Employee expectations on receiving feedback from their manager (or a peer) has changed in today’s modern workplace. Modern employee expectations desire regular and meaningful feedback to help improve their performance and drive better outcomes. Despite these changes, the common approach to delivering feedback has largely, and unfortunately, not kept up with employee demand. The result? A massive wedge within employee engagement. High attrition. Lost productivity. The list goes on and on.

Simply put, feedback — quality feedback — matters.

To tackle this opportunity and share best practices, we must first acknowledge the important difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement. Both are certainly important, but engagement is the goal. According to a 2022 Gallup report, disengagement costs the global economy $7.8 trillion in lost productivity.

Engaged employees are more likely to stay longer, perform better and advocate for your brand. There’s a popular phrase you’ve undoubtedly heard: “Feedback is a gift.” While the phrase is comforting for the person delivering the feedback to say, we must acknowledge that the person receiving the feedback may also be saying, “If feedback is a gift, does it come with a gift receipt?”

To drive meaningful feedback experiences for your employees, consider these five best practices:

  1. You take the good, you take the bad. Somewhere along the way, we reached a point where the idea of giving and receiving constructive feedback thing bad must have happened. To drive a culture of engagement, we must take the good and the bad, and provide them both with shelf space in our feedback model. In fact, this is a great opportunity to implement the 80/20 rule, with 80% of feedback focusing on our employees strengths and 20% focusing on areas for improvement.
  2. Time is not on your side. Regardless of whether or not the feedback is based on a strength or opportunity, it must be timely. Waiting too long to deliver feedback on a behavior that needs to be corrected undermines its importance. “If my boss could wait a week to tell me to fix something, it must not be that important,” thinks the employee. Similarly, if the feedback on a positive experience is slow to come, its easy for the employee to think they’re less of a priority and the achievement wasn’t so special.
  3. Fair and balanced. We’ve consistently learned through engagement surveys that employees not only ask for but expect continuous feedback. Whenever possible, managers should deliver their timely feedback using metrics or specifically documented observations. For positive feedback, this shows employees that you’re really paying attention to them and care. For constructive feedback on poor performance, it can reduce the chance for pushback from your employee and provide beneficial notes for improvement. In all cases, it shows that you take this seriously and are invested in their growth and development.
  4. Then tell. Gen Z and millennial workers aren’t as unreasonable as they’re often portrayed in the media. They’re simply the first generations to truly demand a voice at work — a voice baby boomers and Gen X employees also appreciate having. Coaching conversations can help drive engagement and meaningful feedback experiences. Create open-ended to guide employees on a path of self-improvement.
  5. Behavior-based feedback. The one-size-fits-all approach to coaching and feedback is a dangerous practice. Today, access to people data has never been better and it can help deliver more meaningful feedback. For example, delivering feedback to an introvert might require offering them time to think things through before finishing the conversation. Conversely, a manager would benefit from giving an extrovert extra time in the feedback session to talk it out.

Looking Ahead

The thing that binds these five best practices together is simple: training. To assume your managers are capable, or even interested, in delivering quality feedback and coaching to employees would be a mistake. Furthermore, without training, the practices of coaching and feedback will have huge variations throughout your organization, furthering disengagement.

Drive engagement through quality coaching, and let’s make “feedback” the gift it was always meant to be!