Crush the Workplace Suggestion Box – It’s Doing Nothing for Your Culture

woman putting a piece of paper in a suggestion box

Crush the Workplace Suggestion Box - It’s Doing Nothing for Your Culture

You want to improve your company culture, but you want to get your team on board and get their input on the things they love and the things they loathe about the workplace; so you create a workplace suggestion box. Sound familiar? 

Right now we can bet that your suggestion box is either empty or gathering dust in the staff room. Even with the best intentions behind them, suggestion boxes don’t work. 

Time and time again I see organisations bring out the old suggestion box. So I thought it was about time that it was revealed why this old-fashioned office empowerment tactic needs to be left in the dark ages. 

Before you even thinking of uttering the words ‘suggestion box’ to your team, here’s why they don’t work in improving your company culture, and what you can try instead. 

Your Employees Hate Suggestion Boxes

First of all, I have to get honest and tell you that nine out of ten times, people hate suggestions boxes.

And it’s understandable. You put a suggestion in the box, then what? Who will read it? Will it ever be actioned? And If not, why not? And if it is actioned who is going to take the credit? 

Unfortunately, in the eyes of your team, a suggestion box is meaningless. Rather than giving people the ability to talk about their ideas, the what and the why of their suggestion, and why they’re so passionate about it, you’re letting them just put it in a box. Why not just let them put it in a black hole? 

While you may be looking to empower your people to get creative and come up with new suggestions and ideas for the company culture – a suggestion box does the complete opposite. 

It doesn’t make them feel involved – it makes them feel like they’re on the outside, knocking on the door to come in. 

screwed up piece of paper representing a suggestion that has been scrapped.

While a workplace suggestion box is often the first port of call when organisations are seeking to enhance their company culture, it ends up being a symbol of ‘fake empowerment’. 

It’s as if you’re saying, “Oh yes, we want your ideas, but we don’t want to hear them.” 

Getting employee feedback is vital to navigating a great culture and building one that is resilient to change. But trust us, the suggestion box will not help you do this. 

A suggestion box, can turn people away from the company culture, generate ill will, cynicism and misunderstanding. Emotions that will only lead your culture into a toxic place. 

Why Did You Start A Suggestion Box?

Here’s a heads-up. Before you launch that suggestion box, have you asked yourself why? 

Why do you feel it’s necessary to have a suggestion box, and what are you looking to achieve? 

Too many times, a suggestion box is treated as an easy way out of getting real, honest feedback from your team. Like a get out of jail free card. But it won’t sway your employees into thinking you really care about their feedback – if it begins well, it often ends badly. 

If the idea of launching a workplace suggestion box pops into your head, consider what you’re really trying to achieve, and whether this truly is the necessary process, it should take. 

A Pit of Negativity

From experience, workplace suggestion boxes become a growing pit of anonymous negativity and passive aggression. 

Problems, rather than solutions get thrown into the suggestion box because few organisations create guidelines around what it is exactly that should be input. 

Festering, and underlying issues means that the suggestion box becomes a problem box, without any real solutions. 

It doesn’t encourage people to provide real insight into their suggestion, how it could be implemented, and why the idea could improve the company culture. It’s just a message on a piece of paper.

Empower Rather Than Hide

For any suggestion to make real change and improvement to the company culture, employees should be given the opportunity to have complete ownership over their ideas. 

It shouldn’t be read out from a long list of suggestions from the box. 

People should be given the opportunity to voice their suggestions and explain it in detail so they can really talk it through with their peers who it will ultimately impact. 

Many organisations claim they want to empower their people, yet here we are, in an age where the suggestion box is still hiding golden ideas.

Is Your Culture Stifling Ideas?

The core reason for any suggestion box being implemented is often because leaders want to get their team to generate new ideas about the company culture, and suggest ways in which it could be improved. 

Good intentions are at the heart of the suggestion box, but it delivers poorly in terms of valuable feedback for everyone involved. 

The team think it’s a pointless exercise, and the HR manager or leadership team feel disheartened at the negative feedback. 

A question you should perhaps ask yourself is – what is it about your culture that’s stifling feedback in the first place? 

I regularly hear the complaint from leaders that teams just aren’t making suggestions – but have you built a culture of feedback? 

You cannot expect people to feel confident in putting across suggestions or giving feedback if you haven’t nurtured this kind of company culture in the first place. 

Maybe it’s not so much a suggestion program that you need to implement, but a culture change? 

Alternatives to the Doomed Suggestion Box

Undoubtedly it does take time to find the ‘right’ suggestion or feedback process for your organisation. Each company has to have a unique approach to this because each business is different, and the people within it are also different. 

However, to help you get started on improving your employee suggestions, here are a few ways in which you can try to nurture more input from your team. 

  • Rather than use a hidden suggestion box or a Google Sheet, make it visual. Create an ideas board, where people can pin their proposal. The proposal can be open to votes from other colleagues, before it’s then discussed with the leadership team.
  • Create a weekly ideas session, where anyone in the team can come along to share an idea or a problem- seeking a solution. This can greatly help teams who are stuck on an idea, but are not sure where to go with it next. By opening up the conversation with the wider company, more collaboration and creativity can be used to come-up with the solution. 
  • Set a monthly lunch for the company where ideas are pitched to the wider company. Again create a structure and guidelines of how suggestions need to be pitched, and as a company what you’re looking for to make these viable.
  • Blend your meetings. While many departmental meetings can become stifled, instead create a process by which one person from another department or role must also attend the meeting in order to offer a different perspective.
  • Make public suggestions that didn’t make it and why. People want to know why their ideas didn’t make it so that future ideas or suggestions might hit the mark. We can only learn from what we know didn’t work, so be honest. Whether it’s a board for all suggestions or on a company intranet.
  • Create a suggestion ownership program. If an idea does sound like it has legs then create a process or system by which people can own it, and see it come to life. Give them autonomy over the suggestion rather than taking it from them. Be sure to make your guidance available, but don’t micro-manage. Without them fully owning and living the idea it won’t come to life in the way they envisaged. 
  • Encourage a support element in the suggestions process. Let’s face it, some ideas just don’t work for the business or the people. Rather than letting someone run with an idea that just won’t work, ensure they have the support of their fellow peers. Before they can submit an idea, they must have discussed it with three other people. Ideally, people who they do not work amongst, or people in a separate department. 

With a great suggestion process in place you can harbour a high level of trust and engagement in your company culture, and create a business that is far more resilient to change. 

If you need further support on how to improve the engagement of your team, contact me about my company culture training, or download my eBook, How to Build a Company Culture You Really Want. 


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.