A Guide to Providing Constructive Criticism to Employees in 2022

by Sandra Jenkins

Workplace relationships differ from other kinds of relationships in the sense that there is an exact hierarchy to follow and there clear goals to achieve in a set period of time.

Unlike familial relationships, there is no unlimited supply of generosity and forgiveness. And unlike romantic relationships, happiness and companionship are not the priority. There is a certain output and performance expected at a certain quality.

In the workplace, the stick nor the carrot are not the best methods of encouraging the quality you require from your employees.

This guide will tell you the best methods to provide constructive criticism to employees!

Why Should You Provide Constructive Criticism to Employees?

While certain circumstances call for rewards or punishments, most of the time, your employees neither did something completely wrong nor completely good.

Most of the time, your staff would be doing some things right and other things wrong.

During these times, providing constructive criticism to your employees and letting them know which parts of their work to improve and which parts they should avoid doing can greatly increase the quality of their work output and performance.

This is so that the next time they do the same work, they know exactly the expectations and they are able to do the task as needed.

This improved quality and performance benefit your employees as they learn and grow as professionals. It also benefits the company because employees doing well means the organization also does well overall.

In addition, your relationship with your employees also gets strengthened. They become aware that you are not an unreasonable employer that only unnecessarily reprimands and dislikes you, nor a happy-go-lucky employer that only praises all the littlest things and distrusts you.

Additionally, your employees will see that you provide them with the space and knowledge to grow.

5 Common Mistakes When Giving Employee Feedback

Now that we know why providing constructive criticism is important, here are 5 common mistakes that HR professionals make when giving employee feedback.

1. Using the “feedback sandwich”

Don’t use the feedback sandwich.

A lot of people in the Human Resources field, and even outside, have cited what they call the “Feedback Sandwich” to provide an assessment.

This happens when you state positive feedback first before saying negative feedback and then finishing off with another positive feedback. Here, you “sandwich” a “bad feedback” between two “good feedbacks”.

While this may be effective sometimes, this is best applied when breaking news to somebody such as on whether they got hired or not.

However, this is not the best form of feedback when your employee gives you good but incomplete output. 

Forcing a feedback sandwich just to avoid hurting your employees’ feelings only compels you to provide unnecessary feedback with no assured positive effects.

With the feedback sandwich, subtlety is the key. But when you want specific outputs such as a financial report or a business plan, being straightforward with what needs to improve is most important.

2. Trying too hard to cushion the blows

No one wants to demotivate or dispirit their employees.

Oftentimes, to caution against possibly discouraging employees or making them feel as though their hard work is for naught, employers tend to cushion the blow with pillows of good feedback.

There are studies that show that unnecessarily avoiding pushing your employees out the door with your constructive criticism through positive feedback only leads to confusion and eventually distraction.

When you think of yourself as the receiver of the evaluation, you would rather be treated as a mature adult that can understand the points and reasons behind the criticism given bluntly.

There is a difference between being direct and candid, and being brusque and rude. You can still give your constructive criticisms straightforwardly and sincerely to your employees without needing to resort to cushions of positive comments to soften the blow. Besides, doing so might also make you come off as insincere or even condescending.

Transparency when delivering assessments can make you and your employees feel empowered – you because you were able to provide instructions that can help your employees learn and grow, and your employees because they are treated as adults that can think and decide for themselves. 

Additionally, without the conflicting messages of both the criticism and the praises, the delivery also gets less emotion-centered and less confrontational.

3. Giving unclear feedback

Whether it’s regarding your employees’ behavior, performance or output, you have to give specifications so that your employees can act on them and solve their problems.

Generic phrases like “Please be more committed” or “Submit a report on this franchise tomorrow” frustrate your employees as much as it frustrates you.

Your idea of commitment, as vague as that is, is different from your employee’s idea of commitment. The report you are expecting may be different from the report your employee knows how to prepare.

You have to specify what you need and use clear examples so that your employees will understand exactly what is expected of them. “Please be on time when reporting to work.” “Submit a sales report on this franchise from the last quarter including all the branches in the capital city.”

4. Not being tactful of the time and place

Be mindful of the time and place where you’re giving feedback.

The difference between giving feedback at the right time and place and the wrong setting is how it will affect your employee’s morale, which will also affect their productivity. You have to pick when and where you give your feedback wisely. It matters.

There is a reason for the age-old advice of praising in public and punishing in private. Praising in public is wasting your chance to also motivate the other employees into adopting the same behavior or giving the same level of output. Punishing in public is embarrassing, sometimes even humiliating, and this only stresses your employees and will eventually make them leave.

A forthright criticism is not a big deal unless delivered critically in front of other people.

While you may feel that this is not anything harsh, your employees may feel like you are putting them down in front of people they work with every day. Others may even take advantage, and use this to discredit the recipient or try to dominate over them.

Not only do you have to be tactful in keeping the criticism private, but you also have to be mindful of giving your employees a heads up prior. Giving them a warning beforehand will allow them to calm down and rationalize themselves to avoid an emotional blowout.

5. Unfairly giving criticism

A criticism that is exclusively positive or entirely negative is not constructive criticism. It does not “construct” your employees’ professionality. On the contrary, you are either providing them with false courage or unwanted insecurity.

For your employees to continue doing well, even better, they need to hear what they have been doing correctly and not. They need to know which points they have already done outstandingly and which points they still need to work on.

The feedback that stirs too much in any direction will only come off as inauthentic and insincere or emotional and demoralizing. The goal is not to flatter nor to insult but to encourage and inspire your employees.

4 Best Practices When Providing Constructive Criticism to Employees

With that out of the way, we can now discuss the best practices when providing constructive criticism.

1. Prepare a growth plan

Your feedback should not only be aligned to the expectations and goals but also to the employee’s current set of skills and knowledge of your employees. You have to be sure that what you asked them to do or what project you assigned to them is within their capabilities. 

As a manager, particularly if you’re an HR professional, you should assist them in their growth and development as professionals.

While failure is the true key to success, what you entrust to your employees should be something they have the ability to do to some extent, and the rest should be something they can or need to learn. 

Preparing a growth plan can help everyone in the team.

Here is where your constructive criticism comes in. Applauding what your employees did well due to their current set of skills and knowledge is only an appreciation of their achievement and does not necessarily facilitate growth. Teaching them what they still lack and letting them work on them is where they develop.

If they’ve been working with the company for a while, you must have already observed how they perform and what kind of output they produce. You are able to tell what they are already good at and what they still need to work towards.

You can develop a growth plan for your employees – whether it is increasing monthly sales targets, increasing market reach for the ads they create, or whatever it is they do. Entrusting them with tasks or projects on these areas you have identified will give them the chance to develop, making small or no mistakes as much as possible.

You can also ask them about their personal career goals for both the short and long term. You can incorporate these to the plan you have prepared. If they plan to extend their field expertise to financial management, you can start by asking them to prepare financial projections, and then to financial analysis and so on.

2. Meet privately on a regular basis

To give your employees appropriate feedback, you have to also know them closely.

Meeting with your employees regularly and one-on-one can give you the time and space to be able to be direct and still sincere. The quietness and solitude of a one-on-one meeting can also give your employee the opportunity to freely talk with you.

These regular meetings do not have to be done weekly as this is unrealistic for a lot of industries. Depending on the industry and field of expertise, the meetings can be done bi-monthly or monthly. This depends entirely on you and your employees and what you deem is necessary.

Still, in-between meetings, try to informally chat with your employees to get updates on their progress and provide them with assistance as they need it.

Holding off until the end of the year or the end of the quarter to review the tasks and projects would not mean much to the employees’ specific tasks and activities. This would not help them acquire additional skills and knowledge.

They have to know these while they are working on them to be able to apply them. What should be reserved when you are wrapping up a period should only be a summary of the feedback and how much your employees have grown since.

3. Provide feedback with growth in mind

Think about how your feedback can help the other person grow.

Once again, the feedback you should be providing your employees should provide them the opportunity to grow. 

Constructive criticism, while somewhat negative in nature, identifies the current issues your employees are facing and allows them to work on these problems so that they will not be obstacles in the future.

There is no such thing as negative feedback. There is only constructive criticism, especially if you also provide them with helpful suggestions or ideas on how to solve their dilemmas or help them understand how overcoming these would result in the goals you wanted for them to achieve.

4. Don’t forget to show appreciation

As mentioned previously, mindlessly praising your employees will not contribute to their abilities.

However, adequately and appropriately complimenting them for jobs well done can contribute to their motivation to work, and in turn, to their productivity.

As an employer, your executives are not the only ones who you have to keep happy. You also have to make sure that your employees are happy with their work and that they are not content with their current job but they are content with their current growth.

It is important to remember that the positive aspect of constructive criticism is not pillowing your assessment with empty words but recognition and thanks to your employee for doing well.

Management is also about developing, motivating, and coaching employees. Feedback used properly will make your department a great place to work, and give your employees a chance to grow.

As you nurture your employees, you will see improvements in your productivity. Everyone can benefit from specific and positive feedback.

Providing Constructive Criticism to Employees: Wrap-Up

A workplace where an employee can receive both commendation and instruction, clearly and without neither malice nor cajolery, is a great place to work. In a workplace like this, employees are encouraged and guided towards improved productivity.

In the end, you will be creating a trustworthy, transparent, collaborative work environment where employees are assured that their mistakes and failures are not held above their heads and that their growth and development are fully supported.

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