How to give performance feedback to employees

Written by: Officevibe | Edited by: Rachel Steben
Updated on: Published on: March 16, 2022 |  Reading time: 10m

Business leaders are responsible for ensuring employees can bring their best selves to work every day. But they can’t do that without giving performance feedback. Unfortunately, performance reviews are often too irregular or vague to be valuable.

Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data tell us 17% of employees feel that the feedback they get is not specific enough and 28% of employees feel they don’t receive feedback often enough to improve.

You can keep your employees from joining these statistics by providing regular and specific feedback. Keep reading for guidance to make the most of your next performance review and improve overall performance management.

The importance of giving feedback to employees

It’s human nature to want to know whether we’re doing a good job and how we can do our jobs better. Employees may feel like they aren’t performing at the top of their game but not understand why. Others may feel unstoppable but unappreciated because no one ever tells them “nice work” or “way to go.”

Providing employees feedback is how managers put gas into their fuel tanks in the forms of recognition, empathy, guidance, and the chance to be heard. When employees know their leadership invests in them, they are more engaged, loyal, and invested in return.

💡 The numbers may surprise you. Knowing the statistics on the importance of employee feedback lends real insights to back your next move.

Official employee performance review process

For many employers, performance management takes the form of an official performance review, held at regular intervals like once a year, once a quarter, or once a month, although annually is traditionally most common.

In performance reviews, managers highlight achievements and improvement areas during the last period. They may reference the employee’s work, attendance, deadline adherence, time management, problem-solving skills, and communication skills, usually using a quantifiable grading system.

Although commonly the only performance evaluation given to an employee, this formal performance review process is not always sufficient. According to our Pulse Survey data on feedback, 32% of employees wait at least three months before getting manager feedback.

We’re not saying official performance reviews are pointless. When managers provide timely, relevant feedback outside of the annual review, they encourage employee growth and create a culture of open communication.

Make the most of annual performance reviews

A manager can make the best use of a formal assessment by being prepared and getting specific. Preparation for performance reviews may include tracking employee performance with regular notes and seeking improvement points from the other leaders around them.

It’s essential to ask other managers and team leads for their perspectives because they may have noticed something you missed. Ask questions like:

  • How well do they communicate?
  • What company processes are they following or not following
  • What do you admire about them?
  • How could this employee improve in your eyes?

You’re fishing for specific examples that you can reference in the performance review.

Your employees won’t know what to do with vague feedback like “You don’t communicate professionally.” But when they encounter something like “Avoid using profanity in the future as you did with this client at this time,” the expectations are clear.

When we prepare, we get specific. When we get specific, we identify actionable growth opportunities for our employees.

Pro tip: Learn from others’ mistakes. Read 7 mistakes managers make when giving annual performance reviews so you can avoid them the next time around.

Providing performance feedback outside of official performance reviews

Managers will benefit from not letting annual reviews be the only time they offer employees feedback. One-on-one meeting conversations, informal chats, and team chats outside of the official employee performance review provide the chance of a productive discussion without the pressure of a formal performance evaluation.

Before the meeting

Before meeting with an employee one-on-one or for an informal chat, an employer should check in with them. If the employee has an off day or is dealing with significant personal stress, they will probably not be open to receiving feedback.

A meeting with an employee can quickly move in the wrong direction if they are not in a good state of mind. Before the meeting, a manager should ask the employee whether now is a good time for them or whether another time would be better.

Likewise, feel free to move meetings you have already scheduled if you are not in the proper mindset. Your employee will understand and likely appreciate that you want to ensure a positive, productive conversation.

One-on-one meetings

Meeting with an employee one-on-one is a great way to provide monthly or weekly feedback. Face-to-face meetings are often more productive than emails or voice calls.

Sitting with an employee eye to eye (even over a video chat) offers a more personable experience. The simple act of showing up and sitting down with an employee shows them that you are willing to take the time for them in your busy schedule.

Face-to-face meetings prevent miscommunication. Have you ever sent a text message and then realized it could come across in a completely different way than you meant it? The same thing can happen over email or even over the phone.

🌳 One-on-one meetings don’t have to be at the office. Moving the discussion to a neutral location like a park or café can encourage honesty from both parties and facilitate a more candid conversation.

Informal chats

You don’t always need to schedule feedback discussions in advance—sometimes arise that are best addressed at the moment.

Brief, informal chats with employees allow leaders to address performance issues with immediate feedback. When we wait for those formal reviews, we miss out on opportunities like this. Real-time feedback can curb minor issues before they become problematic.

Managers will also benefit from positive informal chats. Stopping by to offer congratulations for an employee’s accomplishments puts gas in the tank by boosting confidence and engagement.

one-on-one employee feedback session

Team meetings

It may benefit a manager to offer feedback in a group rather than one-on-one. When managers give feedback to a group of employees, they don’t single out anyone, and the group gets to move forward as a team.

Offering feedback to a team also creates accountability. Each team member is more likely to follow through with a change if the other members strive toward the same goal.

Instant messaging

Although full reviews and detailed feedback are best delivered in person, instant messaging platforms allow employers to easily and quickly offer support and guidance.

Instant messengers are especially helpful for sending quick affirmative feedback, like “Great job on that last assignment” or “This client appreciated your hard work yesterday.” These messages may seem small, but they have a significant impact.

illustration of two employees giving high fives out of laptops

What should be included in an employee performance feedback discussion?

When leaders discuss an employee’s performance, a balanced conversation will offer the most valuable feedback. Even the “rock star” employee wants to know how they can challenge themself to improve.

Positive feedback

Sometimes, leaders forget the importance of positive feedback, but it is just as vital as its counterpart. An employee who hears only critical feedback will likely feel invalidated and unmotivated.

High-performing employees also need their props. If a person struggles with self-doubt, take extra care to highlight when they are modeling positive behaviors and producing quality work.

Negative feedback

Managers may avoid giving negative feedback because it’s tricky, but employees can’t grow if they don’t know where to improve. The key is to be constructive.

Critical feedback should aim not to tear an employee down but to build them up.

Constructive feedback

Managers build up employees through well-positioned feedback. Think constructive, not destructive, and use measurement-oriented rather than vague language.

Destructive feedback is observational. Constructive feedback is actionable. It doesn’t just point out a problem; it also offers solutions to that problem.

When managers offer their direct reports constructive feedback, they encourage employee engagement over detachment.

Learn more on how to give constructive feedback to employees

How to deliver negative performance feedback as constructive feedback

As a manager, it’s your role to help your employees develop professionally and contribute their best efforts towards the common team goals. That means establishing a dynamic where feedback can flow freely and employees are open to critique to implement positive change. Feel free to check out these employee feedback examples to help you navigate different situations you might face as a manager. Delivering constructive negative performance feedback is more than softening the blow.

Follow these best practices next time you need to give negative feedback and want to do it constructively.

Do it in private

Sometimes, leaders make the mistake of talking to an employee who is not meeting expectations in the presence of other employees. If you’ve ever been criticized in public, you understand that this practice is toxic to employee satisfaction and positive company culture.

A manager should always provide feedback to an employee in private unless they address an entire team of people, even if it’s positive. Some of us feel just as awkward with public praise as we do with public beratement.

Empathize

Managers and employees alike are human beings who respond with strong emotions when they realize they’re not meeting expectations.

The employee may seem defensive, but this is a normal response. Instead of interpreting defensiveness as defiance, leaders should consider how they might react in that position and approach the situation with empathy.

Be direct

Effective employee feedback is direct with clear expectations and concrete examples that offer solutions.

Offer solutions

An employee’s performance won’t improve through vague directions like ”You need to work faster” or ”That wasn’t good enough.”

Managers can offer actionable feedback by referencing past behavior or specific past work with examples of how to do better.

For example, ”That wasn’t good enough” may become ”These types of assignments require more detail than you included here. Let’s look at a good example together.”

Don’t lecture

Most people don’t respond well to being lectured. Offering feedback should be a two-way street, where the employee feels comfortable expressing their own experiences, opinions, and struggles.

Managers can turn lectures into conversations by giving their employees time to process information before continuing, asking them follow-up questions, and letting them contribute to growth solutions.

Remember to talk “with” your employees, not “at” them.

photograph of informal team chat

How to get feedback from a performance review

How do employers know when they have performed an effective performance review? How do they know which leadership skills they need to improve to offer the best feedback?

They ask their employees.

In general, employees know what helps them improve performance and what does not. One of the best ways to get employee feedback is through surveys. Employee surveys allow anonymous, on-point, and consistent feedback — so you always have a pulse on how your team is fairing.

You can ask questions on everything from the latest company announcements or how they feel about receiving feedback. It’s an insightful way to capture regular feedback to know your people better and make sure you’re on the same page!

By offering them a chance to provide feedback, managers can better address employee needs and encourage a company culture of trust and loyalty.

Anonymous employee feedback

When employee feedback is anonymous, managers can focus on self-evaluation on how to best offer guidance to their employees without the risk of internal tension.

A direct report may even bring something up anonymously that they would have otherwise kept to themselves. These issues are often especially vital to address as they are the ones that eat away at company morale because no one feels comfortable talking about it.

Use employee feedback survey results to guide the conversation

When employees have a safe space to give an employer a performance appraisal, they feel appreciated and heard. They are likely to take more initiative in changing company processes that may be hindering their performance.

If you are a business leader who wants to improve communications between managers and employees, Officevibe’s Employee Feedback Tool is the perfect solution. Modern managers use it to dig deeper into performance issues through regular employee feedback surveys and follow-up questions. Plus, the tool allows employers to collect employee feedback regardless of the number or location of employees.

Improve communication with remote workers, allow anonymous feedback, and easily track all of it in one place with Officevibe.