By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

With many employees reporting that they are primed for a job change in the coming year, managers must find new ways to keep employees from jumping ship. But this doesn’t have to mean costly or extensive new human capital initiatives.

A recent study by Leadership IQ has revealed one simple (and free) change management can make right away to keep employees energized and engaged in their company: provide more feedback.

The study shows that one reason for this widespread job dissatisfaction is because they feel they are being ignored by management. According to Leadership IQ:

“While 67% of employees say they get too little positive feedback, 51% also say they get too little constructive criticism from their boss. Perhaps most troubling is that employees who said they didn’t get enough feedback were 43% less likely to recommend their company to others as a great organization to work for.”

Employees Want Further Guidance

And it’s not just a matter of being recognized for a job well done (although that helps too!); employees want deeper feedback – specifics on how to improve or repeat positive performance.

“53% of employees say that when their boss does praise excellent performance, the feedback does not provide enough useful information to help them repeat it. And 65% of employees say that when their boss criticizes poor performance, they don’t provide enough useful information to help employees correct the issue.”

One reason for the lack of constructive feedback may be because of the recession. Because of staff cuts, everyone is taking on more work – including management, leaving less time for feedback and training sessions. Additionally, as Mark Murphy, Chairman of Leadership IQ explains – the stressful environment may lead managers to avoid potentially tense interpersonal interactions. He says, “Not only might you get hit with questions you can’t answer, but when your own stress levels are through the roof, the last thing many managers want is to meet the emotional needs of their employees.”

A further issue at stake is that there is an assumption by management that feedback sessions necessarily involve pay negotiations. This simply isn’t true. As Mark Craemer explains, “In my experience, annual reviews are seen as an HR necessity rather than an opportunity to improve performance and strengthen relationships between managers and employees. These reviews typically focus too heavily on past performance, salary increases and potential promotions.”

Scheduling feedback sessions outside the Annual Review (with a stated understanding that salary won’t be discussed) is one way to reduce pressure on both parties, and encourage more open communication. Informal feedback sessions are useful, but for long term employee growth (and long term employee engagement) consider planning employee growth sessions.

Steps for Building an Open Feedback System

A 2006 Gallup study found that the following steps are crucial to creating a valuable and engaging improvement session:

  1. Introduce the impact planning session and state its purpose. This will help employees understand what engagement is, why the survey was conducted and what it measures, what the survey items mean to them and to their workgroup, and why impact planning is a vital step in improving employee engagement.
  2. Distribute and explain the survey results.
  3. Discuss what those results mean for the workgroup, item by item.
  4. Select two or three key items to work on over the next 12 months.
  5. Brainstorm follow-up actions and complete a plan for improvement.
  6. Follow up regularly on the plan, and on how people are feeling about the team’s progress toward meeting its goals

Another tip is to encourage your employees to ask for feedback directly. Many individuals feel they are bothering management by asking for guidance, or that asking for feedback may reveal weakness. In fact, employees at all levels can benefit from asking for guidance.

As Sallie Krawcheck, President of Global Wealth and Investment Management at Bank of America, explained at a recent talk with the Financial Women’s Association, “I have certainly learned a lesson and it was a hard lesson – feedback is a gift.” She continued, “Ask for it and accept it graciously and appreciate it.”

Today, employees are looking for ways to improve their skills. Creating an open and constructive environment for exchanging honest feedback at your company can strengthen the staff-manager relationships that are a key factor in retaining quality employees.