Home » News » Even Those Eager to Learn Cringe at Negative Job Reviews

Even Those Eager to Learn Cringe at Negative Job Reviews

Even Those Eager to Learn Cringe at Negative Job ReviewsA new study suggests a critical job performance evaluation can have a negative effect on any employee, despite an individual’s optimism or the managerial intent of motivation or education.

Dr. Satoris Culbertson, an assistant professor of management at Kansas State University, studied how people view positive or negative feedback. Perhaps not surprisingly, he found that no one, even those motivated to learn, likes negative performance reviews.

He also believes that negative feedback is different from constructive feedback and that managers must be careful in how they perform the review.

Culbertson and collaborators at Eastern Kentucky University and Texas A&M University surveyed more than 200 staffers who had just completed performance reviews at a large southern university.

The research appears in the Journal of Personnel Psychology.

To study the effect of the evaluations, researchers first assessed employees’ goal orientations:

  • Learning goal-oriented people like to learn for the sake of learning — they often pursue challenges despite setbacks;
  • Performance-prove goal-oriented people want to prove that they have competence to perform a job;
  • Performance-avoid goal-oriented people want to avoid looking foolish.

Then the researchers hypothesized that that the two types of performance-oriented people only would be satisfied with performance appraisals in which they received positive feedback because negative feedback would make them look bad.

But the researchers thought that learning goal-oriented employees would be satisfied with an appraisal in which they received negative feedback because these individuals would see it as a learning opportunity.

“Surprisingly, we found that learning-oriented people were just as dissatisfied with an appraisal that had negative feedback as the performance-oriented people were,” Culbertson said.

“Nobody likes to get negative feedback — even those individuals who aren’t trying to prove anything to others, but instead are just trying to learn as much as possible.”

“The research shows that managers need to be careful when giving feedback to employees,” Culbertson said.

Performance appraisals can affect motivation, commitment, and performance, which managers should keep in mind when evaluating employees.

“It is not so much that the performance review needs to be abolished, but we need to fix what is broken,” Culbertson said.

“Instead of limiting ourselves to formal performance appraisals conducted once or twice a year, we need to think about performance management as a system that is linked with the strategy of the entire organization.”

Rather than making a performance review an annual event between a supervisor and employee, employers should consider making it an ongoing process.

“We can actually make the most out of the system,” Culbertson said. “But if we are only going to have once-a-year evaluations, we shouldn’t expect it to work.”

Based on the research, Culbertson has several suggestions to help managers construct performance evaluations:

  • Focus on constructive feedback instead of negative feedback. While negative feedback focuses on what an employee is doing wrong, constructive feedback brings in elements for improvement.
    • “Negative feedback is not the same as constructive feedback,” Culbertson said. “We should be careful that negative feedback is provided in a way that is more constructive because it can help people try to improve.”
  • Be careful with number-based performance reviews. People view numbers differently, Culbertson said. For example, on an evaluation with a 1-to-5 scale, a manager might give an employee a 4 out of 5. The manager might see this as positive feedback, but an employee might see this as negative if he or she is striving for a 5 out of 5.
    • “This is where our words are really powerful,” Culbertson said. “We want to make sure we are conveying to employees whether we are giving a good evaluation or describing something that needs to improve.”
  • Avoid the “sandwich” approach. This approach occurs when managers provide positive feedback, then give negative feedback and finish with positive feedback.
    • “Sometimes the sandwich approach comes across as dishonest or not something that people will buy,” Culbertson said.

Source: Kansas State University

Even Those Eager to Learn Cringe at Negative Job Reviews

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Even Those Eager to Learn Cringe at Negative Job Reviews. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 25 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.