Using Upward Feedback to Improve Employee Engagement


October 21, 2010

In my former life, I worked for a company that had an upward feedback program.  The program was anonymous and every employee had the ability to give the feedback to any person they had worked with at their level or at levels above.  This was done once a year and the survey results were given to the employee online.  There were a handful of people who used this as an opportunity to slam a supervisor, to make unprofessional comments, or to vent.  But for the most part, it was a constructive exercise and employees were able to have their opinions heard.

My role was to educate employees about ways to give solid, constructive feedback to their supervisors:

  • Choosing language to get the point across in the most effective way
  • Encouraging the behaviors they appreciated
  • Nudging supervisors to tweak behaviors that were less desirable

There were many specifics to the actual plan and how the information was used internally.  The point is that I wish more companies would offer and encourage this type of feedback.  This is one critical component in engaging your workforce.  By giving them a voice in a safe, confidential way, you’re encouraging them to help make their work situation better.

Do you work for a company that offers upward feedback?  What are the pros and cons that you’ve experienced?


  • Thanks for the post Trish. Upward feedback can be so powerful. It is the methodology that has transformed online shopping with reviews and comments. Even in a venting situation there is a story that begs for attention to product or customer service improvement.

    How nice you were there to educate how to give appropriate feedback. Many times that is not the case with workplace feedback programs. It is most always not the case in an online confrontation. Is a handful of inappropriate feedback to be expected in a true, safe forum?

    • @Lyn- I think there is always going to be a handful of responses that can be hurtful, so it’s also important to educate leaders that even though someone may not understand how to write the feedback in a constructive way, most of the time the staff person intends it to be taken that way. It’s a 2 way street. Leaders often get similar treatment from the staff that they dole out. So glad you commented. Thanks!

  • Our company uses upward feedback and is part of the performance review process that we normally conduct twice a year. In the 13 years that I have personally been involved with the system, there really have been no drawbacks. Employees mostly use it as a way to compliment their coworker or manager, but there are some that use it to express concerns, which is also a good thing. I actually wish more of our employees would use it, as it’s just an optional form that they can complete.

    Our performance review system was developed in-house, and it has worked very well for us. The manager/colleague feedback form itself is pretty structured, and they rate their manager/coworkers on various items on a scale of 1 to 6, with an option to write additional comments. If anyone wants to see the forms, there are links to Word doc versions in this post from our Employer Training blog.

    On a different note, I used to be a “mystery eater” at various restaurants, and that was fun! Upward feedback is important not just for employees but for customers as well.

    • @Annie- Thanks for sharing the upward feedback example from your organization as well as the fun “mystery eater” example. It shows that feedback is important in many aspects of our lives.

  • This is a very important topic, Trish. Thank you for bringing it up for discussion. In our line of strategic employee recognition, we find people most often struggle with up-the-chain recognition, as people are so often concerned about being seen as Yes-Men or brownnosers.

    Frank Roche wrote the below (which I always refer in this kind of discussion. He said it better than I ever could):

    “I don’t remember what age I was when I noticed that people no longer told me that I was doing a great job. It’s not like I stopped doing good work — it’s that people think that once you get to a certain age or certain place in life that you don’t need praise anymore. … But what I do realize is that people need praise throughout their careers. Senior managers like to hear that they’re doing well as much as they did when they were junior functionaries. It applies to everyone — the price of praise is free. Tell someone today.”

    I cite Frank and discuss the importance of recognition for all — even bosses — here:

    • @Derek- Thanks for weighing in. I am a huge fan of upward feedback, but not to the point of “managing up”. I once worked somewhere that we were constantly told to manage up and it got really old. It gave the leaders an excuse not to manage us. Bosses definitely need recognition though. It all comes down to employee engagement. There has to be 2-way recognition in order for all employees to feel valued.

  • We are encouraged to rate behaviors against published standards and then provide specific ideas regarding changes an employee can make – or even changes they shouldn’t make – don’t fix what’s not broken.
    Team leaders in particular benefit from the summaries as well as the individual comments. Though anonymous, some people add their initials so you can contact them directly.
    The point you are making though is critical – you can’t assume people know how to use a system like this effectively, they need to be offered some training. And if you aren’t trained to praise, it’s likely that you aren’t doing it much.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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