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Employee Engagement Performance Reviews Performance Management

How to Give Constructive Employee Feedback at Work

December 19, 2023
9 min read

90+ Key Phrases for Employee Performance Reviews


This article about giving constructive employee feedback was published in November 2014 and was updated in December 2023 to reflect new statistics and information.

Giving effective employee feedback is a vital leadership skill. Constructive feedback helps employees improve their performance and stay on track with their goals. It encourages professional development and motivates your people. Employees even want to hear critical feedback, with 72% saying it’s vital for their career growth.

Useful feedback creates a work environment where continuous improvement, communication, and collaboration are the norm. But, delivering feedback isn’t easy for most —70% of managers say they don’t feel comfortable doing it. That explains these statistics:

  • Just 5% of employees are getting the helpful feedback they want.
  • Only 16% of employees say their last conversation with their manager was meaningful.
  • 65% of employees say they want more feedback from their supervisors.

Giving feedback can be uncomfortable, but the impact of vague, infrequent, or nonexistent feedback is far worse. Four in ten employees who get little or no feedback are actively disengaged. Disengagement leads to lost productivity and high turnover, among other issues.

Fortunately, if you create structured processes and understand best practices for giving constructive feedback, it can be instrumental in driving success, productivity, and collaboration.

We’ve all experienced the discouraging effects of poor feedback practices, so let’s explore how to give employee feedback that actually helps. Try these five tips:

  1. Give feedback promptly. Give useful feedback at least once a week during one-on-ones. Address more urgent issues as soon as they come up.
  2. Give consistent feedback. Your employees need feedback more than twice a year. To have a positive impact on performance, build trust, and engage your employees, weekly or even daily feedback is best.
  3. Start a conversation. When giving constructive feedback, ask the employee about their own thoughts and feelings. Have a discussion about what they’re struggling with, where they feel confident, and how to move forward instead of lecturing them.
  4. Avoid biased feedback. Be aware of the different ways bias can make its way into employee feedback so you can eliminate it from your performance reviews and conversations.
  5. Make praise a priority. You’re probably aware of the “sandwich” feedback tactic, in which critical feedback is preceded and followed by praise. If you do use this strategy, be sure it’s not the only time your employees hear positive feedback. Make appreciation and recognition part of workplace culture, and it will get easier to share all types of feedback.

Let’s take a closer look at these tips and how you can put them into practice.

Giving feedback when it’s needed is preferred by employees and far more effective. Constructive feedback is continuous feedback:

1. Don’t Wait to Give Feedback

This is first on the list for good reason: timeliness is a must for effective feedback. 80% of employees prefer continuous feedback, which is when managers give feedback promptly rather than waiting for a formal performance review. Gallup research shows daily feedback leaves employees 3.6 times more likely to say they’re motivated to do great work.

Both positive and negative feedback have the biggest impact when you give them as close to the event as possible. If your feedback is positive, waiting to recognize workers can leave them feeling like their hard work has gone unnoticed. That can be demotivating and discourage your team members from putting in extra effort —or even their full effort —in the future. If your feedback is aimed at addressing an issue, you want to be prompt to ensure that poor work doesn’t cause roadblocks or duplicate work.

So, why do so many managers wait for review season when employees want their advice now? Some say it’s because it’s too time-consuming to give feedback frequently. But, not every feedback session needs to be as involved as a traditional employee performance review. Employee feedback can be quick, easy, and efficient once you develop a process that works for the needs of you and your team.

Giving feedback can be as simple as sending a quick email about a minor error on a project or saying “Thank you” when projects are completed early or on time. During one-on-one meetings, you might give specific feedback, like pointing out that the employee did a great job maintaining a positive attitude and problem-solving on a recent call with an unhappy client.

If you’re using employee engagement software, giving feedback is as easy as typing a Slack message. Respond to goals updates, send a message of appreciation everyone can see, or share a private note with an employee in just a few clicks with engagement software.

Feedback Fast Fact #1: Employees are nearly four times more likely to be engaged if they’ve received meaningful feedback in the past week.

2. Make Continuous Feedback Your Strategy

Don’t just start giving feedback more often —make it an official part of your strategy. Continuous feedback is when managers give performance feedback whenever it’s needed, not just during formal reviews. Since the annual review is widely unpopular, you might think that’s because no one really wants to discuss their performance. But evidence shows that it’s unpopular because it’s not working as intended: 55% of employees say they don’t feel their annual reviews are helping them improve.

On the other hand, giving meaningful feedback weekly leads to employees who are four times as likely to be engaged. Engagement is key for a productive, high-performing workforce. From that research, it’s clear that employees want to talk about performance more.

Continuous feedback helps employees address areas for improvement regularly rather than just around review season. 94% say that when it was presented well, corrective feedback helped them improve —and ⅔ believe that more feedback would have made them more successful in their careers. This strategy also helps alleviate the anxiety that’s common when performance is evaluated just once a year.

Ongoing feedback builds trust between managers and employees and creates a work environment where collaboration and communication are the norm. It makes employees feel more comfortable asking questions and helps managers understand their team members’ strengths and weaknesses.

Here are a few ways to incorporate continuous feedback into the workday:

Feedback Fast Fact #2: At companies using continuous feedback, HR teams are 50% more satisfied with the process.
  • Give quick feedback via email, Slack, or in conversation (if you’re in the office) whenever it’s appropriate, rather than waiting for your weekly one-on-one.
  • Say “thank you” to direct reports as often as possible, whether that’s in your team meetings, in one-on-ones, or in team Slack channels.
  • Follow up on past feedback. Ask employees if they were able to get past the roadblock you discussed or if your tip on managing a challenging client worked.

However, this doesn’t mean annual or biannual reviews cease to exist — your employees still need them. However, when you make feedback a continuous process, it means formal reviews can focus on more important things including employee goals, compensation, development opportunities, and more.


via Zippia

3. Start a Conversation

Starting conversations goes hand–in–hand with continuous feedback. Leaders need employees’ feedback as much as employees need theirs, and giving feedback frequently is an excellent way to start a natural dialogue. A two-way conversation is far more engaging and effective, and encouraging employees to speak up helps them feel heard and empowered at work.

Employees can be a great source of learning and new ideas. However, sometimes managers expect feedback to come to them. In order to transform your culture, lead by example. Request feedback, ask pointed questions, and encourage employees to give specific, focused feedback on what they’d like to see in their workplace.

When you ask for employees’ feedback, you can’t just listen and leave them hanging. Acting on their feedback is essential —if employees don’t feel their opinions matter, it affects their performance and puts them at greater risk of becoming disengaged.

It’s easier to act on feedback when you use engagement software equipped with modern tools like employee surveys. Surveys have everything you need to gather feedback and use the results to make impactful changes, including:

  • A variety of survey templates for immediate launch, like engagement and well-being surveys
  • Pulse surveys, like an eNPS survey, for a quick read on workforce sentiment
  • Analysis and reporting tools so you can dig into survey results and respond appropriately
💬 70% of managers feel uncomfortable giving feedback, but employees crave it for career growth. Learn how to bridge this gap with these 5 tips:

4. Avoid Biased Feedback

Bias is an unfair preference for or against a person, group, or thing, and it can affect the feedback that employees receive. For example, a Harvard Business Review article found that women are more likely to receive “kind” feedback —it’s often inflated or not actionable. Black and Latinx employees are also 2.4 times more likely to get feedback that is not actionable compared to white and Asian employees.

The lack of helpful feedback can result in these groups of employees missing opportunities to grow and make them less likely to get desirable work, raises, and promotions. It’s essential to be aware of bias so you can deliver the most effective feedback possible.

Here are a few common types of bias:

  • Similarity bias: Bias for people who are similar to us (e.g., similar backgrounds, appearance, personalities, skills, etc.)
  • Recency bias: Focusing only on the past weeks or months instead of the entire review period
  • Confirmation bias: Only evaluating employees based on information that confirms what you already believe about them and ignoring or downplaying information that says otherwise

HBR suggests planning out what you want to say beforehand and striving to give accurate, kind feedback to every employee to avoid bias. Before wrapping up the conversation, ask employees what they learned from your feedback to ensure it was useful and that you conveyed your point clearly.

Feedback Fast Fact #3: Black women report experiencing bias in receiving feedback often, getting nine times as much unactionable feedback as white men. 41% of Black women also say they’ve never had a meaningful interaction with a senior leader about their work.

5. Make Praise a Priority

Along with constructive criticism, praise is an essential part of the formula for giving effective feedback. Showing appreciation creates trust, and getting feedback from someone you trust is always better than the alternative. But too few people are getting the encouragement they need: 35% of employees said their work isn’t recognized and 43% don’t feel valued by their company. The lack of positive feedback leads to dissatisfaction and turnover — 54% said they’d be willing to leave their jobs in the next six months.

Improving employee recognition is well worth the effort. 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized. Out of the employees who agree recognition is important in their company culture, seven in ten say they feel connected to that company culture.

Letting your employees know you recognize their good work leads to nearly four times higher engagement. It also contributes to their well-being, making them half as likely to experience burnout. More engagement and less burnout means more productivity and profitability. It’s a win-win for you, your employees, and your company.

Feedback Fast Fact #4: If they felt more appreciated, 53% of employees would stay with their company longer.

When done well, feedback builds professional relationships, increases engagement, and drives performance. You can execute a modern, effective continuous feedback strategy with employee engagement software like ClearCompany.

With ClearCompany Employee Engagement, you get access to powerful, easy-to-use employee feedback tools to enable your strategy. Give critical feedback that helps employees improve and make regular feedback part of company culture with these features:

  • Goal Planning Tools ensure the alignment of employee and business goals, priorities, and success metrics, fostering better teamwork and productivity.
  • 1:1 Workspaces promote manager-employee collaboration by providing a digital space to update action items and share coaching feedback.
  • Digital Shout Outs and automated Celebrations for appreciation, new hires, and employee milestones foster workplace culture and teamwork.
  • Employee Surveys help you measure, understand, and monitor employee sentiments and gather valuable feedback.
  • Customizable performance reviews enable you to design review cycles, formats, and questions to match your business needs or launch reviews fast with our pre-built template library.
  • Mobile and multilingual reviews allow employees to complete reviews on the go and in their preferred language for a smooth review experience.
  • Automated cycle administration and notifications boost employee participation and HR efficiency.
  • Quickly identify top performers and measure engagement and workplace satisfaction with 9-box reporting.
  • ClearCompany's robust reports allow you to track employee performance and engagement so you can gain key insights into team performance and individual satisfaction.

See how ClearCompany’s feedback tools can support your employee-first engagement strategy. Get a demo of our Employee Engagement platform that’s tailored to your business needs — sign up to talk to a ClearCompany expert.

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