Why your feedback process is harming employee wellbeing

A quick summary:

  • Unbalanced feedback
  • Making assumptions
  • Lack of regular feedback
  • How feedback and wellbeing coexist

Feedback is essential in today’s workplace. Whether it’s positive or negative, heard too little or done too often, feedback must be done in the right way. A poor process, or no process, can lead to damaging results for your organisation's employee wellbeing.

It’s the absence of these qualities that drives poor workplace wellbeing – opening up your business to further repercussions, such as substandard employee productivity and performance.

Here, we’re delving into three reasons why your feedback process does more harm than good. We’ll approach each from the angle of employee wellbeing.

Once you’ve reviewed these, consider how they stack up against your own process and tactics, and if there’s room for improvement.

A team of employees stood around a laptop
What's wrong with unbalanced feedback?

Unbalanced feedback

With feedback, there are three types; praise, advice and evaluation. Some leaders offer only one form of feedback, neglecting the need for balance.

Employees should receive praise on a weekly basis, at a minimum. That’s because praise on a regular basis (the past week) typically creates a 10 - 20% difference in productivity and revenue.

However, too much praise can also be detrimental. Leaders should look for a good balance between too little and too much of this type of feedback.

Moving on to advice, employees should receive this form of feedback on a quarterly basis. This should be done using a strengths-based 360 feedback format. Why? Because this model of advice means individuals receive the richest kind of feedback from multiple sources, as opposed to just one.

Finally, leaders should offer evaluations and/or reflections. This kind of feedback is better suited to every six to twelve months. Evaluations are utilised by most businesses as “annual performance reviews”. However, the mistake leadership teams make is focusing solely on evaluations or reflections – offering very little praise.

As we’ve just discovered, there are three forms of feedback, and one alone does not support a well-rounded feedback process. Additionally, adopting a formal feedback process as such can have positive impacts on things like staff turnover, with some companies seeing around 30% lower attrition rates.

And if anything’s certain, it’s that lower attrition equals better employee wellbeing, higher engagement and improved morale for your team.

two employees in a meeting
Why assumptions can be harmful

Making assumptions

When offering feedback, it’s important to avoid making assumptions. All feedback is subjective (another reason why a 360 feedback format is a much richer solution). When we make assumptions about poor productivity, weakened performance or why employees may be unhappy at work, we suffer from our own personal biases.

It’s a manager’s duty to ask great questions and practice active listening. Assumptions equate to fewer questions and less of an openness to solutions. Although we all have our own backgrounds, experiences and beliefs – and they may help us navigate our careers and relationships with others – we mustn’t project these onto others.

By doing so, we choose assumptions over solutions and ignorance over active listening. If employers are to create healthier, happier employees, assumptions aren’t the way to go about it. Nobody likes when assumptions are made. And once trust and respect are lost, it’s a downward spiral.

Managers aren’t psychologists. They shouldn’t try to be. Employees will have the best knowledge of what’s impacting their performance or happiness at work – and by asking and actively listening (rather than assuming) managers can get a clearer picture of an employee’s situation.

It’s curiosity and active listening that help deliver feedback; and in the way of employee wellbeing benefits, leaders will understand exactly what initiatives their people want.

Lack of regular feedback

Finally, let’s talk about the lack of feedback many employees receive. Believe it or not, feedback is beneficial for everyone involved; it helps leaders praise, advise or evaluate/reflect, and allows employees to work on areas to improve themselves.

That said, projects and workstreams are continuously starting and ending throughout the year. Realistically, feedback should be delivered after a project ends, but some businesses still wait for those single annual performance reviews.

So many businesses have quarterly planning and delivery schedule too, yet no employee feedback process schedule. It simply doesn’t make sense to undergo new projects without any schedule for formal feedback and review.

What we’ve found is that if feedback isn’t scheduled like other procedures, it just won’t happen. It’s one of those things that we know is important and we know we must do, but just doesn’t happen regularly enough — perhaps because it’s uncomfortable for everyone involved.

By only checking in with employees once per year, leaders are allowing problems to fester. It could be personal issues preventing productivity, performance or general engagement, or problems with workloads and deadlines.

Our careers aren’t always smooth sailing, and a lack of feedback leaves us in the dark; it creates uncertainty in the workplace. If anything is certain, uncertainty leads to worry and anxiety, and so no feedback is an attack on your employee wellbeing strategy.

an employee talking to her colleagues
Our final thoughts on employee wellbeing and feedback

Final thoughts on how feedback and employee wellbeing coexist

The three issues we’ve discussed above could be hindering your feedback process. Not only can they create setbacks for employee performance and engagement, but they may be neglecting employee wellbeing.

For people to feel well, enjoy their career and feel good about the work they produce, they require regular input from colleagues. It’s this lack of input — or as we’ve discussed a 360 feedback format — that creates unhappiness and job dissatisfaction.

To put it simply, a robust feedback programme amplifies an employee wellbeing strategy. and vice versa. We need praise to push us forward, advice to steer us to success and reflections from our peers to become the best version of ourselves.

Ignoring your feedback process, and allowing feedback to happen “as and when”, will severely negatively impact your wellbeing strategy.

If leaders want to take employee wellbeing seriously, they must also take their strategy for feedback seriously — one cannot exist without the other.

Ultimately, employee wellbeing cannot be ignored in the modern workplace. Feedback is a means to hear employees out, and find ways to assist them. Whether that’s uncovering ways to help them achieve better results or helping them discover the mental wellbeing support they need.

Your process for giving feedback may need some refining, but with enough effort, you can improve the health and happiness of people at work.

An organisation that doesn’t listen to its people, and doesn’t offer any guidance or feedback is destined to collapse. Relationships must be built on communication, and a lack of it will disrupt teamwork and progress.

Credit: This piece has been co-authored by Heka and Julian from Howamigoing.

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