Feedback and Age: Research Insight

Home » Feedback Tips Weekly » Feedback and Age: Research Insight

“… the current study examined age differences in moderating the relationships between the characteristics of performance feedback and employee reactions to the feedback event. The results suggest that older workers had higher levels of feedback orientation on social awareness, but lower levels of feedback orientation on utility than younger workers.”

Source: Age Differences in Feedback Reactions: The Roles of Employee Feedback Orientation on Social Awareness and Utility (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2014)

The general concept of feedback orientation (an individual’s unique receptivity to feedback) will become more relevant as researchers explore it from various angles. One angle increasingly relevant for the modern workforce is what role age may play in an individual’s feedback receptivity. This is particularly relevant because, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the decade ahead will include an increase in workers aged 65 and older.

Understanding the research results

The sample for this study contained primarily male workers from a Chinese company, so it’s essential to hold these insights lightly. But here is what the researchers found:

  1. “…our findings suggest that when providing feedback to older workers, supervisors should avoid solely focusing on performance aspects that need development so that older workers will not perceive the feedback as being unfavorable.”

The reason posited here is that older individuals tend to weigh more heavily the pursuit of positive relationships and “socioemotional experiences” over task/career improvement.

  1. “…our findings suggest that providing feedback in a considerate manner to older workers and improving the informational quality of feedback to younger workers are more likely to engender desirable feedback reactions from them, respectively.”

The reasons posited here are that older workers, again, view the feedback event as more about the quality of the relationship. Younger workers tend to weigh feedback quality more heavily because they see acquiring knowledge for personal (and potentially career) development as incredibly important.

Using this feedback research

Based on the limited sample and other factors, the researchers state, “The current study’s findings should be interpreted with some cautions.”

Still, one takeaway here, which would include people managers leading a multi-generational team, is to ensure you are sensitive to and continuously working to understand what type of feedback relationship is most important for each of your direct reports.

Many managers focus the intention of their feedback purely on their delivery or the business results they want to see. But you may find, as many leaders have, that you are more likely to achieve the results you want if you shift attention from yourself to the receiver’s needs and the quality of the feedback relationship.

As more feedback research is published on age, gender, and many other factors, we may get more specific insights. Still, the primary insight that runs through the collective body of modern feedback research is that a one-size-fits-all feedback approach for each of your direct reports isn’t likely to work well.

Ask what matters to your colleagues. Gauge how they respond to different feedback communication styles and strive to be the kind of empathic feedback provider that provides impactful feedback tailored to the receiver’s feedback orientation.


Related Reading

  1. What is the feedback orientation scale?
  2. What is feedback literacy?
  3. How to build team feedback literacy
  4. What is constructive feedback?