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Feedback is Key to Promoting Positive Work Behaviors

feedback-heads1A major aspect of the social business movement is the benefits that can accrue when employees start utilising their skills on a wide range of internal projects.  McKinsey went as far as to suggest that the potential benefits could run into the trillions of dollars.  Impressive stuff.

Wharton professor Adam Grant applied a slightly more holistic approach to social sharing in his recent book Give and Take, in which he argued for the benefits of giving time and energy to others, with no direct expectation of a return.

Of course, not all employees think along those lines, and a good performance appraisal system will rapidly unearth people that begin to rack up official and unofficial misdemeanours.  A new study explores the impact such knowledge has on the subsequent behaviours of an employee.

The study saw participants record the various counter productive workplace behaviours they had got up to that day.  These could be anything from playing pranks on colleagues to having longer breaks than they should have.

The following day, half of them received feedback comparing their level of such behaviours against their colleagues, whilst also noting that above average slacking off harmed the company.  Participants were then asked how much they intended to engage in positive workplace behaviours, such as taking on extra responsibilities or helping others with their work.  After three days, they were then asked how many of these positive behaviours they’d actually engaged in.

The results were fascinating.  When above average offenders received no feedback, they were then the most likely to continue their bad behaviours and contribute little positive effort to the company.  When feedback was provided however, the worst offenders made a sustained effort to change their ways, bringing their level of good behaviours up to the level of traditional good corporate citizens.

The Day two survey also recorded ratings of emotional guilt, and this was what mediated the relationship between feedback on high levels of bad behaviour and more citizenship behaviours: the more guilt, the more they tried to make up with good deeds.

So if you want to encourage the right kind of behaviours in the workplace, this study underlines the crucial role feedback plays in that process.

Originally posted at

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