Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dust Off the Suggestion Box and Increase Productivity

Note: This is the third in a series of articles I've written for Bluestone Coaching on using positive psychology in the workplace. I will be posting the rest of the series weekly.

The old wooden suggestion box has sat beside the water cooler for years, collecting dust, and the occasional scrap of paper slipped discreetly through its slot.  When was the last time it was opened?  Were the suggestions inside read or tossed in the trash?  Were any new ideas put into play?

It’s time to dust off the suggestion box.  Studies show that employees work best when certain basic needs are met.  Meeting these needs is called “employee engagement,” and it can lead to higher profits, more customer loyalty, and less employee turnover.  We discussed the first three rules of engagement in “A Positive Workplace Means a Positive Bottom Line” and “Motivate Employees with a Positive Workplace.”  The fourth rule is:  open up that suggestion box, and make your employees’ voices heard.

The Gallup Organization says that involving employees in company decisions makes them more interested in their work, and broadens their thinking, making them more creative and productive.  Conversely, says that employees who feel they don’t have a voice can bring down the whole organization, decreasing productivity and increasing employee turnover.

While that old suggestion box can still get the job done, there are many other ways to cultivate employee feedback. suggests conducting an annual employee survey.  The survey should ask general questions about work environment, co-workers, job satisfaction, and communication with management, but it should also focus on specific issues.  Keep the survey to between 35 and 55 questions, both open-ended and quantitative (rating statements on a five-point scale).  Give your employees 15 to 20 minutes to complete the survey while on the clock, at a time when their calendar is likely to be clear.

Of course, the suggestion box is worthless if the suggestions are ignored, so make sure your employees know they’re being heard. suggests sharing at least some of the survey results with the entire organization, and setting benchmarks for improvement.  Set clear goals, and allow employees to track progress either through a web page or office white board.  You can also conduct a 6-month “pulse” survey of about 4 to 10 questions to measure the impact of changes made.

While you should always consider your employees’ opinions, Gallup says that employees don’t always have to have the final say in every company decision.  When you choose to take a different approach, make sure you explain your decision, so that employees understand the rationale behind it.  Gallup says a simple explanation can help build credibility and communication with employees.

So how do you get employees to put suggestions in the box?  Not all employees will take the time to fill out the annual survey, but suggests these ways to encourage participation: 
  1. Keep the survey anonymous.  Employees are more likely to give honest answers when they are not afraid of offending management.
  2. Provide easy access to the survey.  If you conduct an online survey, make sure everyone in the company has access to a computer.  A good way to do this is to set up a dedicated survey station.
  3. Get senior management involved.  Experts say that employees are most likely to provide feedback when they are encouraged by top bosses in the company.
  4. Offer an incentive.  While experts agree you should never offer a reward to each individual employee for completing the survey, there are other options.  Try offering a raffle prize, or donating money to a certain charity if a certain number of responses are received.
The suggestion box can take many forms, from the standard wooden box to an online survey.  However you choose to receive feedback, make sure your employees know that their opinions matter.  The results will be a more positive workplace, more productivity, and higher profits.  For more information about using positive psychology in the workplace, visit

Donnelly, T. (2010, August 10).  How to Get Feedback From Employees.  Retrieved from
Gallup, Inc. (2012).  Item 7:  My Opinions Seem to Count.  Gallup Management Journal, Q12 Items.  Retrieved from
Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., and Keyes, C.L.M. (2003).  Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes:  A review of the Gallup studies.  In C.L.M. Keyes and J. Haidt (2003).  Flourishing:  Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. 205-224).  Washington, D.C.:  American Psychological Association

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