The Unintended Consequences of Asking Employee Opinions

Most managers try to create an environment in which their employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions. Unfortunately, new research suggests that actively soliciting feedback can have unintended negative consequences: the more managers solicit feedback from their employees, the less likely they are to reward employees for speaking up. This can be very demoralizing for employees, who have likely invested time and effort in developing and sharing their thoughts. To address this tension, the authors suggest that managers recognize the common tendency to disregard employees’ efforts to come up with and express ideas simply because they were shared in response to a direct request for input, and instead recognize that the best ideas are often co-created by managers and their teams. This means not only rewarding employee proactivity, but also demonstrating that any contribution is valued, whether it was solicited or offered uninvited.

Everyone benefits when employees feel comfortable talking. Whether you’re a team leader seeking product design ideas, a manager seeking input on a new policy, or a senior executive seeking input on a major strategic decision, it’s essential to create an environment in which people are encouraged to candidly share their ideas. and reviews.

However, our new research (to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) suggests that the approach taken by many managers when trying to create such an environment, i.e. actively inviting employees to give feedback, can have unintended negative consequences: through a survey of the field and an experimental study of a total of nearly 1,000 working professionals in the United States and India, we found that the more managers solicited feedback from their employees, the less likely they were to reward employees who were expressing themselves. This could be very demoralizing for employees, who had invested time and effort in developing and expressing ideas that could help their teams.

Why does this happen? Suppose you are responsible for a software team and your employee, Susan, has just shared a potential solution to a known product problem. If Susan was speaking spontaneously, you would probably consider her a very proactive employee and a serious candidate for a raise, a big project, or a promotion. On the other hand, if Susan shared the same idea, but only did so after you asked her opinion in a meeting, you might think that Susan only spoke because you asked her. you said. In this situation, you might take credit for Susan’s actions and therefore not reward Susan as much, even though she offered an equally valuable contribution in both cases.

This is an easy trap that managers can fall into. It is usually difficult to tell in advance what the value of an idea will be, and it is often necessary to generate many “bad” ideas in order to discover a few good ones. As such, managers often do not reward employees solely based on the apparent value of the ideas they contribute, and instead focus on rewarding employees’ proactivity in formulating and expressing ideas.

The problem is that when managers actively solicit employee feedback, it can lead them to overlook the proactivity needed for employees to come up with and voice their ideas. Rather than rewarding employees for this effort, we found that managers often took credit for creating an environment they felt empowered employees to speak up. In other words, soliciting feedback led managers to assume (consciously or unconsciously) that their employees spoke only because they were asked to, making them less likely to reward employees for those insights.

Of course, that’s not to say that managers shouldn’t invite their employees to contribute ideas. Explicitly soliciting feedback is a great way to gather new and innovative ideas from employees who might not otherwise feel comfortable or confident enough to speak up. But our research illustrates how it can also make managers less likely to reward employees for speaking up, and therefore potentially reduce employees’ motivation to keep sharing their ideas.

Recognize your biases

To deal with this tension, managers must first recognize that they may be susceptible to bias that causes them to take credit for their employees’ actions. This is not an entirely new concept: there is a body of research documenting a related bias known as the Romance of Leadership effect, which refers to how people tend to view leaders (rather than employees) as the main cause of positive results in a team. . As with any bias, managers’ acknowledgment of their own tendency to minimize employee effort and over-credit themselves is the first step to overcoming it.

Recognize that good ideas are co-created

Then, managers can further reduce the power of this bias by recognizing that in a team, ideas develop through a process of co-creation between leaders and employees. Although managers take steps to create conditions conducive to the generation of ideas, such as ensuring a welcoming and inclusive environment and actively seeking the views and suggestions of employees, they should not invalidate the effort that employees still have to provide to provide this contribution. Employees often invest a great deal of time and effort in analyzing work processes and products, identifying issues and problems, developing solutions, and expressing their thoughts appropriately and persuasively. Managers shouldn’t let their own efforts to solicit feedback be a reason to deny the effort employees show when speaking up.

Ultimately, it is up to managers to create a work environment where employees are empowered to openly share their ideas and concerns. This means not only rewarding proactivity, but also demonstrating that all contributions are valued and recognized, whether they were solicited or offered uninvited.