To Keep Employees Engaged, Provide More Feedback
Plus, four ways to make your feedback more effective.
Kim Ruyle, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) talent expertise panel, remembers the first time a boss offered him feedback. In fact, he believes that advice — which he received when he was 16 and working on a construction site — is still relevant today.
Ruyle was asked to move a stack of two-by-fours, so he grabbed as many as he could and lugged them to the new spot. However, he moved very slowly and often dropped one or two. The owner of the construction firm pulled him aside and said he appreciated Ruyle’s work ethic but that he was trying to do too much as once.
“That stuck with me my whole life,” said Ruyle, president of Inventive Talent Consulting. “I have a tendency to take on too much,” he added, noting that the owner also told him not to drive as fast.
Ruyle is grateful for this on-the-spot advice and believes it’s a manager’s duty to give his or her employees ongoing feedback instead of issuing it once a year during a performance review. According to Ruyle, regular feedback rewards good behavior, correct mistakes and provide learning opportunities. It also boosts employee engagement and may even help reduce your turnover rate.
"One of the factors that correlates most highly with engagement is feedback from direct managers," noted Mollie Lombardi, co-founder and CEO of Aptitude Research Partners, in an SHRM article on employee engagement platforms.
Younger generations of workers in particular — millennials and Gen Zers — crave feedback. “In our national Gen Z study, we discovered that 60 percent want multiple check-ins from their managers during the week,” Denise Villa, Ph.D. and CEO of the Center for Generational Kinetics, told Project Uptime in July. “They just want to know that their managers see them and appreciate their effort.”
Of course, teaching is one of the main reasons to provide observations and comments. “You can’t learn or get better without feedback,” Ruyle said. “It’s also psychologically rewarding for people to learn a new skill or master a skill.”
Ruyle said there are two ways to provide feedback, both of which are beneficial to employees. The first is to give someone positive reinforcement following a performance or demonstration of behavior. These types of comments typically encourage the employee to recreate that action.
The second is something Ruyle calls course correction. While this may seem negative, Ruyle said it’s a form of criticism that can help an employee improve. Managers should use this opportunity not to chastise but to teach.
Regardless of what type of evaluation you’re giving, Ruyle suggests following four pieces of advice.
- Give assessments in real time. Managers shouldn’t delay an encouraging comment or learning opportunity. “The more immediate it is, the more effective it is,” Ruyle said.
- Avoid focusing solely on negative feedback. Managers should strive to reward positive behavior while simultaneously recognizing mistakes. “If they are only giving negative advice, that in my mind is a poor manager,” Ruyle said. He added that the best managers find a balance that suits the employee and doesn’t focus on the minimal level of performance. For instance, don’t slap an employee’s hand for something insignificant; save feedback for learning moments that can impact someone’s career.
- Keep feedback specific. For example, if an employee submits a report a day early, mangers shouldn’t just say, “Thanks.” Instead, they should explain why having the report a day in advance helps them. “Say something that makes it more meaningful to the person you’re speaking to,” said Ruyle. “Anything you can do to make feedback more specific will make it more effective.”
- Be genuine, and stay relaxed. “Avoid being perfunctory or uncomfortable,” Ruyle said. “When mangers drop their own ego, they take on the mindset that they’re here to help employees be successful.” Ruyle encourages managers to be authentic, composed and relaxed when giving feedback so their employees can loosen up and easily absorb the advice.
In addition to boosting employee engagement, regular feedback can also improve safety. EHS Today reported that, according to OSHA, many managers often avoid giving feedback to limit confrontation. Of course, confrontation sometimes is necessary. But Ruyle recommends that employers recognize employees who are exhibiting the right behavior — for example, tying off a lanyard at a good anchor point.
Often, advice offered personally in a constructive way really sticks. When he’s driving, Ruyle still thinks about what his boss said in the 1970s about slowing down — even though he admits he sometimes “still drives pretty fast.”
Emily Canal is a staff writer at Inc. Magazine and has reported pieces for The New York Times, Boston Globe and Forbes.