A 2009 Gallup Inc. study of over 1,000 U.S. based employees shows the impact of different kinds of feedback on employees. The survey asked each worker to rate their manager on whether they focused on their strengths or positive characteristics or whether they focused on their weaknesses or negative characteristics. Respondents not choosing either description were classified in the study as being ignored by their manager.

The most telling conclusions from the study include the following:

• One in 10 supervisors focus on employee weaknesses.

• Employees receiving predominantly negative feedback from their manager are over 20 times more likely to be engaged than those receiving little or no feedback.

• Employees ignored by their manager are twice as likely to be actively disengaged compared with workers whose manager focuses on their weaknesses.

• Managers focusing on employee strengths are 30 times more likely to manage actively engaged workers compared with managers denying feedback.

• Managers focusing on employee strengths are one third more likely to manage actively engaged employees compared with managers focusing on weaknesses.

• Managers giving little or no feedback to employees result in 4 out of 10 workers being actively disengaged.

• Managers giving little or no feedback to their workers fail to engage 98% of them.

The upshot is that a manager’s feedback style can have a huge impact on how engaged or disengaged his or her direct reports are. In fact, giving no or little feedback on an employee’s performance is even worse than focusing on the negative. Twice as worse, the study shows.

Why should that be? To work productively over a longer period of time, employees need to feel wanted. They need to feel that their work counts towards some purpose greater than themselves. When the feedback on their performance is largely negative, at least they are still being made to feel that their performance matters. When they are ignored, they get the strong message that they are unimportant to the organization.

I liken this phenomenon to what many people experience as parents. Children who are largely ignored by their parents go on to exhibit much more dysfunctional and destructive behaviors compared with those children whose parents were largely disparaging of them.

Now couple the findings above with the positive correlation that Gallup studies have shown between employee engagement levels and business outcomes. The business outcomes I am talking about here are such things as customer satisfaction, productivity and profitability. You can see that getting managers’ feedback style right should be a high priority in your organization if you want to stay out the front of the competition.


Driving Engagement by Focusing on Strengths

Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

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