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How to Observe and Give Feedback to Employees

As a supervisor, work leader, or student supervisor you should give your employees frequent helpful feedback about their work, the results of their work, their contributions, and the effectiveness of their working relationships.

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1. Observe your employee's work performance.

  • While it is natural to take an interest in your employee's personal life, feedback about work performance should focus on specific, objective, factual work-related information (who, what, where, when, how). Observe on-the-job behaviors, results, and teamwork.
  • Put yourself in a position to observe performance first-hand whenever possible.
  • When you can't be present to observe employee performance, be sure that you have a plan for gathering information that is clearly understood by everyone involved and applied fairly.

2. When the performance you observe is significant, document your observations.

  • It is impressive to your employee when you have a record of his or her successes. Often supervisors only document evidence of problems, but it is a powerful motivator to notice and track good performance and results, and very useful at performance appraisal time.
  • Using specific, objective, factual descriptions, record the following, as and when appropriate, and keep in each employee's working folder.
    • Evidence of significant results of employee performance (successful or indicating need for improvement)
    • Indicators of employee behaviors that you want to provide feedback about (positive or needing improvement)
    • Agreements
    • Decisions
    • Action plans

3. Give frequent feedback.

  • To ensure that your feedback is perceived as helpful and meaningful, focus on specific work-related, on-the-job behaviors, results, and teamwork. Be sure that your nonverbal communication (facial expressions and tone of voice) also express helpfulness and openness to the employee's perspective.
  • Give positive feedback frequently. Some people prefer to receive praise in private. Take the time to know what motivates your employees.
  • Give constructive feedback as needed, in private and as close to the time of performance as possible. Sometimes taking the time to get some emotional space is wise and welcome, but provide feedback as soon as possible.
  • Before moving to problem-solving, check to see what employees thought your expectations were. Often, clarifying expectations will be all that is needed to ensure employee success.
  • When giving feedback, always give your employees a chance to talk about their performance. It is energizing and informative to hear their thoughts about how they were successful or why they got the results that they did.
  • Avoid making negative statements that assess your employee's character, motivations, or psychological state. Statements like these are subjective and discouraging, and create defensiveness.

Note: Most employees want to know how they are doing and what they can do to improve. Employees also appreciate it when you notice good work and effort.

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Notice: The information on this page summarizes provisions of university policies and/or collective bargaining agreements. Refer to the Personnel Policies for Staff Members (PPSM) and local implementing procedures or applicable collective bargaining agreement for full text of referenced information.