Blog Managing People

What is the right frequency for an employee check-in?

How on the ball with communication do you have to be, really? Well, if you're not touching base with your team, you're missing out on vital information. Obstacles. Arguments. Exemplary performance. If you're not checking in with your people, these are the things you'll overlook. But what's the right employee check-in frequency for your business?

If you’ve been coasting along without regular feedback, you might be in for a rude awakening. When it comes to checking in with employees, staying informed is only one part of it. Employees who work in larger companies as well as smaller teams suffer.

There's another major reason to have staff check-ins at work. Professional development. Many businesses (too many, if you ask us) still rely on annual performance reviews. But regularly checking in with employees offers a more granular way of providing feedback. So, if you want to keep relying on annual feedback, it’s your funeral!

What do we mean by an employee check-in?

Before we look at ideal employee check-in frequency, let's recap the basics. If you're new here, you might not even be sure what an employee check-in actually is.

Simply put, staff check-ins are a regular update completed by employees. These updates are then reviewed by their line manager. The most effective check-in systems use personalised question sets and goal trackers for each employee. Compared to bulk surveys, check-ins are way more effective at gathering honest insight.

As an example, our own employee check-in platform comes in two sections. First, the employee answers questions regarding their wellbeing and workplace experience. They assess employee engagement and make sure there aren't any problems. They're light-touch, taking only minutes to complete or review an update. This is essential, because it ensures managers can take the time to respond with feedback as necessary.

These questions will probably stay more-or-less the same from week to week. But you might want to change them up to stay relevant. Or our algorithm may have some suggestions that have worked for similar businesses. Either way, you're free to change things around to your heart's content.

Part two is goal-tracking. Managers have the choice to use either SMART Goals or OKRs. Both have their uses. But, whatever your choice, employees update their goal progress on each check-in. This means you can tell at a glance what your team's productivity is like.

Employee check-in frequency options

The simple fact is, only doing feedback on an annual basis doesn't work. And yet, they continue to be a mainstay in a lot of organisations. In fact, CEB research has shown that 95% of managers aren't satisfied with how their company runs performance reviews. Regular employee check-ins can bridge the gap. But the question remains, what's the right frequency?

Given the choice, we'd choose weekly check-ins every time. Maybe our name gave it away, huh?

But no two businesses are exactly alike, even in the same sector. What works in ninety-nine company cultures might not fit the hundredth. That's why we give managers full control over the employee check-in frequency they use. So, with that in mind, let's go over your options:

  • Ad-hoc: No set schedule. Useful for dealing with issues on the fly. Even if you pick a set schedule, ad-hoc check-ins can still be really useful.
  • Daily: Not something we'd recommend, but it's an option if you need constant updates. If employees check in at the end of each work day, managers can respond to updates in the morning so employees are greeted with fresh feedback.
  • Weekly: The ideal employee check-in frequency as far as we're concerned. It's regular enough that feedback is always timely. But what's equally as important is that it's not so regular as to become a nuisance.
  • Fortnightly: If weekly check-ins seem a little much, try every other week. That way, employees can still touch base a couple of times a month. And, if something comes up, there are always ad-hoc updates.
  • Monthly: This is about as infrequent as we'd recommend going with an employee check-in. Your employees still get twelve a year. But waiting a month may limit how effective feedback is in practice.

The importance of timely feedback

So, we've spent most of this piece going on about regular check-ins and timely feedback. So, if you're getting fed up, bear with us a moment. There are plenty of reasons why feedback needs to be timely to be effective.

For starters, roughly two-thirds of employees want more frequent feedback. Instant feedback helps employees to adapt their behaviour in the moment. This helps to make learning an active experience rather than a passive one.

In the words of the University of Edinburgh's Dai Hounsell:

'[Feedback] plays a decisive role in learning and development. [...] We learn faster, and much more effectively, when we have a clear sense of how well we are doing and what we might need in order to improve.'

Of course, outside of training programs, true instantaneous feedback isn't practical. Grant Wiggins makes this point using the example of a piano recital in his paper, Seven Keys to Effective Feedback:

'I don't want my teacher or the audience barking out feedback as I perform. That's why it is more precise to say that good feedback is "timely" rather than "immediate".'

Why weekly check-ins are most effective

So, by now, we hope you can see why weekly employee check-ins are the best happy medium. If you aren’t checking in every week, you’re missing out on a ton of actionable insight. Weekly the best overall employee check-in frequency for all sorts of reasons. First off, the work week is something we all deal with in one form or another. Even if your schedule isn't a strict Monday-Friday, you still push through to your days off.

So doing check-in updates on a weekly basis lines up perfectly with that. It’s the way of dividing up time that’ll feel the most natural. And, if everyone's on a weekly schedule, managers can stagger their team's updates so they never get in the way. For a point of comparison, let's look at daily and monthly update frequencies again.

Daily check-ins aren't worth it because of how little new information you'll actually gain. Barraging employees with too many check-ins will make them switch off. It’s sort of the professional equivalent of the kid in the backseat of the car, going, “Are we there yet?” over and over. Checking in with staff should help reduce frustration, not cause it.

By comparison, monthly check-ins are far too infrequent. Employees have to go weeks without feedback. And, at that point, the inciting incidents won't be clear in their head. Even if they nod and smile like they get it, they clearly haven't learned as much as they would otherwise. To make matters worse, monthly check-ins mean staff have to keep holding onto grievances. And if your staff are struggling with disengagement, a whole month might be too long to wait.

One last piece of advice for the road. Don't forget, a check-in should only be part of your feedback process. Support it with other tools and channels, from annual reviews to 360-feedback. Your feedback is only as good as the effort you put in, which is why it should be multi-layered.