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Feedback at Work- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Does providing feedback in the workplace really make a difference?   Do employees want to know when they are exceeding expectations as well as when they may want to step up their game?  In a word - Yes.

Research shows that two key indicators of workplace happiness and employee engagement are directly related to feedback metrics:
1. In the last 6 months, someone has talked with me about my progress.
2. In the past week, I have received praise or recognition for work I have done.

If you’re a leader/manager/boss, do you provide adequate quantity AND quality of useful feedback to your peers, team, and senior leaders?   Do you shy away from sharing "unpleasant" feedback that could have a significant impact on an individual's professional development and future opportunities?  Or perhaps you are perfectly comfortable telling someone when they’ve made a mistake but withhold or ration praise and recognition?

th-2On the surface, giving more positive recognition seems entirely uncomplicated:

  • Catch someone doing something good
  • Acknowledge the behavior
  • Repeat

That being said, research shows that employees do not feel sufficiently acknowledged or appreciated.  A 2007 Accenture study showed that 43% of people cited “lack of recognition” as a major contributor to their unhappiness at work.

Here are a few steps for improvement:

  • Make acts of praise and acknowledgement everyone’s responsibility, and embed it in the corporate culture.  Encourage feedback from peers as well as leaders.
  • Give positive feedback early and often.   If you’re a manager, saving these nuggets of recognition for an annual performance review does little to improve an employee's day to day enthusiasm for his or her job.
  • Provide specific feedback to highlight the behaviors and skills that, if repeated, can contribute to future success and improved performance.
  • Be generous with praise.  It's unlikely that one has ever quit a job following too much honest and timely feedback regarding their contributions.

Now let’s travel to the side of constructive feedback.  Constructive is the operative word here.  If communicated in the right way, this “negative” feedback can also benefit your employees and colleagues.  To be clear, I am NOT suggesting that you focus on every mistake with the tact of a bull in a china shop.


First, consider clarifying your motive before approaching your target with guns blazing.  Are you criticizing or placing blame simply to make yourself look better, or smarter, or generally superior to someone else?   If yes, stop now.   On the other hand, if are you entering the conversation sincerely committed to supporting the future success of an employee, colleague or even your boss, you’re more likely to have a receptive audience.  Keep in mind that this type of feedback lands more effectively when there is mutual trust and respect.  Let's face it, if you think your boss is a jerk, you will likely dismiss her "constructive" comments.

How many of you have ever been frustrated at work, or even left a job, because you didn’t get the promotion, the big raise, or assigned to the best project?  What if your boss actually told you what you could do, or stop doing, in order to experience greater success and happiness at work?  Although it can be a challenge to provide useful and actionable feedback (good or bad), providing little or no feedback is worse.

Therein lies the ugly.   Sometimes feedback is withheld because we assume that people know when they are performing well and that “no news is good news”.   A 2009 Gallup study showed, however,  that employees receiving predominantly negative feedback from their manager are over 20 times more likely to be engaged than those receiving little or no feedback.   People don’t like to be ignored.   In this case, even bad news is better than no news!

In summary, receiving praise and recognition are key factors in improving employee engagement and workplace happiness.  Providing constructive feedback, communicated in a  supportive manner, can also improve professional development.   Ignoring your employees and withholding feedback leads to a workplace full of unmotivated and “checked out” individuals.

Please contact michelle@acceleratingchange.org if your organization would like to improve or create a business culture that encourages feedback and constructive communication at all levels.


References: http://newsroom.accenture.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=4485, http://gmj.gallup.com/content/124214/driving-engagement-focusing-strengths.aspx


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One Response to "Feedback at Work- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"

  • Kelly
    June 4, 2015 - 12:16 pm Reply

    Great article Michelle :) Thanks for giving tips on how we all can do a better job– empowering!

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