In a recent report, Gallup announced employee engagement in the US fell in 2021 for the first time in more than a decade, from 36% to 34%. In addition (and perhaps more disturbing), the share of actively disengaged employees rose from 14% to 16%. Employees and their employers are dealing with an array of historic challenges, from COVID-19 to labor shortages to inflation fears. It’s a time of uncertainty and high turnover — a time when employee feedback surveys are most essential to monitoring and improving the employee experience. 

Smart organizations know they need to be responsive to the needs and concerns of their people. To succeed here, you need a reliable sense of what would improve the employee experience for your people and that can vary a great deal. Does your wellness program have the flexibility to effectively support your employees? Do your current approaches to creating schedules for hourly employees hurt their work-life balance? Are your people struggling to stay productive and focused in a stressful environment?

Employee feedback surveys are a powerful tool for analyzing the quality of the employee experience and identifying opportunities for improvement in almost every area of your organization. Here, we focus on three best practices to ensure you’re using employee feedback most effectively to engage and retain your people. 

1. Don’t rely on quantitative data alone. 

Quantitative measures of employee engagement (e.g., survey data, attendance records) are foundational to understanding your people. But if you focus only on quantitative data, you ignore at your peril the rich potential of qualitative data, like open-ended text responses and focus group discussions. Building your culture should feel like a conversation between employer and employee, not a lab experiment. 

Qualitative data will deepen your understanding of the quantitative trends your employee feedback survey might otherwise generate and help you understand the root causes of trends you’re seeing. Qualitative data can also pinpoint opportunities for improvement and enable a more-nuanced approach. For example, if a problem is particular to one office or team in your organization, an open-ended text response will give you highly relevant details about the situation and how to solve it.

2. Respond to employee feedback quickly. 

Feedback demands a response. When an employee takes the time to tell you something is wrong, don’t wait to address it. Even if you don’t have a complete answer for them right away, it is extremely important to quickly respond and ensure employees feel heard.

When feedback is ignored or unaddressed, employees are less likely to participate in future surveys and less likely to be engaged overall. In fact, addressing feedback promptly can even have a major, positive impact on your organization’s ability to attract and retain talent

3. Empower managers and business leaders to act on feedback. 

Sometimes the person best-positioned to solve a problem is the person sitting closest to it. Rather than waiting for a slower, less nimble response from the organization’s central bureaucracy, it is often simpler to empower managers to address feedback on the front lines. While it is important for HR to own the feedback survey process as a whole, managers shouldn’t have to wait for permission to take action. 

At a time when employee engagement is going in the wrong direction, building experiences and cultures that support engagement, health, and performance is perhaps the most important work you can do in your organization.  Successful firms will use employee feedback tools effectively to identify and act on feedback that will contribute to a better work environment, more retention, and a better employee experience.