Constructive Criticism in the Workplace [2021 Guide]

Alex
August 22, 2021
7 Min Read
Photo by
Matt Chinworth

Table of Contents:

What is constructive criticism?

First, we need to identify what constructive criticism is since it is much different than negative criticism and destructive criticism. Constructive criticism is a method for critiquing that focuses on a person's behavior or work product, rather than a personal attack on his or her character or other personal attributes. It also suggests concrete ways to improve. In other words, it's positive criticism; but note, it is still different from positive feedback in that we are discussing the bad and not just the good. It is the most effective feedback method.

Why is constructive criticism in the workplace important?

First and foremost, criticism that is constructive is important at work because it helps your employees improve their performances. A common myth about constructive criticism is that it's about making an employee feel bad or humiliating him or her in some way. Constructive criticism isn't about pointing out everything that's wrong with someone; it's using someone's own behavior to show how they can correct it. 

Certainly, constructive criticism has its place when working with employees whose performance leaves something to be desired. If done correctly, constructive criticism at work will still leave room for growth beyond just fixing a few flaws. But constructive criticism isn't just about giving criticism - it's the constructive part that makes all the difference.

Benefits of constructive criticism in the workplace

  • It leads to improved accountability 
  • Gives managers a chance to see what areas need improvement
  • Allows employees to improve on aspects where they may be underperforming or could use some help, rather than projecting an attitude of "I'll just figure it out" or "I'm going as fast as I can. Don't ask me to do more!"
  • Allows employees to adapt and grow when constructive criticism is given correctly. It may be a hard pill to swallow at first, but constructive criticism helps employees become better versions of themselves instead of feeling defeated or unmotivated by a seemingly unfair critique.

Remote teams and constructive criticism

So far, we've discussed the best practices for constructive criticism in traditional office team settings. But what about teams that work remotely? How does constructive criticism change for them?

Well, the benefits are still the same! When your team members aren't all in one place, it can be easy for managers to forget that their perspective on remote team member performance is inherently biased. After all, you're more likely to notice your remote team members' mistakes but not their accomplishments. Constructive criticism can be even more important in remote teams where you don't get to see the work product or observe your employees' behavior as often.

Although constructive criticism for work is important for everyone regardless of location, constructive criticism in a remote work environment may need some more tweaking. For example, sharing feedback in a traditional office setting might occur as more of a more casual conversation with a team member where constructive criticism given over video chat may call for a formal debriefing session or presentation if needed.

Needless to say, it is particularly challenging to give feedback remotely. Let's take a look at some of the factors that may contribute to constructive criticism at work being more of a challenge when employees are working remotely.

According to a recent research study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 71% of employees are now working from home at least four days out of the week, and companies are reporting unprecedented productivity gains across all departments. While it may seem like an ideal situation for employees, this new work paradigm has presented some unforeseen challenges to managers who are used to having direct oversight over their employees.

One thing is certain: It's no longer possible to depend on face-to-face communication as the only way to propel your team forward. With fewer opportunities for managers to observe team members in action while in person, giving constructive feedback, whether negative or positive feedback, can feel more daunting than ever before.

But you're not without resources! Constructive criticism has always been important for good management, but never more so than now. In this guide, we'll outline the best practices and give you a few tips on how to make constructive criticism an invaluable part of your employee feedback system so that you can see improvement.

If you've ever given any criticism that is meant to be constructive over chat or email, then you know how easy it is for your words to be misinterpreted. It's just not the same as talking face-to-face, which means constructive criticism via email could go either way. It isn't about hiding behind an email; instead, it's about actively seeking opportunities where constructive criticism can be most effective. Where there is feedback, there must also be trust and mutual respect between manager and team member.

Remote teams also tend to have more limited opportunities for constructive criticism for a variety of reasons:

  • Employees may work from home, but managers can't always tell if their team members are working or having a Netflix marathon on the couch. In order for improvement feedback sessions to be effective, you need an understanding of what your employees have been up to throughout the week.
  • The lack of in-person constructive criticism can sometimes contribute to a lack of trust when it comes to constructive criticism. After all, if you have no idea what your team members are doing from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, meeting up in person for constructive criticism sessions might feel a bit like a waste of time and effort unless something's gone really wrong.

That being said, there are remote teams that have mastered the art of constructive criticism! While constructive criticism requires face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact in order to be most effective, it is important not to disregard it completely just because employees aren't always available for in-person face time. With so many new platforms at our disposal, you might consider constructive criticism via video if your employees are remote and you can't meet up in person.

Constructive criticism in the workplace statistics

Let's talk about how constructive criticism at work is viewed by other managers across the globe! According to Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data, employees need feedback to perform their jobs well:

  • 23% of employees are unsatisfied with the frequency of feedback they get from their direct manager.
  • 28% of employees say that the feedback they receive is not frequent enough to help them understand how to improve.
  • 17% of employees feel that the feedback they get is not specific enough.

With all of these stats, one thing becomes clear: employees can benefit from frequent constructive criticism and feedback. When it comes down to it, constructive criticism can actually improve relationships instead of destroying them as you might imagine. But constructive criticism requires thoughtfulness on both sides, which is one reason why constructive criticism via an email situation may fall short.

So what are some strategies for constructive criticism in the workplace? Let's dive into the specifics!

Strategies for constructive criticism in the workplace

Constructive criticism shouldn’t be given without a plan - it takes preparation and strategy to make constructive criticism work correctly. One effective way to keep on top of both giving and receiving this kind of feedback is to use Matter, which is a free Slack app that helps you get into the habit of providing feedback weekly. This takes some of the planning off of your plate and helps you streamline the process.

While everyone has an opinion about constructive criticism, constructive criticism itself should be objective. Whether we like it or not, constructive criticism is as much about the manager as it is about the team member receiving his or her feedback. It's not a one-way conversation. Whether that's criticizing yourself before criticizing others, getting rid of those gut feelings that come with the constructive criticism, or delegating these sessions to managers who may be better than you at this whole constructive criticism thing, constructive criticism is only constructive if it helps improve efficiency or productivity.

So, how can constructive criticism actually be constructive? Well, before you ask someone to give you constructive criticism, do your best to make sure the environment you create for constructive criticism is as constructive as possible. For example, before inviting employees to have a constructive criticism session with you about their work ethic or organization skills, try practicing what you preach by being more organized yourself so there's no room for misinterpretation in any situation! If employees notice that their manager has just as many organizational issues as they do, then they'll be much less likely to take you seriously and be motivated to do better.

While offering constructive criticism in the workplace is often seen as a skill managers need to have, constructive criticism also requires employees to be part of the conversation and put some work into their contributions. A meeting to discuss negative feedback won't be constructive if any one party comes unprepared! Make sure to have examples of the areas that need improvement. Communication prior to the meeting is important.

What's more, constructive criticism sessions shouldn't always revolve around pointing out what's wrong with an employee and his or her work; constructive criticism should also include using areas of work performance as an example to highlight strengths and areas where employees can improve. Don't forget to also highlight opportunities for growth as well as praising the improvements your employees have made with positive feedback! There are plenty of examples of constructive criticism that you can implement in your meeting.

On that note, remember that constructive criticism isn't just for those who aren't exactly top-notch at their roles - constructive criticism is good for all parties involved. It's not just about pointing out what went wrong; it's also about offering constructive advice on how an employee can improve in areas they're lacking in or how mistakes could have been prevented. The more constructive information you give, the more constructive it'll be! Even if the constructive criticism session doesn't result in any major changes, at least you'll know where you could improve your strategy for future constructive criticism sessions so they are actually constructive!

As constructive criticism is a two-way street, it's also important for managers to know the constructive criticism statistics surrounding feedback from anyone who is a direct report. Did you know that only one-in-four employees believe their employer takes their feedback seriously? The first step is letting your employees see that their feedback is valued. In return, you can expect your employees to value your constructive criticism. If negative feedback isn't constructive, then why have these conversations in order to give it in the first place and waste everyone’s time? Communication that feedback is valued will be necessary to see improvement.

Regardless of where companies and managers stand on constructive criticism in the workplace, they should always aim to provide feedback with as little bias as possible - not just for efficiency or productivity but also because we all deserve constructive feedback no matter our position within the company! Just remember: if you're going to tell someone what they can improve on, be honest about what you can improve on, too.

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