Reframing “Feedback” in the Workplace

Have you ever dreaded your bi-annual “Feedback Session” with your employer? Does the term “feedback” feel constricting for you? If you are an employee who dreads these structured conversations with your boss, there’s good news: they’re coming to an end. 

Companies across the nation are moving away from this terminology as HR professionals have suggested what most employees feel: the term “Feedback Sessions” is synonymous with anxiety and fear. Leaders are looking to reframe these sessions as something more positive for everyone involved. 

When most employees think of feedback meetings, they often think of sitting down and needing to hear from an employer all the things they’re doing that they need to change or that they’re doing wrong. More often than not, this feedback leaves employees in negative spirits and feeling worse than before the meeting. HR Professionals suggest converting the term “feedback” to “feedforward”. This little switch in the term anchors the meeting in the positive. Feedforward encourages improvement, professional development, and collaborative conversations that create a better future for everyone in the workplace. 

Can this little change really make such a difference? And if it does, why? A large part of this is the fact that many business owners and employers also associate the term “feedback” with the negative. It is human nature to look for the negative before we look for the positive, and so naturally the first few things employers might think of when meeting with employees are all the things they can do better. However, a little shift in terminology resets the meeting and can be a simple reminder on the purpose of the conversation. 

Unfortunately, many feedback conversations we have today activate a fight or flight response in our bodies. “Feedback conversations, as they commonly exist today, activate a social-threat response in the brain interfering with the ability to think clearly, and raising heart rates,” says Theresa Adams, senior HR knowledge adviser at human-resources trade association SHRM. Along with the term “feedback”, companies are also replacing the term “review” with “connect” to encourage the opportunity for employees to have positive discussions with employers for the purpose of professional growth. 

Of course, this switch has skeptics and naysayers. The suggestion to make this shift largely comes from the younger generations, who are coming into the workforce by storm and far prefer a positive work environment. The attention to this detail has come to light as many companies are refocusing on performance and efficiency since a pause in both during the pandemic. 

Employees who disagree with this change feel it’s a step too far and that it ultimately will not address the underlying issue. After all, employers need the opportunity to give real feedback to employees, both positive and negative. In the end, depriving workers of feedback will stunt their ability to grow and develop within a company. 

In the wake of this change, it opens doors for many more positive conversations to happen within the workplace. It also, however, can create an environment where employees are overly sensitive to constructive criticism. A positive environment is important, but the workplace cannot just be a praise festival. No employee is perfect and we all should be given the opportunity to hear how we can improve. 

Feedback ultimately comes down to how it is given and how it is framed. Constructive criticism is a good thing, especially connected to a positive solution to help an employee learn and grow. The problem with feedback comes in when employers or employees associate constructive criticism with a personal judgment of right or wrong and good or bad. Giving feedback in a way it can be received is the responsibility of both parties involved; the employer must learn the art of giving feedback and the employer must come to the conversation ready to listen. 

Many younger employees entered the workforce during the pandemic, when expectations were lower and things like performance reviews were not able to take place. Now that we are working more and more in person and standards are going back to normal, it is the first time these new employees are receiving feedback in person. For many, this new situation is both new and uncomfortable.

Ultimately, it is important that employers remain clear on the purpose of feedback, no matter what these meetings are called. Business owners can establish the framework and expectations around performance reviews and how leaders give both positive and constructive feedback to employees. This can ultimately create an environment for professional growth and collaboration that every employee – new and seasoned – is looking for. 


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