Is your team suffering from feedback fatigue? Here’s how to fix that
In order to exceed expectations, employees are often placed in a system where their work, behavior and progress are regularly fed back with the intention of helping them work on their strengths, identify weaknesses and measure their performance optimize.
But is unsolicited feedback the most productive way for employers to empower and motivate their teams?
Why unwanted feedback can be a problem
Giving regular, unsolicited feedback increasingly goes against our natural way of working.
Our brain is wired to be a threat and reward detection engine, and its ability to detect threats is stronger than its ability to sense rewards. Research from the NeuroLeadership Institute has shown that unsolicited feedback can unknowingly trigger a state of stress in the brain, which means we become less receptive to what is being said.
Humans also only have a limited ability to concentrate and pay attention. Should we be tired and overworked, the chances that the brain will store unsolicited feedback and convert it into useful information are minimal. If we waste a large part of our available attention on ineffective feedback, this in turn leads to inefficient work.
How to tell if your team is struggling with feedback fatigue
In work environments geared towards continuous feedback, employees may react anxiously and/or shut down to avoid what they perceive to be potential criticism. This is known as “feedback fatigue” — a state of mind in which employees stop responding positively to feedback and become anxious when they receive it.
Identifying if and when your team is suffering can be difficult, especially given the differences in individual responses to stress situations.
Signs that your employees are suffering from feedback fatigue can include:
- Responses to feedback are defensive and include fearful or angry behavior;
- Employees become isolated and rarely respond to feedback;
- Motivation and productivity decrease, which is also reflected in the work and performance result.
It’s imperative that managers establish a solid foundation for communicating individually with members of each of their teams to isolate their pain points.
On the other hand, if you provide feedback and get little to no response, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t considered. If there is no feedback, your employee may need time to process and implement the feedback. Alternatively, the employee may have chosen not to act on the feedback, which is a great opportunity to sit down with them to discuss how giving and receiving feedback could be improved for them in the workplace.
How to fix the issue and set up a structure for employee-led feedback
In a world of increasing pressure to perform and feedback fatigue, company managers and leaders should instead focus on empowering their employees to proactively seek feedback on their own terms. but A functioning and sustainable feedback structure is not created overnight. Implementing sustainable behavioral change in the workplace is challenging and time-consuming. At the beginning it was also difficult for me to break the cycle of internalized feedback structures.
However, a few things can help:
- Get the executives on board. When managers ask for feedback from their employees and colleagues on the team, it encourages others to do the same. Managers must be the first to initiate behavior change;
- Encourage yourself and your team to remind each other of feedback — whether it’s a casual Slack message or by raising it during team meetings;
- Introduce a sense of reflection where each quarter team members ask themselves who gave them feedback and what they learned from that feedback.
We as managers also need to understand the difference between asking for and giving feedback, while encouraging our employees to proactively seek feedback in constructive ways that best support their professional development. This is a key element in creating a functioning feedback structure and culture.
Instead of spontaneously asking a colleague: “Hey, can you give me some feedback on how my job has been going over the past few months?” It would be more productive to arrange a meeting in which both participants can prepare questions and topics for a constructive conversation. Managers should encourage employees to think about what kind of feedback they want to receive—whether it’s related to a specific task they’ve been working on recently or an aspect of their skills they’d like to develop further.
Leapsome is an excellent tool that we use at Vinted to collect feedback. It allows both employees and managers to record both the feedback they request and the responses they receive. The tool also gives employees the ability to ask multiple people for feedback and tips at the same time.
But what does this mean for unwanted feedback?
Well, actually, it’s still a very useful tool if used properly. if you use itdo your best to create a safe space for the recipient. Unsolicited and direct feedback is especially needed when someone is behaving in a workplace that is dangerous to themselves or others or violates the Company’s Code of Conduct. Overall, it’s about making sure that when you’re giving the unsolicited feedback, the moment really counts.
The benefits of a positive feedback loop
Give employees autonomy over what they do and how doing it can increase their creativity, confidence and intrinsic motivation for their work — Research by McKinsey showed that employees who are intrinsically motivated are 32% more engaged in their work and have 46% higher job satisfaction than those who are not.
Studies by the NeuroLeadership Institute have also shown that people learn and work most efficiently when they receive feedback themselves. With this approach to personal improvement:
- Our brains are more open to receiving, processing, and responding to feedback;
- It shows that we work more creatively and efficiently.
Autonomy and ownership will drive team members willing to improve themselves and become more open to suggestions, tips, ideas and feedback in general. Your company’s performance will thank you afterwards.
Michael Nicodemus is Director of Human Resource Development at Vinted.