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How to Turn Employee Complaints Into Suggestions That Improve Your Company

Posted on June 16, 2014

Often frustrated employees are simply brushed off as having a negative attitude or not being a "culture fit." This is the easy way out for executives who aren't prepared to be challenged.

Instead, employers should consider this: Maybe employee complaints are actually great ideas, but they aren't getting channeled in the proper way.

Here is what you can do at your organization to engage your workforce, listen to it, and transition those complaints into new ideas to improve your organization.

1. Give Your Employees an Outlet

Encourage communication in your organization by giving your team the right tools. Physical suggestion boxes get forgotten in this digital world. Email gets lost in the jumble, meetings often go without action items, and wikis can be tough to follow. You need to think critically about how to make it easier for employees to share their ideas.

The right tool will allow you to do the following:

  • Share ideas - This is a baseline feature.

  • Start conversations with the stakeholders who can actively discuss the idea and potentially get it implemented. One big stream of suggestions does nothing for a 100,000 person company. However, a small conversation between one employee and two or more stakeholders can take a complaint, develop it into an idea, and provide the necessary approvals along the way to progress an idea and get it implemented.

  • Provide the right process for turning ideas into action. We all know that at most companies, it's not as simple as having an idea and just doing it. Depending on the idea, you need to get the right approvals, budget signoff, and maybe even take safety factors into account. These conversations are a process and they take time. To get new ideas implemented, employees need tangible ways to push an idea forward with the right meetings, presentations, and sign-offs. The right employee engagement solution offers a workflow to help with this.

2. Encourage Employees to Collaborate on Suggestions

Many of your employees probably have similar suggestions. There's gotta be more than one person who thinks there should be Free Lunch Fridays. But they may not even know these conversations are happening.

A transparent and easy-to-navigate employee engagement system will prevent employees from listing ideas that are already being implemented and will help them work together in a cohesive way.

3. Recognize The Employee for The Suggestion (But NOT With Monetary Rewards)

Recognizing your employees for their suggestions is important if you want to create an engaged culture in your organization. However, it's important to realize that how you recognize your employees matters.

There are many great ways to recognize your employees, but gift cards won't cut it. This is because monetary rewards extinguish intrinsic motivation. The desire to improve one's organization has to come from within, and it has to come from a place that's not about just money.

4. Take Action

Asking your employees for suggestions is just the first step. Acting on these ideas is critical. If people don't see ideas being implemented, they'll quickly lose motivation to share their suggestions. They'll grow even more frustrated that they bothered to spend time sharing their ideas, yet nothing happened.

All this said, let's be realistic. When done at the scale of thousands of employees, getting a beer fridge, buying a new piece of software, or redoing the seating chart are actually big decisions. But you can still show progress in other ways:

  • Educate teams about the right people to involve in these conversations and decisions. It's shocking how many people misunderstand their own company's organizational structure, so they don't get the right stakeholders involved.

  • Respond to suggestions. This has to come from the top-down. Executives need to clearly state to managers and other stakeholders that this is a priority.

  • Give managers lead-way to guide employees on next steps. Of course, this depends on the manager, as some people would prefer to jump right into a meeting and others prefer to review a presentation about an idea on their own terms first. But give managers the authority to set the process with their employees and actively communicate it to them so that things get done.

Wrapping Up

Remember that complaints can be good ideas simply hidden under a veil of frustration. With this perspective, it becomes clear why employee engagement matters. Today's whiner could be tomorrow's intrapreneur, IF given the right process for expressing ideas, collecting feedback, and getting them implemented. The right process is supported by the right tools, so keep this in mind when evaluating employee engagement software.

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