How to Provide Constructive Feedback to Your Lab Employees

Delivering constructive feedback can be daunting for anyone. Unless it comes in the form of unmitigated praise, job-related feedback can have a polarizing effect on employees. Some will be happy for the guidance, even seeking it out on their own; others may be less thrilled, or even lose confidence in their role upon hearing it.

But effective feedback can be a motivator that keeps employees committed to their roles and engaged. And even though you're busy around the clock keeping up with facility management, compliance requirements, and client relations, you should make performance discussions with each of your employees a priority — and not just during routine reviews.

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By understanding the importance of constructive feedback and the different approaches that can be taken in providing it, you have a valuable opportunity to routinely improve your lab's operations and workplace morale.

The Importance of Constructive Feedback

Acknowledging good work correlates to employee engagement, but just 1 in 3 workers feel strongly that they receive adequate recognition for a job well done, according to a poll by Gallup. Taking time to celebrate the wins of your water lab staff is crucial because it makes employees feel valued and accomplished. In fact, 67% of employees who felt their managers focused on their strengths also considered themselves fully engaged in their work, according to Gallup.

But understanding the importance of constructive feedback is one thing, regularly delivering it is another entirely — and something managers often struggle with.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Deborah Grayson Riegel, a principal at the leadership and team development firm the Boda Group, says employees often tell her that their managers don't provide them with enough helpful feedback.

Think about the last time you gave an employee a pat on the back or a helpful pointer. Was it recently or too far back to remember? Either way, making an effort to do it more often can only improve your workforce.

How to Provide Constructive, Consistent Feedback

Feedback can have both positive and negative impacts on an employee's self-esteem and future performance, and the approach in which it's delivered can be a huge factor in how your employees process it.

For starters, ensure your feedback is clear, precise, and practical, whether you're praising great work or noting areas for improvement. Doing so will ultimately foster trust between you and your staff. Next, hone in on what type of feedback you're delivering.

In an article for EmployeeConnect, management consultant Oriane Perrin describes four types of feedback that managers typically deliver, as well as their potential impact on an employee's self-esteem:

  • Motivating feedback emphasizes what is good or valuable about an employee's performance, such as praising an employee's willingness to stay late during busy testing season.
  • Corrective feedback highlights a problem, but in a specific way that enables the employee to correct it, like explaining to an analyst how to correctly input data in your LIMS.
  • Flattering feedback involves praising an employee in exaggerated and vague terms, which could lead to suspicion or even mistrust on the employee's part. Don't, for instance, tell your front desk staff that they're simply "the best." (Instead, highlight particular things they've done to impress you.)
  • Provocative feedback uses general, nonspecific criticism that could leave employees at a loss for how to improve their performance. This could be a statement like, "I'm disappointed in your abilities."

Getting into specifics can be uncomfortable with delivering motivating and corrective feedback, but these discussions are truly the most constructive and, therefore, most valuable to both you and your employees. These types of feedback give employees a clear picture of what they need to do to maintain or improve their performance, and subsequently, the comments will positively impact their self-esteem, rather than damage it.

Not Providing Enough Employee Feedback Can Hurt Your Business

Constructive feedback shouldn't be regarded as something you'll get to if you have time, but as a critical part of your daily responsibilities. In fact, not providing enough feedback can have negative impacts on your staff and your workplace culture.

As Riegel explains, when managers don't give constructive feedback due to fear that it won't be well-received, they're failing to help their employees have a positive impact on the organization. They're also failing to model accountable behavior and possibly contributing to a lack of "psychological safety," she says, by not fostering an environment where employees feel supported.

But what if you doubt your capacity to expertly deliver feedback? After all, maybe you came up through the water lab's ranks yourself, and, as a result, you don't feel you're in a position to comment on the capabilities of your former peers. Or maybe you fear your comments won't be taken seriously. Try to quash those doubts and remember, you're in the manager role for a reason and there are resources available to help you hone your management skills.

Constructive Feedback Is Key to Positive Change

Your core responsibility as a water lab manager is to keep the organization running and improving, and part of that is helping employees succeed and grow in their jobs. After all, thriving at any job involves understanding what's working and what isn't.

While savvy employees are often able to critique their own work or discern how their workflow and outcomes can be improved, others will need more guidance. Coaching, correcting, and encouraging employees — no matter how self-sufficient they are — is the best way a water lab manager can boost performance, promote career development, and ultimately put larger organizational goals within reach.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.