The workforce is changing: More millennials are stepping into management positions as baby boomers settle into retirement. With new generational direction comes innovation, and companies trending toward a feedback-driven culture. People want more feedback, so managers are providing it.
Employees may desire more feedback, but how do they react when it’s received? It’s not always graceful. Harvey Deutschendorf, an emotional intelligence (EI) expert, suggests those with lower emotional intelligence are less equipped to “effectively manage pressure at work,” which includes receiving a performance review.
To better understand how the process of giving and receiving performance feedback plays out, we surveyed 1,032 full-time employees. Our findings explored how often people received workplace feedback and how it impacted employee attitudes toward their jobs and management. We also determined people’s emotional intelligence scores using the Wong and Law scale, revealing whether those with lower emotional intelligence tend to shut down or get defensive when receiving feedback.
More Feedback, Please
It used to be that an annual review was enough. In the past, people may have felt secure in their jobs and could typically count on a pension. Nowadays, employees want to hear more from their managers – otherwise, they’re left feeling insecure. According to our findings, 33.4% of full-time employees said they’d prefer to receive more feedback from their supervisors.
It turns out that the longer a person is at a company, the less likely they are to be evaluated. People who were at their jobs for a year or less received feedback 3.8 times per month compared to seasoned employees who had been in their positions for more than 10 years (2.3 times per month).
Our analysis showed that the top three ways employees received feedback were through private, face-to-face discussions, informal meetings, and either email or written notes. It’s important to remember that feedback doesn’t need to be saved for an annual review – for more than half of our workforce, a simple “thank you” would go a long way.
A message of appreciation may not seem like a big deal, but it’s meaningful – just don’t wait too long to communicate it. One of our participants shared one of their worst feedback-related experiences: “An editor at a past job gave reasonably good feedback but took a very long time giving it, often holding up project timelines and disrupting schedules.” Our findings indicated that workers who received feedback from their boss 3.1 times per month were more likely to have very positive feelings toward them. Conversely, those who only heard from a manager 2.2 times per month tended to feel very negative.
Frequent and Specific Feedback Is Best
Callout culture is on the rise. People in relationships are airing their dirty laundry on social media instead of having face-to-face conversations, and Glassdoor reviews have turned easy fixes into corporate nightmares. However, calling someone out publicly or virtually doesn’t motivate him or her to do better. In fact, people who received feedback in an impersonal way were more likely to have low motivation at work.
As revealed by our findings, 59.3% of workers who received regular feedback during informal meetings were extremely or very motivated at work. Plus, among our respondents, 53.3% said they had been critiqued by a supervisor in front of their colleagues. More than 25% of the participants who were given public feedback reported not feeling motivated, or experienced little motivation at work.
What Employees Do After Receiving Feedback
According to Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans, “many managers feel awkward showing gratitude,” so it doesn’t come as a surprise that 48.4% of employees responsible for giving feedback said they held back the truth due to discomfort. The reality is that not all workers accept criticism well. In fact, 17.3% left their job after receiving negative feedback. One of our respondents recalled having a former boss tell her that she “needed a personality transplant.” Leaving may indeed be warranted under that kind of extreme circumstance.
Most people, regardless of their generation, were reported as good at receiving feedback: 64.5% of millennials said they typically asked for guidance on how to improve, and when they received advice, they used it. One of our participants changed the direction of their career after receiving good advice from a supervisor: “My boss suggested that the best way to improve my skills was to go into the accounting department. I did, and it really did help me improve my experience and helped me gain more money.” Our studies found that the majority of millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers also asked questions.
Compared to millennials and Gen Xers, baby boomers were least likely to get defensive when they received a bad review. However, 12.1% of baby boomers said they didn’t ever receive negative feedback, compared to 7.8% of Gen Xers and 6.1% of millennials.
Emotional Connection in the Workforce
Who doesn’t love positive feedback? Managers enjoy giving it, and employees value the praise, but problems arise when criticism takes a negative turn. It’s long been believed that supervisors should tread lightly when giving harsh criticism. However, leadership experts say it’s up to those on the receiving end to show emotional intelligence by regulating and using their emotions appropriately.
On average, workers who found feedback very helpful measured above average (65th percentile) on the emotional intelligence scale, compared to the other survey participants. According to our survey findings, just 18.2% of respondents found the feedback they received at work to be “very helpful.” Those whose emotional intelligence scores were above average also preferred receiving face-to-face critiques in a public setting (56th percentile), rather than written feedback delivered impersonally.
Although feedback is usually communicated in a top-down fashion, all managers aren’t the same, so it’s beneficial when workers review their leaders. According to our findings, those who were comfortable giving feedback had higher-than-average emotional intelligence scores. Those with lower-than-average emotional intelligence were also more likely to get defensive and shut down when critiqued at work.
Dish It Honestly, Receive It Gracefully
As our feedback-driven work culture continues to evolve, we hope our findings encourage more managers to give honest feedback and those on the receiving end to accept guidance with grace. The best recipe calls for frequent, face-to-face conversations where everyone comes to the table prepared to manage their emotions. When we all approach feedback through an informational lens, not only do companies benefit, but our findings show that individuals on the receiving end are also more likely to receive a promotion.
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We surveyed 1,032 people who were employed full time using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. 25.5% were entry-level workers, 44% were associates, 1.2% were executives, and 28.8% were managers.
54.2% of respondents were women. 48.8% were men. Fewer than 1% were nonbinary. Sample sizes for women and men in each job role are as follows:
Entry-level: 109 men, 154 women
Associate: 219 men, 234 women
Manager and executive: 160 men, 154 women
224 respondents were baby boomers. 320 were Gen Xers. 488 were millennials. The margins of error for these generational groups (based on U.S. census estimates for 2017) were 7%, 5%, and 4%, respectively. The average age of our participants was 39.7.
On average, participants had been employed at their current companies for 6.7 years.
To determine emotional intelligence, we used the Wong and Law scale, which consists of a series of statements where respondents would agree or disagree with. They could choose from one of five responses, from strongly disagree to strongly agree, including a neutral midpoint. Then, we assigned each of those responses a numerical value from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. Then these scores were averaged for each participant, and we compared all participants’ average emotional intelligence scores to find the percentile.
Outliers were excluded from the analysis.
This study relies on self-reported data, which means it could have some influence from exaggeration, minimization, and telescoping. It is not weighted or statistically tested and is based on means alone.
Fair Use Statement
The developments in workplace culture are exciting, and we want you to share our content for noncommercial purposes. However, please cite the authors and link back to this page. Doing so might help connect readers to their next job.