get back to you as soon as possible.”
EXPLAINED: An efficient solution is great, but is lacking if only one party understands it. Management needs to make clear what the proposed resolution, or at least response, is and what it will look like for the worker. If management does not plan to resolve the issue, there should be a response explaining why. This ensures that at the least the worker feels heard and will hopefully continue to use the feedback system. For example, an explanation could read like this:
Thank you for your feedback regarding the canteen. We endeavor to provide a varied daily healthy and balanced meal that meets the needs of all workers. Pizza every day for lunch may be nice, but it would not meet our standards for varied or healthy meals, therefore, we won’t be able to accommodate this request. Please let us know if you have other feedback and make sure to speak with your canteen committee representative, who gets to vote on the menu monthly.
PROMPTS ACTION: A quality resolution is only as good as the action it prompts. Feedback systems that create win-win outcomes are dependent upon the resolution being meaningfully and continuously carried out throughout the workplace. This allows a worker to see that their feedback spurred change, causing them to feel increased engagement and can consequently increase their productivity. It is important to consider if feedback should prompt review of internal procedures and processes in addition to the review of the specific issue at hand. For example, if a worker is reporting abuse, in addition to addressing the specific claim, it is also important to determine if the abuse is just a singular event, or if it is systematic and widespread, indicating a need for procedures to be altered to prevent similar events in the future.
For a response process to be effective, it is important that the facility is not scared of punitive actions for issues brought to its attention. The facility needs to feel safe admitting there is a problem and asking for support from surrounding resources to solve that problem. Leadership and management should encourage open dialogue and improvement activities. Typically, punitive actions should take place only if the facility does not work to address issues brought to its attention. Scrutiny should be applied to those who claim they have no grievances, as grievances can be found even in the most respectful workplaces. While no grievances may look great, it often means that the feedback collection systems are faulty or workers are fearful of reporting grievances.
With a healthy amount of scrutiny towards a lack of grievances and a proper system in place to address and respond to worker feedback, worker trust will naturally grow stronger. Ensuring that the feedback system in your workplace has the above attributes will create a space that allows management and workers to maintain that trust; therefore, fostering a safe and healthy workplace environment that promotes both wellness and productivity.