Balancing Act: Employee suggestions go digital

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At BGT Partners in Hallandale Beach, Fla., founder David Clarke wanted to give his staff a say in how to make the company better. So Mr. Clarke took the classic suggestion box into the 21st century, creating a dedicated website where employees anonymously give him input on everything from perks to problems they want addressed.

"It exposes things I otherwise wouldn't have known about," he said. The physical suggestion box has gone digital, creating new opportunity for workplace communication. From phone applications to websites to intranet portals and blogs, businesses are replacing paper communication with an online format where employee can manifest their visions and ideas.

"Companies have discovered that the ability to let their employees give ideas and share information is critical," said Leslie Caccamese, director of strategic marketing and research with Great Place to Work. The companies that land on the Best Places to Work lists are those that have a foundation of communication, and increasingly, electronic suggestion boxes are part of their programs, she said.

"At a time when many employees feel stifled in their job, it is even more important that employers show that they are listening," Monika Morrow, senior vice president of career management for Right Management, said in a statement.

At BGT, Mr. Clarke said he gains valuable insight from employee suggestions and has made it clear nothing is off limits. Through its interactive website, employees anonymously have shared opinions on work-life issues, suggestions for perks, and concerns about some managers' lack of communication and leadership skills.

"We were able to provide coaching for leaders and prevent bigger internal issues that may have come from that down the road," Mr. Clarke said. He said for his company, the anonymity of it allows people to be brutally honest: "It's an important feature because we really learn more from the bad than the good."

Florida human resources consultant Sharlyn Lauby said even electronic suggestion boxes work best when they serve a purpose within the company such as to reduce costs or improve revenue. A good suggestion program takes someone dedicated to evaluating submissions and following up.

Ms. Lauby cautions against keeping boxes active indefinitely: "You have to breathe new life into them every once in awhile to keep employees excited. Having a start and end goal helps."

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC;

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