In any workplace, words carry weight. When employees talk about “unfair” practices, “seniority” concerns, or “benefits” issues, it’s crucial for leaders to recognize that they’re not just venting frustrations — they’re vocalizing the vital signs of a company’s health.
These kinds of terms can be the smoke signals of a possible fire brewing within the organizational structure, signaling areas where problems are mounting and change is necessary. Before long, these small problems spread like wildfire, destroying trust and leading the workforce to try to implement change on their own, be it by quitting the company or industry, or looking to unions for the support they’re not getting from their employers.
By recognizing these keywords as signposts, employers can make key changes within the work environment and address employee needs proactively. Here are some of the most important keywords and topics to be on the lookout for in employee feedback — and what leaders can do when they run into them.
What It Means: When employees speak about fairness — or unfairness, as is more often the case — it’s time to pay close attention and be ready to jump into action. Feelings of injustice may signal that there are inequities in how workloads, rewards, and recognitions are being distributed. Sometimes, there aren’t inequities, but there is a lack of transparency, which leads to a perceived unfairness. And unfortunately, regardless of whether it’s real or perceived, the mere sense of injustice in the workplace has the same damaging effects on morale.
What To Do: To address issues of fairness, reassess the company’s measurement and reward systems. Explain policies better and ensure consistency in how productivity is measured and how recognition is distributed. Regardless of whether inequities are real or perceived, it’s critical for leaders to understand and address these grievances, ensuring that the workplace is fair, just, and equitable.
What It Means: References to seniority may indicate employees’ concerns about career progression and job security. It often reveals anxiety about the clarity and equity of growth opportunities within the company. Maybe tenure is too heavily weighted. Maybe it’s insufficiently weighted. For new employees, concerns about seniority might suggest they feel stifled in their career paths, unable to advance. For more established workers, it might indicate they don’t feel fairly rewarded for their ongoing work. When the idea of seniority makes its way into feedback, it generally indicates employees are concerned about their careers and well-being with the company.
What To Do: Assess your advancement policies and organizational chart, looking for opportunities to improve transparency wherever possible. Improve or institute continuing education opportunities. Remembering that feedback about seniority could point to a disconnect between employees’ expectations and the company’s actual practices, keep the company honest. Revisit recruiting materials and procedures, and ensure that the company is delivering on its promises.
What It Means: Discussions about benefits often reflect the workforce’s perception about the adequacy and competitiveness of compensation packages. Such feedback can indicate that employees feel that the benefits the company provides do not meet their needs or are not on par with industry standards. This can include health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, parental leave, and other perks that are critical to the financial and personal well-being of employees.
What To Do: Review benefit programs for competitiveness in your marketplace and revisit them often. The world is a dynamic place and needs change. Involve employees in discussions about their needs to help demonstrate the company’s commitment to their well-being.
What It Means: When employees voice concerns about work rules, they may be experiencing the rules as overly rigid, unclear, or out of touch with the realities of their work. In any of these cases, it’s important to first listen to their concerns, and then act in a way that will clarify what’s expected of workers and create a safe and productive environment for them to fulfill their job responsibilities.
Concerns about rules can lead to a sense of frustration and constraint, where employees feel they lack the autonomy or flexibility to perform their jobs effectively or balance work with personal life.
What To Do: First, address and immediately correct any workplace safety issues. Safety is every employers’ responsibility, and it should always be a top priority. Once pressing concerns are resolved, evaluate whether work rules are in line with best practices. Are they clear? Are they fair? Are they reasonable? Make improvements where necessary, and don’t be afraid to ask teams for input when appropriate. Sometimes workforce perspectives can shed light on key issues that management would otherwise not know about. This kind of direct data can have a profound impact on productivity when used properly.
What It Means: Belligerent complaints can be symptomatic of deeper issues, such as distrust or frustration with management. Such complaints are typically characterized by a confrontational or aggressive tone, which might indicate that employees feel unheard or that prior grievances have not been adequately addressed. This form of feedback may also suggest that the work environment is perceived as unsupportive, or worse hostile, and that there is a significant gap between employees and management. These vocal complaints may also signal that employees are reaching a tipping point of discontent, where they may be considering more drastic measures.
What To Do: Loud discontent requires immediate attention to de-escalate tensions. Remember, trust is a difficult bridge to repair once it’s broken. If employees are telling you that their trust is eroding, you must act swiftly to prevent further damage while also restoring order and creating a more positive work environment. Opening channels of constructive dialogue and clarifying misunderstandings will help you rebuild the trust necessary for a cooperative and engaged workplace.
What It Means: Employee feedback about injuries is a serious indicator of potential problems with workplace safety and health standards. Unlike fairness or benefits, where misconceptions about work might be best handled with improved communication and transparency, employee feedback that highlights injuries in the workplace is an issue that must be addressed with immediate action and change.
What To Do: Concerns about safety and injuries are a call to action to reassess and reinforce company health and safety measures. It is also an opportunity to review and communicate safety procedures, deploy safety training initiatives, and demonstrate a proactive stance on workplace health.
If you’re seeing any of these terms or issues come up in surveys, through WorkHound, or in other feedback, it’s a good indication that employees might be seeking changes. These changes can take the form of employee turnover, so-called quiet quitting, declining performance, and more. Under the strain of the current labor market, some employees may even believe their problems could be better addressed through collective bargaining and unions. To avoid these kinds of workplace disruptions, consider feedback a gift. With active listening and a commitment to action, employers can improve the work experience by better understanding it. In the process, they demonstrate their commitment to their workforce and create inherently better workplaces.
To learn more about how WorkHound helps companies like Covenant Logistics, Averitt Express, USA Truck better understand employee needs and intervene as needed to improve the employee experience, contact us for a free Employee Engagement Strategy session.