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Covid Has Made It Harder to Give Informal Feedback

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The challenges of working from home during coronavirus have changed the way in which we work. In particular, one of the fundamental behaviours of day-to-day office work that influences our well-being at work: the provision of frequent informal feedback by managers and colleagues.

Feedback is essential. It provides employees with information about how they are performing, highlights to them the new responsibilities they may take on, and points out what they might do to enhance their skills and experience. Feedback is an important resource that can reduce the effects of job stress impacting our well-being.

When we are recognised for a job well done, or a colleague or manager spends the time to help us improve, we feel valued within our workplace. When feedback is not given, it can lead us into feeling undervalued or stressed that the work we are completing isn’t good enough.

Feedback is even more important in virtual work-from-home environments as it builds work engagement and encourages employees to go above and beyond for their organisations. This includes innovating in their role, especially if changes have been made to their day to day role to accommodate remote working, and helping other team members with their work. All of which are sorely needed at this uncertain time.

Managers are not as important in the feedback process as you think

Since we have moved to working from home, providing regular informal feedback has become almost impossible for managers to do without scheduling Zoom meetings or sending multiple emails to individual employees. While these seem simple behaviours, many managers have expanded workloads during this time and are unable to regularly check in on each of their employees, as they were able to do previously. While feedback has traditionally been a manager’s job, recent research has shown that the provision of feedback from co-workers can act as a substitute for manager feedback.

In a recent study on receiving feedback and engaging in extra-role behaviours, when employees were receiving feedback on their work from their co-workers, the feedback from their manager was no longer viewed as essential. Rather, employees who received feedback from co-workers were more engaged in their workplace and were more likely to be innovative in their role and help their co-workers with their day-to-day tasks.

In other words, as long as there was feedback from someone in the organisation, the source did not matter, and employees still went above and beyond for their organisation.

Creating a feedback culture

All workers need to be giving each other constructive feedback regularly. To provide guidance, we offer some examples of positive feedback behaviours, grounded in research, that should be encouraged as part of good workplace culture.

Many organisations have a wealth of online training programmes for leaders that could now be opened up to other employees. Helping employees learn how to give better feedback to each other and coach, rather than tell, will help remove some of the daily work of their manager’s desk. 

For managers, it is important to keep up the interaction with your team – and not just on work tasks, putting your employees first by checking in on mental and physical health helps employees engage and feel understood. Making sure meeting times are scheduled at a regular time of day so employees can juggle other commitments, such as homeschooling will keep that feedback stream open and assist in employee well-being.

Research demonstrates that delivering constructive feedback increases employees’ work performance by 10%. Constructive feedback should be based on the person’s strengths, be specific and easy to understand, accurate, and should be focused on the job task. To deliver effective job task-focused feedback, the feedback must not be a comparison to other employees or be about the employee as a person, and it needs to highlight how the employee can improve for next time. 

Constructive feedback also needs to be immediate and frequent, and not wait until a performance review, as employees will spend 20% more time and effort on tasks when they know they will receive timely and constructive feedback on.

Further, constructive, immediate, and frequent feedback have a 12% increase in employees’ work performance. In our current environment, this means praising employees in zoom calls when they have gone above and beyond their usual duties, being specific about what they have done and why you appreciate it. 

Final thoughts

Remember, giving praise to team members is great, but if employees feel that one team member is getting recognised for good work and others are not, especially in work that is done by the team, it has a negative impact on the ongoing performance of the team.

If you do not feel you are getting enough feedback on your job, seek it out. And not just from your manager. You might find that your colleagues have better insights into your work than your manager. This may take the form of regular informal virtual lunch dates, where job performance questions can be asked and discussed in a relaxed manner. 

Also, if your team members are doing a good job, tell them, it might just be the boost to their well-being they need right now.


Image credit: Freepik

Hannah Meacham, PhD is a lecturer in the Department of Management at Monash Business School. Hannah’s research focuses on diversity management and inclusive HR practices. 

Dr Nathan Eva,PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Management at Monash Business School. Nathan is a committee member of the Network of Leadership Scholars.

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