According to a February 4, 2022 report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employee engagement fell in 2021 for the first time in ten years. Their report was based on the findings of Gallup's Employee Engagement Survey. The elements that changed the most were things like clarity of expectations, having the right materials and equipment to do work, having an opportunity to do what I do best at work.
One of the tools to increase employee engagement is regular constructive feedback. The truth is that people are not afraid of feedback. In fact, they want more of it. Harvard Business School undertook a series of experiments to address how much people really want feedback and how willing people are to give it.
The results from the five experiments they conducted were all in agreement: People underestimate how willing others are to receive feedback.
Methodology and Results
Pilot Experiment: only 2.6% of participants pointed out to the research assistant that she had a chocolate or lipstick smudge on her face. This surprised the researchers and they decided to investigate further.
Experiment 1: The researchers asked participants to imagine giving or receiving feedback about 10 different workplace situations. Again, those who imagined giving the feedback underestimated how much the receiver wanted the feedback, especially when the feedback was about something more serious, such as sounding rude in emails or making an error in a report. The results were more pronounced when the feedback giver reported feeling uncomfortable giving the feedback or didn't feel that their feedback was important.
Experiment 2: The researchers asked participants to recall a time when they had the potential to give feedback or the potential to receive feedback. Again, the participants reported wanting more feedback than they estimated others wanted.
Experiment 3: This was a real feedback situation where one participant provided feedback they genuinely wanted to share to an actual roommate, friend, or romantic partner. Again, the person providing the feedback underestimated how much the receiver of the feedback would want to hear it.
Experiment 4: The participants were asked to recall a time when they did something important incorrectly without realizing it or a time when they saw someone else do something important incorrectly. 561 people out of 600 surveyed could recall such a time. When participants were asked to take the perspective of the person who was to receive the feedback, the giver-receiver gap closed!
Experiment 5: This experiment was an actual situation where feedback would be provided. One participant of the pair practiced giving a speech while the other participant provided feedback. Before they started practicing the speech and again after the practice speech but before feedback was provided, the speakers were asked how much they wanted to receive the feedback. As the time for feedback approached, their desire to receive feedback grew. And again, the person providing the feedback underestimated how much the speaker wanted the feedback. The results also show that those who did receive more feedback presented a better final speech.
"The most effective managers define and discuss the explicit and implicit expectations for each employee. They paint a picture of outstanding performance and help employees recognize how their work leads to the success of their coworkers, their business area and the entire organization."
Feedback improves performance. This was evidenced in experiment 5 where those who had received more feedback did better on their final speech.
People want feedback. All five experiments showed this.
If you're hesitant about giving feedback, try taking the other person's perspective. The person most probably wants to receive it.
"The most effective leaders create a recognition-rich environment with praise coming from multiple sources at multiple times. The best managers learn how individuals like to be recognized, and they recognize them timely and often for achieving their goals and demonstrating high performance. They also explain why their performance matters."
Abi-Esber, N., Abel, J. E., Schroeder, J., & Gino, F. (2022). “Just letting you know … ” Underestimating others’ desire for constructive feedback. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000393
Gallup's Employee Engagement Survey: Ask the Right Questions with the Q12 Survey: Accessed June 14, 2022.