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The perils of employee feedback

BY -

Phil Strazzulla

September 17, 2021

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Getting feedback from employees via pulse surveys, employee engagement software, annual surveys, 1:1's, etc has become more and more popular with each passing year.  Many more companies are now also collecting feedback from candidates throughout the recruiting process.

While collecting feedback is an essential part of agile PeopleOps, there are large potential drawbacks to collecting employee feedback that HR teams need to be aware of.

One loud voice

Years ago, Southwest airlines had a customer they dubbed their "pen pal."  After each flight, this customer would write a complaint letter.

She didn't like the lack of assigned seating, no first class, no meals, strange boarding procedure, etc.

It got to the point where the customer relations team bumped these missives up to the CEO.  Thankfully, this executive was shrewd enough to quickly write back "Dear Mrs. Crabapple, we will miss you, Love Herb."

What Southwest realized is that this extremely loud and critical voice was not a strong signal for how they should change their product offering.

In fact, many of the criticisms of the Southwest experience were what made them differentiated (in a good way) from their competition.  These traits led to higher profitability, a stronger brand, and better service for a certain type of customer.

This is a clear cut case where taking feedback, even though it was delivered consistently and zealously, would've been disastrous.

Employee yelling through the phone

Feedback of one in HR

Our HR and recruiting teams have all gotten their share of zealous feedback.  It may even be consistent from a "crabby" hiring manager, candidate who's been through the process a few times, and probably a handful of employees who have the same gripes.

While we can't be as curt as the CEO of Southwest when dealing with colleagues or candidates who could hurt our employer brand, it is important to recognize where there is a strong signal to change, and where there is simply noise.

A good way to manage the people side of feedback is to:

  • Thank the giver of feedback and let them know it is heard
  • Let them know how your team processes and implements feedback - maybe it's a Trello board that you review quarterly and implement the top X things, etc.
  • Let them know if there has been other people who have had this similar feedback or if this is the first and you'll be "looking out" for others who share that opinion
  • Follow back with them when/if it is implemented

While employee engagement tools and the like can be amazing ways to help evolve your organization's People and Recruiting operations, clearly this can be a slippery slope.

We've all had our share of outlier feedback, but while we want to make everyone happy, sometimes it just wasn't meant to be.

However, this "negative" feedback can shed deeper light on who we are (that we don't want to fix), and in some cases can even be great marketing collateral as Snowbird found out.

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