Ask the Hiring Boss: How do I give employees critical feedback without affecting our retention?

HR advice on critical feedback

Ask the Hiring Boss is our ongoing advice series dedicated to HR questions.  Each month, our team of hiring and staffing experts, team up to answer the questions we all have but don’t know who to ask.

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Dear Hiring Boss, 

I have a few employees who aren’t meeting our productivity expectations. Frustrated managers are reluctant to bring it up to employees in this current hiring climate. The logic goes: An employee who is less productive is better than none at all! But in all seriousness, is there a way we can address this without causing a mass exodus? 

– A Retention Obsessive


Dear Retention Obsessive,

Sounds strange, but your letter made me think of that film He’s Just Not That Into You. What I mean by that: A decrease in productivity often points to a loss of interest. These unproductive employees are struggling to derive energy in their day-to-day work. And as you sense them losing interest in your company, you feel the urge to hold on more tightly. That means not saying anything that might cause them to break up with you, or in hiring terms, give notice – critical feedback or not.

I understand your dilemma, and you’re right that it’s tricky! I think the key is to think outside of the box and take immediate action in an unexpected way that excites these employees rather than alienates them. Here are a few ideas that you can use to enact change and bring new energy to the team without giving negative critical feedback or hurting feelings.

Option 1: Try a positive reinforcement approach. Help your managers capitalize on what the employees are doing right, and then ask if they can do a bit more. Be sure to share how it will impact the company and how it relates back to them.

Option 2: Get competitive. Set up a competition or leaderboard to see if that will kick them into gear.

Option 3: You can also try having a conversation, checking in with the employees and asking what they like in their role and how they see themselves growing. Then you can suggest giving 100% in their current role and suggest some small, attainable goals they should be striving for.

Best of luck!


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