How well does your organization respond to employee feedback and criticism?

When an employee credibly criticizes an action within an organization, how does the institution typically respond?

The answer to this question is one of the most telling signs of organizational culture and integrity. Consider:

  • Are there legitimate, trustworthy mechanisms for open communication?
  • Does feedback run bottom up and laterally as well as top down?
  • Do people in authority take the time to listen?
  • Are complaints greeted dismissively, perhaps treated as digging up issues from the past — even if “the past” was only weeks or months ago?
  • Can an individual expect to be ignored, shunned, bullied, mobbed, or otherwise retaliated against for raising a concern?

Often we tend to separate how organizations respond to worker feedback generally from how they treat allegations of unethical or illegal behavior.

In reality, organizational leaders who have the confidence to solicit and listen to worker feedback generally also are likely to have the integrity to treat allegations of wrongful behavior fairly and responsively. Poor leaders, however, are more likely to fall short on both measures.


This is the second of three short posts this week on organizational planning, behavior, and leadership.

6 responses

  1. The organization I work with tried this but rather than doing something about it, it initiated a campaign of retaliation and backstabbing. I guess it depends on how organization leaders define their own ethics and how well they respond to criticism.

    • Often, it sooo boils down to the personal qualities of individual leaders. Either they have character and integrity or they don’t.

  2. I recently mediated an employment case for a federal agency. It was disturbing to hear one manager tell another that it’s management’s job to defuse employee complaints by challenging them (“Oh, come on. . .is that really what happened??”) – and, if that doesn’t work, “management always backs up management.”

    It’s an unsettling mindset: groupthink = loyalty.


    • Debra, great point re groupthink and loyalty. I live in a city where “loyalty” is a pretext for so many injustices and corruptions committed and covered up by same-thinking people. I definitely get it!

  3. I worked for a non-profit theater arts organization. As a new employee I was amazed at the hostile corporate culture my co-workers seemed willing to accept. Infractions included demeaning comments from a male co-worker towards women, insensitivity towards those with disabilities, and inappropriate behavior towards minors ( involved in some of our programming). The executive director actually said it was my duty to report to her all personal and private information learned about co-workers. She demanded that I throw fellow co-workers “under the bus” by revealing private medical information shared with me. In addition, we were expected to help terminate co-workers by agreeing with her assessment of their work. Growing increasingly uncomfortable, I refused to overlook some of the above mentioned transgressions. I scheduled a meeting with her only to be told; “If I was not happy there maybe it was not the right place for me.” The board was very detached and kept a safe distance from issues. As a result, I was bullied in the hopes I would quit. Since I did not, I was terminated -a mere 9 months after I started. I should add that I came into the job as a respected professional in my field. Left a job as a college professor and relocated for this position. I am in the midst of a lawsuit. So far, so good. Thank-you David for the insightful articles that help me make sense of what transpired.

    • Thank you for sharing your story and for the kind words about the articles here. I wish that these pieces didn’t resonate so well because of personal experience, but at least reading about these behaviors can be validating. Good luck with your situation.

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