Is Feedback Killing Your Employee's Motivation?

Julie Shenkman
Posted by in Human Resources

Professional feedback plays an important role in the workplace; it helps workers assess their performance and adjust their strategy accordingly. When it's given incorrectly, however, feedback can destroy employee motivation, damage morale and inhibit growth. By finding the communication strategy that works best for each person, you can encourage continuous improvement.


Emotion and personal feelings can take a piece of professional feedback from helpful to hurtful, and once an employee feels attacked, he's unlikely to hear anything else. To avoid putting workers on the defensive, it's crucial to take an objective stance. If you have to discuss a mistake, don't berate the person or connect the issue to his worth. Instead, maintain a neutral, non-accusatory tone and focus on the facts of the situation. This strategy enables the employee to examine the issue and process your feedback with a clear head.

Positive vs. Negative

Professional feedback falls into two major categories: positive and negative. Both styles are useful in different situations, and using them correctly requires knowledge of the individual's personality and position. If you're dealing with timid or less experienced employees, praise can give them the confidence to keep going, but negative comments, on the other hand, might create insecurity and panic that makes it difficult to keep going. For more experienced or aggressive workers, positive reviews are nice, but negative feedback is often a more effective way to identify opportunities for improvement.

Fear vs. Growth

A small dose of fear can improve employee motivation, but too much can have the opposite effect. It's one thing to let an employee know he needs to improve his sales numbers or face further action; it's quite another to suggest he could be fired if he makes a tiny mistake. The first strategy is useful because it focuses on growth and creates a specific course of action. The second, because it's nearly impossible to achieve, puts the employee in a state of panic that kills productivity and innovation. Delivering professional feedback from a growth mindset lets workers know you're invested in their success and development.

Invite Discussion

In many workplace situations, there's more going on than meets the eye. One way to stifle motivation is to give professional feedback without allowing the employee a chance to respond. A better option is to end your evaluation with a question. Be direct with questions such as, "Can you interact with colleagues more democratically?" or "Do you think you can meet deadlines on time?" If the response is "no," it enables you to probe further to uncover interpersonal issues, operational situations or communication breakdowns that are causing the problem. In addition, since a question demands a response, it gets the person talking even when he is feeling emotional or defensive.

Giving effective professional feedback requires sensitivity and courage. When you find the tone and approach that resonates with an employee, you can offer criticism without sacrificing motivation.

Image courtesy of Enrique Cadena at


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