How Do You Like Your Feedback Served?

On the rocks?

We've heard a lot about Millennials and their obnoxious need to receive constant feedback on their work but just how much of that is true? It seems pretty unlikely that a group of 80 million Americans could feel exactly the same way about such a personal subject as feedback.

We're compelled to ask this question based on a recent WSJ piece on Why You Can’t Tell Employees They’re Doing a Bad Job:

Fearing they’ll crush employees’ confidence and erode performance, employers are asking managers to ease up on harsh feedback. “Accentuate the positive” has become a new mantra at workplaces like VMware Inc., Wayfair Inc., and the Boston Consulting Group Inc., where bosses now dole out frequent praise, urge employees to celebrate small victories and focus performance reviews around a particular worker’s strengths—instead of dwelling on why he flubbed a client presentation.

If you'll recall the iconic 1994 film Forrest Gump, Jenny did not get Forrest to break his leg braces and run from bullies by screaming "Forrest, you useless piece of crap, stop being so stupid and get out of here!" What she did do was encourage him to see beyond his disability and find the strength inside of himself to run.

The same concept is now at play in the workplace:

Maynard Webb, chairman of Yahoo Inc. and author of a 2013 book on work, recalls being yelled at by an executive at IBM in the early 1980s. With such feedback, “you just tried to make sure it didn’t derail you,” he says.

That same executive today would face disciplinary action, guesses Mr. Webb. “People expect to be treated differently,” he says.

Now, I've been in the workforce since 1995 and can tell you, yelling at people didn't stop in the 80s. Or the 2000s. So pervasive is the trend toward positive rather than negative feedback, however, that even PwC is jumping on board:

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, which hired nearly 9,000 employees and interns from universities last year, asks managers to hold “career outlook” discussions about employees’ futures at the firm, rather than reviews centered on where they dropped the ball over the past year.

The firm also urges staff to send e-cards praising peers or subordinates, and allocates money for managers to dole out to further reward wins, according to Tim Ryan, a vice chairman at the company.

Caitlin Marcoux, a senior associate at the company, says she still gets told when she messed up. But she appreciates the extra dose of appreciation, which she says has helped to build her confidence. Without it, “I’ll be a harsher critic on myself,” she says.

Obviously, no one is saying managers should ignore screw-ups and instead hand out trophies for just showing up at work. But just how do you like your feedback? Do you like relentless criticism that will keep you motivated? Or simply regular updates to keep you in check? Is yelling ever okay or is it a relic from a bygone era that is only practiced by crotchety white guys?    

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