The dreaded F-word. No, not that one! Feedback. Managers typically dislike to give it. It’s fraught with verbal landmines, leaving leaders afraid of saying the wrong thing to anyone on the corporate team. But employees really want to hear it. Perhaps more than you realize! A recent study published in Harvard Business Review in 2014 had 899 participants, about half of which were Americans. And employees’ responses were overwhelmingly in favor of receiving feedback – positive and negative!
What the Study Published in HBR Says
The study explored how people felt about getting feedback at work. It also explored how people felt about giving feedback to others. A line was drawn between positive versus corrective (or negative) feedback. Questions were asked that solicited feedback about each of those ideas separately.
Here are some of the main takeaways:
- The group was pretty much divided equally on the idea of giving positive feedback. That is, half the group wanted to give positive feedback, and the other half was okay with not giving positive feedback.
- The percentage of people who want to receive positive feedback is roughly equivalent to the percentage of people who do not want to give negative feedback.
- Perhaps most surprisingly, nearly double that percentage of people want to receive negative feedback.
Now, it’s really important to point out what negative feedback is here. It’s not telling people they’re doing a terrible job. On the contrary, it is telling people exactly how they can improve workplace performance. It’s correction, not criticism. And it’s specific, actionable suggestions or statements. Effective feedback isn’t vague. The recipient must understand and be willing and able to make changes to workflow, processes, or other performance metrics. Leaders must also be wiling to support employees in their efforts to make change.
Variances by Self-Confidence Level and Age
There were some surprising results in the study. For example, a person’s self-confidence seemed to have a lot to do with how comfortable they were in giving or receiving constructive criticism. The greater a person’s self-confidence, the greater his or her interest in hearing negative feedback.
Also, with increasing age comes an apparent increasing comfort level with hearing constructive criticism. The study respondents were roughly categorized into three groups based on demographics: Baby Boomer, Gen X, and Gen Y. Members of all three age groups were more or less equally uncomfortable giving negative feedback. However, Gen Y was most comfortable with receiving positive feedback, and Baby Boomers were most comfortable with receiving negative feedback.
It’s possible that this could be a function of where each group is on the continuum of employment. Gen Y folks are relatively new to the working world so they may crave the reassurance of positive feedback. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers at the other end of the spectrum may possess a certain confidence that comes with having been “at work” for many, many years and feeling secure in their roles and responsibilities within the organization.
Feedback is Essential for a Strong Corporate Team
Even though many managers or leaders are not truly comfortable with giving what might be perceived as negative feedback to corporate team members, a recent study showed that employees actively want to hear it. Employees typically want to do the best job they can, and the only way that can happen is to see where they need to improve, and how. This need for constructive criticism spans generations, which may be because the drive to do a good job is so universal. It’s important to remember that there are some variances according to self-confidence levels and demographics. Those factors can help leaders tailor their approach to giving positive and negative feedback according to their corporate team members.
Meta: While leaders might not like to give feedback to corporate team members, employees truly value it, as proven by the results of this study.