Gender Differences in the Workplace

Understanding How Men and Women Respond to Performance Feedback

Receiving performance feedback is a significant incident at work, with substantial psychological and tangible outcomes for employees. The tone of the feedback— whether it is positive or negative—has the potential to affect the receiver’s self-esteem and self-view, as well as his or her future performance and attitude toward work. Using this hypothesis as the foundation for research, Ece Tuncel, PhD, Associate Professor of Management at Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology, is working with Professor Laura Guillén of ESMT in Berlin, Germany and Professor Natalia Karelaia of INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France to analyze the impact of negative feedback in the workplace.

“The purpose of this study is to determine if differences exist in the way men and women process and respond to positive and negative performance feedback, and if so, what mechanisms explain these differences,” Tuncel said.

Previous research has demonstrated that, compared to men, women have a higher tendency to internalize feedback from others and use these internalizations to inform themselves about their social value and self-worth. Yet, little research has systematically examined how these tendencies affect their behaviors.

“Given what we know about females, we expect women to exhibit higher levels of withdrawal and avoidance in response to negative feedback than their male counterparts. Avoidant behavior could take the form of minimizing interactions with their boss and colleagues and limiting contributions in the workplace,” Tuncel said. “On the other hand, we expect males to be more inclined to take an active stance in response to negative feedback, such as asking questions about the feedback and approaching their boss.”

The last piece of the puzzle is to understand how the feedback giver responds to these differential responses by men and women. For example, what happens if a woman exhibits approach responses in the form of questioning the negative feedback? Would they be perceived similarly to men acting in the same way? Or, would this behavior evoke a more critical response in the feedback giver as it violates the norms?

“By gaining insight into people’s work experiences, particularly the situations in which they receive performance feedback, our research has the potential to help individuals—especially women— overcome the adverse psychological and behavioral effects of receiving negative feedback at work.”
-Ece Tuncel, PhD