Giving Feedback to Employees: 11 Best Practices

Jessica Elliott
Jessica Elliott
Jessica Elliott

Emotions can run high during a performance review or post-project staff meeting. When done right, giving feedback to employees results in positive changes. 

Poor experiences can lead to disengagement or, worse, employees searching for a new job, however. Learn how to turn feedback in the workplace into ongoing conversations using these 11 best practices.

1. Create a Culture That Encourages Employee Feedback

Does your company have an effective feedback culture or one that only allows management to review and make suggestions? In a feedback culture, leaders encourage everyone to contribute to the conversation. 

But you can’t get there without trust, meaningful work and engaged employees. Get those things right, and members of your teams will communicate more to you, each other and managers. 

Build feedback into your culture by:

  • Providing training for giving and receiving feedback
  • Creating an inclusive, safe and diverse environment
  • Moderating staff feedback to dissuade wrongdoers
  • Offering various channels for sharing assessments
  • Prioritizing employee well-being
  • Sharing real examples of how staff feedback resulted in a change

2. Learn Where Your Business Can Improve

Assessing employee satisfaction and engagement data can give you insights into your feedback program. For decades, Gallup has used its proprietary Q¹² survey to evaluate workplaces. 

The employee feedback questions cover a range of topics, including:

  • Expectations: Do employees understand what leaders, co-workers and customers need from them?
  • Recognition or praise: Can workers recall a time in the last 7 days where a manager acknowledged their good work?
  • Human touch: Do team members feel as though someone in the workplace cares about them as a person, not just a worker bee?
  • Development: Is staff given growth or learning opportunities and does someone on the job encourage improvement?
  • Individualism: Do employees feel as though their opinion matters or notice changes resulting from sharing thoughts?
  • Feedback: Has someone in your organization discussed the employee’s progress with them in the last 6 months?

3. Build Coaching Into Your Culture

Leaders place a high priority on the importance of feedback in the workplace. But without coaching, feedback may lead nowhere. 

Coaching helps employees achieve goals relating to skills or advancement. In contrast, feedback informs people about what’s keeping them back from accomplishing an objective. 

Both are crucial to your feedback strategy. Managers can help staff set development goals and then work with employees to take their next steps. 

But, successful coaching isn’t telling someone what to do. It’s a two-way conversation with leaders and workers sharing their thoughts and asking questions while discovering the answers together. 

Moreover, coaching influences perceptions. People who feel like they have opportunities and the support to take advantage of them have a better sense of well-being and satisfaction at work.

A coach with a whistle speaks to a basketball player holding a ball.

4. Practice Empathy in All Conversations

Although most humans are capable of empathy, it’s a skill we learn, and how quickly we acquire it depends on our level of emotional intelligence. 

An empathetic workplace encourages the abilities that make feedback impactful, such as:

  • Taking cues from body language during conversations
  • Genuinely listening and caring about what the other person is saying
  • Understanding another person’s perspective and the influences behind it
  • Giving constructive feedback, such as support and corrective measures
  • Asking for consent instead of providing unsolicited advice 

5. Strengthen Your Leadership Team

Glassdoor Economic Research indicates the “quality of senior leadership” is 1 of 3 factors driving employee satisfaction. A company’s culture and values, along with career opportunities, make up the other 2. 

Some of the best leaders are the ones who talk about their own mistakes or weaknesses. Doing so can humanize executives who may otherwise seem out of touch with everyday workers. 

Engaged management teams set the stage for employee involvement. According to Gallup,  manager engagement “declined from 34% to 33% in the first to second half” of 2020. 

As Gallup says, “managers affect 70% of the variance in team engagement,” keeping a close eye on your management team provides insights into employee engagement. 

What do employees want to see in management? Workhuman’s “The Future of Work“ report offers these employee feedback points:

  • 31% of people want management to demonstrate more appreciation
  • 19% of employees wish supervisors would “focus more on my career growth”
  • 8% of workers think supervisors should “have more frequent 1:1s and check-ins”
  • 15% of team members want more independence
  • 14% of staff believe management should “focus more on my learning and development”

The role of your management team extends beyond hiring top talent and overseeing day-to-day operations. It’s their responsibility to develop insights about employees, such as their strengths and talents. Then use this information to provide feedback and move people into suitable roles. 

6. Respond to Feedback

Companies that highlight employee-driven change give team members a sense of ownership. Doing so also shows staff that you’re listening and care about their opinion. Both actions are key drivers of worker satisfaction.

According to Achievers’ “Engagement & Retention Report,” “90% of workers say they are more likely to stay at an employer that takes and acts on feedback.” 

In addition, listening and responding to feedback can increase the output of high-quality work. PwC’s “Tech at Work“ survey finds, “73% of people surveyed say they know of systems that would help them produce higher-quality work.”

With an employee feedback and engagement program in place, companies can leverage worker knowledge to make systems better for everyone.

It can be something simple, such as a manager pointing out that words from a team member inspired a new strategy. Business leaders also can respond personally to individuals who give feedback at work, letting them know the executives hear and appreciate their voice. 

7. Increase Employee Engagement and Feedback Will Follow

Engaged employees have conversations with team members, management and senior leadership. They offer insights and aren’t afraid to give feedback. 

According to Gallup’s analysis on the relationship between employee engagement and team performance, it’s “possible to achieve high performance without high employee engagement, but the odds are nearly 5 times as low.” Moreover, high employee engagement positively affects:

  • Well-being
  • Absenteeism
  • Safety incidents
  • Productivity
  • Customer loyalty and engagement
  • Profitability
  • Turnover
  • Shrinkage
  • Organizational citizenship

Because engagement includes workplace conversations, providing feedback naturally follows.

There is a sign along a road that reads “Improvement.”

8. Provide Clear Examples and a Path to Improvement

Constructive feedback is specific to a work duty and position. It goes beyond a critique by offering an example of a job well done. Connecting a behavioral or workflow change to an outcome allows teams to learn what they can accomplish at work.

Additionally, employee constructive feedback helps them see the benefits of getting it right, from personal satisfaction to increased business opportunities.

Unfortunately, Officevibe’s Pulse Survey finds, “17% of employees feel that the feedback they get is not specific.” Tailor your message using these effective employee feedback examples:

  • Concentrating on a situation or employee actions and avoiding generalization
  • Identifying a behavior to improve, not a personality trait
  • Focusing on present or future outcomes, instead of harping on past mistakes
  • Offering clear examples of how to do a task differently
  • Connecting your criticism and suggestions to an outcome 
  • Understanding your potential bias for people with traits similar to yours

9. Use Positive Feedback to Reinforce Good Actions

Good habits are hard to develop, and bad ones are difficult to break. Recognizing good behavior and practices can lead to long-term and ongoing improvements. 

According to Achievers, 90% of workers say receiving recognition “motivates them to work harder” and 92% of employees earning recognition are more likely to do that same behavior in the future. But 26% of employees suggest “being undervalued and underappreciated is the highest barrier to engagement.” 

Reinforce positive behavior using the following examples:

  • You’re a rock star at upselling desserts in our restaurant
  • I really admire how you kept your calm with that customer
  • Our team appreciates how you took the lead on this project
  • Thanks for helping Joe reinstall his software, as I know tech support was slammed
  • You did a great job when you caught and pointed out that accounting error

10. Examine Your Performance Review Process

Let’s face it: Annual and quarterly reviews usually give teams a sense of dread. Moreover, changes to the way people work and technologies require businesses to evaluate their outdated performance review system.

Workhuman finds, 55% of workers believe “annual reviews don’t improve their performance,” suggesting that ineffective feedback can cause stress, waste time and get few tangible results.

Employers have taken note with the number of workers reporting their company used annual reviews dropping to 54% in 2019, an 11% decline since 2017.

Give employee feedback during a performance review using these tips:

  • Provide a completed evaluation to the employee a few days before your performance discussion so that they can think about your comments 
  • Include performance goals in your review process to help employees grow and take advantages of opportunities
  • Send team members an optional workplace assessment survey so they have a chance to offer feedback to managers
  • Approach feedback conversations with an open mind, a sense of perspective and a list of specific outcomes
  • Consider how your communications should change to suit generational differences in employees

When meeting quarterly, it’s essential to look at what happened during the last 4 months and give actionable steps for the next quarter. 

Although methods like the sandwich approach—giving a compliment then a criticism followed by praise — can work, it’s essential to focus on transparency with explicit language, not fluff.

11. Offer Immediate Feedback Privately and Frequently

Correcting someone at the moment has more weight than waiting for a performance evaluation. This goes for positive and negative feedback. 

Gallup reports, “45% of employees say they have gotten feedback from their manager either daily or a few times per week.” However, Officevibe’s Pulse Survey finds, “28% of employees report that feedback is not frequent enough to help them understand how to improve.” 

Timing is critical, but it’s equally important to avoid public criticism. No one wants to hear someone being reprimanded by their boss. 

Employee Feedback Examples: Model Your Approach

Positive and negative feedback has a role in your business, and the importance of giving and receiving feedback is undeniable. However, the right strategies use employee data to offer insights and an opportunity to improve. 

Make an impact during your next conversation using an effective feedback approach tailored to the situation and person.

Jessica Elliott Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Jessica is a business-to-business content strategist and consultant with 24 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. She writes about technology, marketing and finance.