How to give constructive feedback to employees that gets results

Written by: Officevibe | Edited by: Rachel Steben
Published on: April 4, 2022 |  Reading time: 8m

A motivated and productive workforce will take your business to new heights, while a demotivated one can lead you into a downward spiral. So it makes sense to fix problems fast, boost morale and get the best from your team.

That’s why giving constructive feedback to employees is important. If you want employees to perform at their best, you need to correct and guide them in the right direction. But delivering constructive feedback to employees can be tricky.

Thankfully, we’ve moved on from the days when feedback meant barking orders at people and issuing directives. We’ve learned that the negative approach doesn’t work. On the contrary, team members are most productive when they receive positive, constructive feedback.

Naturally, as a leader, you will get much better results when you help people and guide them in the right direction. Here’s how!

Why give constructive feedback to employees?

When you look at the statistics, it soon becomes clear that people are crying out for more constructive and helpful feedback. Officevibe research on employee engagement shows that two-thirds of employees are unhappy with the quality of the feedback they receive.

Unsurprisingly, 96% of employees say that receiving feedback regularly is a good thing, while 62% wish they received more feedback from their colleagues. Employers who recognize these needs and take steps to fulfill them have a rosy future ahead.

What does constructive employee feedback look like in the workplace?

Good leaders remember that their teams are not anonymous human beings but real people with feelings. Every person has different hopes, ambitions, aspirations, fears, frustrations, and anxieties.

Constructive feedback takes all of these feelings into account. Even when used to address urgent problems, constructive feedback does so in a sympathetic and understanding way.

There are many different reasons why issues arise, many partially or wholly out of the individual’s control. An employee with a new baby at home may be struggling to get enough sleep, causing them to be late for work or less productive than usual. A remote employee who has recently moved may have temporary Internet connection problems, slowing down communication. Always remember to be compassionate and strive to understand before jumping to conclusions.

How to give constructive feedback that helps employees improve

So how do you give helpful feedback to your team, exactly?

Firstly, remember that your role as a leader is to help and encourage. Your goal is to bring out the best in your team members, building on their strengths and negating weaknesses.

To help you, here are suggestions for giving constructive feedback to employees. These will provide you with a sound foundation for handling these conversations positively.

Be direct and specific

Beating about the bush won’t help. You will sometimes need to have difficult discussions with employees as a manager. When necessary, confront the problem head-on—but without being rude or aggressive.

Instead of blaming the employee for an unfortunate situation, turn the discussion around to answer the question ‘why?’ First, explain the issue at hand with the employee, discussing how it’s impacted the team and the project. Once the impact is clear, you can discuss how the problem arose—and find out why the employee could not solve it.

To avoid any confusion, you need to be specific, too. Ensure that the employee understands exactly what issue you are raising and the problem in detail. It’s vitally important that you are on the same page to achieve an effective resolution.

Set time aside to give feedback

As a busy manager, you have to keep a lot of plates spinning. Many of these may seem more important or more urgent than giving feedback to your team.

However, it’s a mistake to skimp on allocating time for feedback sessions, even worse, to skip them altogether. You may be saving yourself some time in the short run, but you are just building up problems for the future.

So set aside a sensible amount of time for giving feedback to employees. And remember that this matter is far too important to deal with by email or online chat. Employees deserve your full attention and focus, so give feedback in person (whether face-to-face or over video chat).

You will find that the time invested is repaid many times over. Problems that seemed intractable can melt away after a single positive conversation.

Pro tip: A one-on-one meeting software like Officevibe can help you plan these important meetings more easily with conversation prompts, centralized notes, and shared meeting agendas. Features like automated follow-ups make sure that feedback is regular and routine!

Screen image of one on one meeting planning features in Officevibe
Officevibe one-on-one meeting software helps make sure that feedback is routine and actionable.

Give praise

We all excel at some things while struggling with others. All of your team members will have strengths that are an asset to the team and weaker areas that need improvement.

Even if you have to tackle a negative situation in your feedback session, you can still find opportunities to praise employees. What small wins have they achieved recently? Where have they made improvements that deserve a thumbs-up?

Starting your feedback session with a bit of praise gets things off to a good start and will make the employee feel more comfortable. And if you can end the meeting with some recognition, too, so much the better!

Keep it informal

A meeting with ‘the boss’ may be a little intimidating for an employee. Insert this vibe into a formal setting, and the issue can magnify and create a further disconnect between employee and manager.

To alleviate these concerns, keep these meetings informal. Aim to approach it like you’re having a friendly chat rather than a formal meeting.

Want to provide feedback in a way that seems less intimidating? Hold the meeting in a neutral location instead of in your office. A conversation in the staff cafeteria or even in your local coffee shop might be the way to go. You may even want to dress down a little to make the exchange more casual.

Be genuine

Honesty and sincerity and fundamental building blocks of any working relationship. They are also chief to a successful meeting. So be genuine in your approach, whatever the subject of the discussion.

If you come across as being open and sincere, the employee is likely to respond in the same way. Then you will find you can make clear progress in moving things forward.

Listen to how the employee responds

Sure, you need to have your say and get your message across. But that’s only half the story. Being a good manager is very much about being a good listener.

Listen attentively—not just to the words but to the sentiment behind them. The way a person responds in a feedback session can reveal an awful lot about your team. Make sure you pick up on all such nuances.

Decide on the way forward together

Resolving conflicts and issues needs to be a collaborative process. If you dictate what should happen without consulting the employee, the outcome may be disappointing.

You need to ensure that the individual is on board with your ideas. Once you have talked things through, come to a joint decision on how you should proceed. Allow the employee to ‘own’ the decision—you may be amazed at how they respond!

one-on-one employee feedback session

Handle negative feedback with care

It’s tough to downplay the negative feedback you will have from time to time. When that happens, it’s best to handle the situation with kind gloves.

Here is where experience comes into play. But it can be learned, too! Experienced managers know how to give employee feedback the right way. When giving negative feedback, you need to balance this with positive aspects— to get the right result without causing additional drama.

The unique benefits of giving constructive feedback regularly

The short-term benefits of offering corrective feedback are good, but the long-term benefits are phenomenal.

Employees will become more confident, both in their work and sharing their feelings. As this constructive feedback loop continues, the benefits will compound. You can expect dramatic improvements in motivation, team morale, and productivity.

Differences between constructive and positive feedback

Although positive and constructive feedback have a lot in common, they are not the same. And it’s important to understand the difference.

With positive feedback, you point out positive behaviors and the good things the employee has achieved. You are giving praise as an end in itself.

But when offering constructive feedback, you show your team members how they can improve. This type of constructive feedback example could mean giving actionable advice highlighting a problem and showing them how to fix it.

The best managers know how to combine positive and constructive feedback to achieve the optimal result for everyone.

Check out these constructive feedback examples to get more insight into how this works.

The secret of constructive feedback

For any team leader, the ability to give constructive feedback to employees is essential. And the key to getting this right is seeing both sides of the story. Receiving feedback from employees is just as important as giving it.

That’s why many companies are finding great success using specialized employee feedback tools such as Officevibe. Officevibe uses engagement surveys to measure how team members feel and track trends over time.

For example, Officevibe’s Pulse Survey Tool measures 10 metrics and 26-sub employee engagement metrics. Easy-to-read reports make the data accessible and easy to understand.

Example of Officevibe's employee engagement tool metrics results
Example of Officevibe’s employee engagement tool metrics results.

Armed with the information from employee surveys, managers are then better positioned to deliver effective constructive feedback on the employee’s performance. Data-backed insights can help reduce negative behaviors and contribute to professional development.

In today’s competitive business environment, it’s hard to retain and motivate good employees. Offering meaningful feedback to your people goes a long way to building a stronger company culture, cementing teams, and creating the productive atmosphere you need to succeed.

The results compound, and you can achieve extraordinary outcomes when you add in the power of technology to accelerate and improve your feedback loops. So now is the time to put these options to good use—provide constructive feedback and start gaining that all-important competitive advantage.