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The top five reasons your employees won’t give you feedback

Rell DeShaw is a manager in Canada’s federal public service and I met her at the National Managers’ Community Development Forum in Winnipeg this past May.  She is not only an exceptional leader but also an avid learner and teacher, seeking to discover and share resources with others.  She is the author of her own blog Letter to a New Manager, and a few weeks ago I asked her if she would guest here on Turning Managers into Leaders.  Much to my delight, she agreed!

I believe in giving upward feedback … but I subscribe to the theory that the higher up you go, the less willing people are to give you honest feedback.  Unfortunately, because of the perceived power imbalance, many employees won’t bother telling you what they really think.  Here are their top five reasons why they won’t AND my rebuttals to these rationales.

  1. It’s the leader’s job to give me feedback not the other way around. Like any relationship, your relationship with your boss goes two ways, so as long as feedback is given in a way that has the potential to strengthen the relationship, it can be done.
  2. They should already know this – don’t managers get trained? No matter how much training a manager takes, the fact is that they have never managed you. They can’t read your mind and they may forget that they are not managing a clone of themselves. Of course your boss has preferences about how they want to work and ultimately they get the last word. But you won’t know if there is room for change until you ask.
  3. I’ll probably get fired for insubordination. That is certainly possible if you choose to give the feedback in a disrespectful way but I think that the better way to approach it is that you were both hired to work for the same goal. If you have a suggestion to change the working relationship to be more effective in reaching a common result, why wouldn’t you propose it? In upward feedback discussions I always ask myself “What’s in it for them?” and “What’s in it for the organization?” Without good answers to these two questions, I am not yet ready to have an upward feedback discussion.
  4. If they wanted my feedback they’d have asked for it. Yes in an ideal world they would have, but this doesn’t mean you can’t offer it anyway. It won’t occur to some, some don’t know how to ask, some don’t think they’d get any feedback even if they tried.
  5. I have no reason to believe this will be effective. Some ways to test the water without actually talking to your boss include: Doing back door checks to see how they have reacted to feedback in the past. If the person doesn’t “suffer fools gladly” it may not be worth it. It is however a good sign of the person has done a 360 degree feedback exercise.

So, what do you have to add to this list?  What are your reasons for not giving (or giving) feedback to your boss?  Let’s add to this great list that Rell has started.  Please add your Comments below.

You can dialogue with Rell through her blog at Letter to a New Manager.


  • Another item for the list:

    Nothing is going to change anyways so why take the risk, why bother. Every manager is different and some are more receptive than others. Nothing will ever change if no effort is made to change it! That’s what being a leader is all about.

  • Good addition Leslie! Along the lines of #5 — “I have no reason to believe that this will be effective” — but with a different spin. Thanks for sharing.


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