Case Study: Employee Feedback Gone Wrong


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Employee feedback is important to the success of a company; simply put, gathering feedback from your employees can give insight into many areas of the customer experience, including:

  • Where employees feel they are not supported
  • Issues with morale, management, or loyalty
  • Great ideas and insight into ways to make the customer experience stronger – after all, employees are on the front lines and have a unique insight that upper management may not
  • Customer perceptions- customers like to talk to employees, and they may hear a pattern of similar concerns/strengths regarding the company during daily interactions

I’m a huge proponent of employee feedback and enjoy working with clients on an effective employee feedback program. However, when not done correctly, it can be a waste of time and money while tanking employee morale and loyalty.

Here’s a real life example of how an employee feedback program can go wrong (true story):

A company provides an annual employee feedback survey where topics range from coworkers, overall job satisfaction, management review, and a general feedback/comments section. The company houses an online portal for employees to track hours, request time off, and for continued online training. The company decides to use this online portal for efficiency and a streamlined process.

Each year before the survey is dispatched, they hold a staff meeting and remind employees that they survey will be live soon. They stress the importance of being honest and assure staff that the information will remain anonymous.

Bob, an employee who is eager to provide feedback, waits for the release date and then goes to the site to take the survey. He first finds that he has to login with his employee credentials. That makes him wonder how anonymous the survey really is. He is hesitant to provide completely honest responses to some of the questions, as he had had some issues with his direct supervisor. He has tried to resolve them in the past without success and isn’t sure if there would be ramifications for sharing this feedback with corporate. So, he continues on the survey without providing this information.

A week later he is working alongside Jane, a coworker. Their direct supervisor approaches Jane and says that her records indicate she hasn’t taken the employee feedback survey yet and needs to do so in the next three days so they get 100% participation. As the supervisor walks away, Bob and Jane talk about the fact that the survey is supposed to be anonymous, yet the supervisor knows who has taken it and who has not.

In the break room, conversation turns to the feedback. Some employees say they were completely honest in their feedback, though there were only a couple. Most say they were concerned about potential backlash and admitted that they gave high ratings across the board since they had to log in and they know that managers will know who said what.

What went wrong:

  • Management tried to assure employees that the survey was anonymous when in reality the employees had to log in to participate. As employees found they had to login to take the survey, they started off with a sense of distrust. This could (and in fact did) skew the results.
  • To further complicate things and show that the survey was not truly anonymous, the supervisors were seeking out employees who did not yet participate and remind them to take the survey. If they weren’t sure the survey was anonymous before, they realized it at this point.
  • By trying to obtain 100% participation in the form of supervisors and department managers reaching out to employees with reminders, it also enforced the concern that these managers were not only privvy to who took the survey and who didn’t, but would potentially have access to the feedback provided. If employees wanted to share negative feedback, especially about a manager or supervisor, or even how a department is run, knowing that this information could be easily accessed gave hesitation to being completely honest.

How can this be done better? There are some steps this company can take in the future to improve methods and ensure that employees are providing the most honest feedback possible:

  • Make it truly anonymous: while using the company’s online portal is likely efficient and cost effective, it would be better to find a way to use the portal but not require employee login to participate. This would give a sense of anonymity and perhaps garner more honest feedback.
  • Realize there will not be 100% participation: while the company’s procedure to remind employees to take the survey was likely done in good faith, wanting to hear from every employee, the way they went about it didn’t bode well. While 100% participation would be great, the reality is that this won’t happen. Encourage employees and offer general reminders (“the survey closes in five days; please take some time to participate if you haven’t done so already), but realize that not everyone will participate.
  • Offer options to take the survey outside of work: this company’s portal can be accessed by employees at any time, whether they’re at home or at work. For this survey, employees only had the option to take it while at work. Give them the opportunity to take it at their convenience. This will not only increase response rates, but will provide another layer to ensure results are anonymous.
  • Hire a third party vendor to conduct the surveys: employees may find it hard to provide feedback when they know their direct supervisors will see it, especially if there are significant issues. Hire a third party to execute the survey and aggregate results so the results truly stay anonymous. The company will still receive employee comments and performance ratings, but will only be tied to the store location and not to a specific employee.

More and more companies are collecting employee feedback, which is an excellent way to get insight into day to day operations. Employing best practices will ensure that it is money well spent and the data collected is as accurate as possible.

Marianne Hynd
Marianne Hynd is the Vice President of Operations at Ann Michaels & Associates, a customer experience measurement firm. The company specializes in mystery shopping, customer feedback, and interactive engagement kiosk programs.


  1. Having a two-way conversation gives your employees an opportunity to assess their own thinking, assumptions, and performance because of how you are coaching them. They may express their frustrations. You can manage it.
    Notice what is on their minds and don’t over-react. This helps minimize defensiveness. It signals to them you are on their side and at the same time they are ultimately accountable for improvement. This accountability allows them to come to their own the solutions.


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