Addressing Challenging Employee Feedback

4 min. read

Listen, Understand, Acknowledge, Commit, and Act

Taking employee feedback to heart is a powerful method for building a happy, high-performing workplace. Countless tools and processes are available to collect feedback from employees (some better than others), but what you do with feedback is as important as getting it in the first place. Employee feedback can range from minor and mundane to serious criticisms. When feedback is major, there is a risk that leaders will have a knee-jerk response to it before they even understand it. Having a clear process avoids the reactionary response and creates an opportunity to improve the workplace and its employees lives. So how do we tackle tough feedback?

Listen and Understand

The first thing to do is listen. To listen you have decide to put your full attention to what employees are saying, and you must set your intention to understand it. Employee feedback may come in the form of survey results, individual messages, or information that employees provide live when meeting with their leaders. Whichever form it comes in, have a willingness to read or hear it completely with a goal of understanding it. Come into reviewing the feedback with a tough skin, remembering none of this is personal. Set aside any desire to lash out at the person who provided the feedback. And don't jump to conclusions. You will not make it to the next step of understanding if you have a mindset that, "this feedback may just be the employee's bad attitude" or, "I see what the first three sentences say, so I know what this is about."

Take the time to see what’s right about the feedback. Remember that leaders don’t personally see each person’s workday, so the feedback contains information that leadership couldn't have learned without the employees sharing it. If you have an opportunity, ask questions about any parts of the feedback you do not understand. After that, review all of the feedback again.

Whether the source of the feedback was an individual employee or a workplace survey, take time to investigate the actual conditions they are reporting. This may involve reviewing policies, trying out tasks that employees perform, or joining teams in their day-to-day work. Ask managers for background information and be prepared to spend some time before coming to a conclusion on what the issue is.

Acknowledge and Thank

"Acknowledge" means to accept that something is real or admit that it is true. Tell employees you got their feedback, that you know it is real and represents their experiences and feelings. Express your gratitude that they made a contribution to the workplace by identifying issues, thinking them through, and having the courage to speak up.

Acknowledge that leadership received the feedback and they are getting to work on it. This step is critically important. Failing to acknowledge feedback makes employees feel ignored and disrespected, and it worsens the workplace. Research shows that ignoring employee feedback can severely damage employee happiness and even increase turnover. The purpose of getting feedback is to listen, show respect, and use the feedback to improve the workplace.

Thank employees who give feedback. Express genuine gratitude to them whether this is one employee in a face-to-face meeting or hundreds of employees who have participated in a survey. The employees showed trust in their leaders and care for their company by speaking up. That is an admirable action.

Commit and Act

Last is action. Review possible actions that could improve the conditions employees are describing. When reviewing, try listing actions alongside information that can help you decide which steps to take. Action lists can include the following about each one under consideration:

  • Amount of time required to complete
  • Cost in money to complete
  • Positive impact on the area under improvement
  • Teams or leaders that will be assigned to complete

Choose the actions to take and put them in a plan. Set goals on when to have them done, and assign appropriate, empowered leaders to complete them. Make sure that every participating leader will update the plan as they complete milestones and when they complete the action.

When the plan is adopted, report it to the workplace at large. Share information about each area under improvement, what actions are planned to improve them, and about how long actions are expected to take. As time goes on, report back to the workplace to announce improvements when actions are complete.

Amazing Workplace's surveys produce detailed results across dozens of happiness drivers, but what makes it truly powerful is the Employee Happiness Improvement Platform. It's built to guide companies through this process of addressing employee feedback. Want to learn more about our happy workplace obsession? Reach out to us at, or start the free version of our Employee Happiness Survey here.