Treat employees’ suggestions with respect

Most North American workers make suggestions to their boss on a regular basis, according to a survey released in February by the career and outplacement consultancy Right Management.

“Despite research that indicates workers are disengaged, on the whole they want to be helpful and have their say on issues or problems that arise in the workplace” said Monika Morrow, senior VP career management for Right Management, in a statement.

“We find again and again that employees want to contribute,” she continued. “By making suggestions [employees] demonstrate that they’re thinking about getting the job done, and done well.”

Morrow encouraged employers to take advantage of workers’ ideas, though she noted that “the boss has to judge which suggestions are worthwhile.”

Larger employers often have formal suggestions systems, with suggestions screened regularly by the human resources department.

But regardless of the employer’s size, managers play a key role in encouraging employee suggestions, especially where no formal suggestion system exists. And the best managers “know how to unleash the potential in people,” observed Morrow. “This is a crucial management skill when talent so often is what provides a company with its competitive advantage.”

Katherine Ponds, Right Management’s regional vice president for the mid-Atlantic, said managers should:

• Set the proper tone so employees know suggestions are welcome. “This is essential for employees to have the confidence that their input is valued,” she told SHRM Online in an e-mail.

• Communicate how they want direct reports to contribute suggestions and recommendations. Managers should “establish and articulate parameters and/or guidelines associated with the nature of submissions,” Ponds continued, such as noting particular business issues for which recommendations are especially welcome.

• Acknowledge receipt of suggestions and consider their viability very carefully before responding to employees. Although receipt of submissions should be acknowledged, “organizational culture will determine the degree to which anonymity is maintained regarding content [of suggestions] as well as the names of those submitting recommendations,” she noted.

“Requesting written recommendations is best, as it allows the opportunity for close tracking, monitoring and follow-up by managers,” Ponds explained.

Manage Expectations

“Most employees understand that every suggestion they submit will not be adopted,” Ponds said.

“However, they do want to know that their contributions are given appropriate consideration.”

Above all, employees expect managers to communicate the outcome of a suggestion.

Morrow said that employees’ willingness to participate in problem solving is a sign of a healthy workplace. At a time when many employees feel stifled in their job, it is even more important that employers show that they are listening, she said: “Make sure employees know they have a voice and a say in what happens at work. … It should be more than a gesture but a genuine effort to reach out.”

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Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.