Three Do’s and Three Don’ts for Providing Employee Feedback

In the 1950s, business management scholar Douglas McGregor famously posited Theory X and Theory Y of personnel management. Both theories are based on the concept of motivated workers. Theory X assumes that all employees are pikers who look at the clock and tried to avoid work as much as possible. Theory Y assumes that internal employee motivation must be stimulated accordingly, and feedback is one of the best tools available to managers in this regard.

It took decades for the American workplace to shed Theory X; in fact, micromanagement was practiced well into the 1980s, but we are firmly in the era of Theory Y, which means that managers are now relating to employees on a more personal level. Assuming that workers only look for paychecks is a draconian way of managing personnel in the 21st century.

If you look at the content on sites like, you will see that the advice is generally influenced by the principles of Theory Y. With this in mind, here are a few things managers should remember when providing employee feedback:

Three Do’s of Workplace Feedback

* Always be specific: Feedback should always be straightforward. Use it as a tool for improvement when something needs to be corrected. The goal is to make employees aware of what they must exactly do in order to complete their tasks in a satisfactory manner.

* Be constant: Monthly employee assessments are not conducive to a proper application of Theory Y. Constant feedback, particularly of the positive kind, is the key to establishing personal connections with workers. Whenever you see an opportunity to briefly deliver praise, you should take it. At the same time, if you can conduct a brief and friendly intervention to correct a deficiency on the spot, be sure to seize the moment.

* Provide room for improvement: Instead of mentioning how employees can improve on the job, try to do something about it. If you have charismatic and experienced workers who can be trainers or mentors, by all means, get them involved in the supervision and feedback process.

Three Don’ts of Workplace Feedback

* Don’t resort to ad hominem attacks: Insulting feedback and overwhelming stress used to be hallmarks of basic training in the United States Army, but times are changing because military officials are angling for a more professional force. Personal attacks only serve to test the tolerance of individuals, and they may backfire with retaliation.

* Don’t make assumptions: Before pointing out something that went wrong, evaluate the situation in order to determine how it went wrong. You may need to get feedback from other workers to find out if certain business processes have been formulated in a counter-intuitive manner. For example, if your issue with an employee is about his or her tardiness, then make sure you have the data to back it up; your company may make use of an employee time clock that keeps track of work hours and such, which can be used to evaluate this behavior over a period of time. But you must ensure that the measures of evaluation have been set fairly. The same goes for any other process or issues that are present. Jumping to conclusions in the workplace is an unfortunate management failure.

* Don’t make threats: Being specific does not entail issuing threats about continued employment. Such warnings and acknowledgments should be done at the human resources level by means of internal documents that employees must read and sign. Feedback sessions should never be used to remind workers about their conditions of employment.