How (and why) to give positive feedback to employees

Last updated:
February 26, 2021
April 8, 2022
min read
Brendan McConnell
positive feedback to employees
Table of contents

Positive feedback is one of the most significant tactics that managers can use to improve employee performance, morale, and engagement. It shows your employees that you notice and value their hard work, and it gives them credit for a job well done.

Giving positive feedback sounds simple enough. After all, who doesn’t like making their team feel good about themselves? But, in the hustle and bustle of daily work, it can be easy to forget to show your employees that you appreciate them.

To make it easier, we’ve put together some tips and guidelines for how and when to provide positive feedback.

What is positive feedback?

Positive feedback is any conversation or formal review that focuses on your employees’ strengths, accomplishments, and contributions. It identifies what the employee is currently doing well, and what they should continue to do relative to their job requirements. We’ll dive into specific examples and instances of positive employee feedback later in the article.

Positive employee feedback has many obvious benefits for individuals, teams, and organizations, including:

  • Making employees feel valued.
  • Showing recognition and appreciation for a job well done.
  • Boosting morale and job motivation.
  • Incentivizing good performance.
  • Boosting employee confidence.
  • Creating a more engaged and loyal employee base.
  • Helping to communicate company standards.
  • Increasing long-term employee retention and satisfaction.

Giving positive feedback can be either a casual mandate at your company or built into a more systematic talent management process. However, you manage and encourage positive feedback; it’s important to understand when it’s helpful, and how to deliver it.

When to give positive feedback

Positive feedback can be given to an employee any time the manager, or other team members, feel that they’ve made a positive contribution. If one of your team members does something you like, let them know that you appreciate it.

For a more systematic approach, consider any of these events as great opportunities to give positive employee feedback:

  • Exceeding business targets.
  • Overcoming a challenge or obstacle.
  • Going the extra mile.
  • Helping colleagues or working cross-functionally.
  • Introducing innovative ideas.
  • Working overtime or outside of their job description.
  • Taking on new responsibilities.

In other words, any instance where your employee goes above and beyond the call of duty with the goal of benefiting your team and company is an opportunity ripe for positive feedback.

We’ll dig into some ways to deliver that positive feedback shortly. But first, we’d like to share some tips on how to give the most effective positive feedback possible.

Tips for giving positive employee feedback

When giving positive feedback to your employees, you should always remember that they are looking to you to validate their efforts and appreciate them. As a manager, your feedback reflects the company’s sentiments and helps form how employees see their place within the organization.

Because of this, positive feedback in a work setting is different from giving a compliment in your personal life. There are different tips and techniques you should follow to ensure that your feedback is well received, clear, and tied to tangible business goals.

Relevant: A practical guide to giving employee feedback

Here are some tips for giving positive feedback to employees. We’ve broken them up into a few simple sections, the first of which are general observations that you can use whenever an appropriate opportunity arises:

  1. Give feedback immediately. The best positive feedback is given when it’s top of mind. Don’t push your feedback aside for later when you may forget about it. Share your thoughts with the employee as soon as possible, and file them away for inclusion in a formal review later on.
  2. Provide regular feedback. Don’t be sporadic with your positive feedback. Try to provide some sort of feedback at least once per week. It doesn’t have to be overly formal or grand. Any positive information you can relay to your team on a regular basis will help keep them motivated.
  3. Don’t overdo it. Be sure to give a proportionate amount of praise relative to the accomplishment. Big results and big innovations mean big praise. Smaller, incremental improvements likely call for a more informal pat on the back than a free dinner.

Positive feedback for employee evaluations

  1. Be specific. Try to avoid using vague phrasing that doesn’t specifically relate to a project or outcome. Tell your employee exactly what they did right and how it helped either your team or company achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Mention how they benefited the business. As mentioned above, it’s always good to tie your positive feedback to a business goal. Ultimately, everyone is there to help move the organization forward. Employees want to feel that their contributions are helping to move the dial. Explain what impact their work has had on the company, and why that’s a positive.
  3. Recognize effort. Not all positive feedback has to be tied to a tangible result. If you notice that your employees are putting in the effort, but still struggling, recognize that commitment. Effort and striving to be better are traits you want to nurture in your employees.
  4. Praise everyone when they deserve it. Positive feedback is all about giving credit where it’s due. Try to avoid heaping too much positive feedback on the same employees or those who are most aligned with your style of work. If someone does something good, be sure to give them credit.

Relevant: How to conduct an employee evaluation

Supplementary actions to boost your employee appreciation

  1. Let others see your feedback. In some cases, it might be appropriate to send your positive feedback as part of an all-team email, or via other corporate communications channels. Creating a culture that encourages positive feedback across departments is a great way to boost morale and engagement in a collective outcome.
  2. Escalate positive feedback to your boss. Don’t just give positive feedback to your employee and call it a day. Let your boss – and their boss – know when your team is doing a great job. This will help show the leadership team that your employees are achieving great things, and show that they are ready for more responsibility or salary.
  3. Combine your feedback with a reward. If your employee really knocks it out of the park or goes above and beyond the call of duty, then verbal praise might not be enough. Consider throwing in a reward like a lunch or a gift card to really emphasize the accomplishment.

Relevant: How to create an employee recognition program

Examples of positive feedback with sample positive employee feedback phrases

Here are some examples of how to praise the accomplishments outlined in the “When to give positive feedback” section of this article.

1. Your employee exceeds a business target.

“Excellent work this quarter, Joan! You blew away your quarterly goal by more than 50%! That contributed significantly to our business’s revenue goals and helped our team meet our quota. As a thank you, the management team wants to send you and your husband out for a nice dinner.”

2. Your employee overcame a challenge they’d been struggling with

“Great work bringing that project across the finish line, Alex. I know it was a challenge, and was a bit outside of your comfort zone, but the end product will help move the company forward.”

3. Your employee introduces an innovative new idea.

“I think that’s a fantastic idea, Gwenn! That will help solve our resource crunch this year and free the team up to tackle some more pressing projects. Thanks for your research and cost breakout. This will help me sell the idea to our executive team on your behalf.”

4. Your employee has been working a lot of overtime.

“Thanks for all of your extra work lately, Steve. You’re really stepping up to help move this project across the finish line. Be sure to take some time off at the end of the month to make up for your extra work.”

5. Your employee needs a confidence boost.

“I noticed that you had a tough call with a customer earlier, Stacey. From my perspective, you handled the situation, as well as anyone here, could have. You really stepped up, owned the problem, and offered a quick and fair solution. Keep up the great work.”

Bottom line

As you can see, positive feedback can be given for big or small accomplishments. It can be attached to a reward, a shout-out to the organization, or it can be just a simple pat on the back.

However it’s delivered; positive employee feedback can and will have a beneficial impact on your team and help to boost accountability, morale, and performance.

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