Feedback fatigue: How much feedback is too much?

Giving and receiving feedback is an essential part of employee learning and growth. But too much can be overwhelming. So, how much evaluation is effective? And when does it become feedback overload?

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT | 8-MINUTE READ
Feedback Fatigue
What is feedback fatigue?

What is feedback fatigue?

Imagine how you'd feel if someone was constantly critiquing you. "Can you explain your approach to this project?" "You take too long to reply to email." "About what you said in the meeting..." Talk about exhausting.

While that example may be extreme, feedback fatigue – when someone feels mentally drained after receiving too much feedback – is very real.

There's no reason to suggest we should stop giving employees feedback. It's an essential part of working life, and without it, people would never learn and grow. It can help employees build on their strengths and understand their weaknesses so they can improve their future performance. And, in fact, 63% of employees claim they want more 'in the moment' feedback. But too much of it isn't a good thing. And the more fatigued people are, the less useful feedback becomes.

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What can too much feedback do?

What can too much feedback do?

Less is more when it comes to giving effective feedback. The right amount can be hugely powerful in engaging and inspiring employees. But too much is a form of micromanaging, which can confuse people, making them reluctant to make decisions for fear of getting it wrong. This can lead to a negative spiral as people's confidence in their work is reduced.

Effects of negative feedback

Effects of negative feedback

Feedback can be damaging if not handled with care and sensitivity. You run the risk of:

Demotivating staff

Criticism, however reasonable, can be tough to hear. It has to be delivered in a carefully crafted way that doesn't leave staff feeling deflated and demoralised. Once people lose motivation, they may contribute less, damaging productivity..

Lowering morale

When people are unhappy, they lack drive and enthusiasm. Too much negative feedback at work can lead to low morale, and even affect those who are most open to constructive criticism. Widespread unhappiness can create a toxic environment that employees don't enjoy being a part of.

Making employees feel undervalued

Self-esteem can take a knock after a poor performance review or negative feedback. If praise is in short supply, employees will begin to feel unappreciated. Team members who don't feel valued will be more reluctant to do overtime or go the extra mile when needed.

Damaging relationships

If a situation is handled badly, an employee may resent a manager for calling out negative behaviour or a poor performance. They may react by being standoffish, difficult or disruptive.

Harming mental health

It's human nature to dwell more on negative comments than positive ones, and some people are super-sensitive to criticism. Too much negative feedback at work can raise stress levels and affect employees' well-being. Such a decline in mental health can have a detrimental effect on productivity and increase staff absence.

Affecting retention

A Gallup study found that receiving negative feedback had pushed almost 30% of workers to actively look for a new job. When you consider that the average cost of replacing an employee is between six and nine months' salary, it's a high price to pay for a bit of unwelcome feedback.

Effects of positive feedback

Effects of positive feedback

The flipside is that when delivered in a thoughtful and sincere way, employee feedback has the power to transform people. Benefits include:

Boosting morale

Being complimentary about someone's work can lift their spirits and make them more likely to strive for even greater things. It creates an upbeat working environment where employees feel encouraged and supported to do well.

Better self-esteem

Positive feedback helps people recognise what they're good at and gives them the confidence to work on the things they could do better. Encouraging skill-building and personal development is important to help people grow throughout their careers.

Higher productivity

Feedback is a key driver of productivity. It allows employees to learn about their performance, their personal productivity and when they need to make changes. It's a great way for managers to give direction and set goals for the weeks and months ahead.

Increased engagement

Gallup found that more than half of employees felt engaged at work after receiving praise from a manager. A more engaged workplace culture makes people feel comfortable sharing new ideas and highlighting issues that need addressing.

Positive sentiment for the company

Constructive feedback creates a more supportive and collaborative workplace, which can lead to a happier, more skilled workforce, stronger teams and better company culture. The organisation becomes somewhere people want to work and be a part of. This can only be good for a business's reputation.

Job satisfaction

When people know they're on the right track and their contributions are being recognised, they're more likely to enjoy their job – and stick around. This helps retain staff for the long term – which is a huge issue facing today's employers.

Striking the right feedback balance

Striking the right feedback balance

To be effective, positive feedback should be balanced with constructive criticism so employees understand what they do well and what they need to do to improve.

Having too much of one or the other can be detrimental to employee satisfaction and performance. Too much positive feedback will lose its impact and can result in complacency, whereas too much negative feedback at work can destroy confidence.

Getting the balance right certainly isn't easy, because what works for one employee may not work for another. The most successful managers know how to get the best out of each individual.

How to give effective feedback

How to give effective feedback

Feedback fatigue is entirely avoidable. Follow these tips for managers and leaders on how to give effective feedback to employees.

Focus on behaviour, not personality

There's no need to get personal when delivering feedback. Make it more about what your employees do rather than what they're like.

For example, a comment like, "Make sure that welcome every customer with a friendly greeting" is a lot more palatable than, "You really need to be more polite when greeting customers".

Balance the good and the bad

The objective of giving employee feedback should always be to help the person improve. So, if possible, always start and end with a positive – otherwise known as 'the feedback sandwich'. Balancing constructive criticism with positive points means the person will come away feeling encouraged rather than criticised.

Be specific

Generic comments don't do much for employees. Giving specific feedback shows you've thought about your employee's work in some detail. If you're telling someone what you loved about their work or, equally, what you didn't love so much, explain why.

Set realistic goals

Feedback helps your employees develop professionally and work towards company objectives. Goals need to stretch people, but it's also important that they're realistic. Give employees enough time to adjust to fresh challenges so it won't cause undue stress. You can't expect someone to change overnight.

Offer support

If employees are feeling overwhelmed by feedback, make sure that they feel supported. Not everyone handles criticism well, so be mindful of the fact that some people may need more encouragement than others. Be open to their take on the situation and be willing to hear them out.

How to handle too much feedback

How to handle too much feedback

Are you an employee suffering from feedback overload? Here are a few tips to help deal with it.

Think it over

When we're judged or criticised, we often have a tendency to catastrophise, believing we're not good enough or we're about to get fired. But it's important to listen and try to think of feedback as helpful data rather than criticism.

Ask for specifics

It's important to fully understand the feedback being given, so ask questions to clarify exactly what's meant, especially if the feedback is vague. It can be useful to ask how you could have done things differently.

Set clear goals

Ask your manager to give you clear goals you can work towards – such as improving your time management skills or taking more of a lead on projects.

Communicate your feelings

Feedback should be a two-way conversation. If you're on the receiving end of it, it's worth telling your manager how you feel.. Often, letting your guard down can improve relationships. It helps your manager too, to have an honest, heartfelt conversation.

There's no hard-and-fast rule about how often you should give feedback; it's important to spend time building trust with your team so you can figure out what works best for each individual. Ultimately, having open dialogue with employees can lead to a more productive and positive work environment all round.

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