How Do You Experience Feedback? Age Differences in Feedback Reactions

Your boss has called you and your colleague into his office because he wants to give you feedback on your latest project. He gives you both some general feedback in relation to your performance but then he asks your colleague to step outside for a minute. You are a bit confused as to why you and your colleague are separated but the reality is that your boss knows how to give effective feedback. Companies today are facing an aging workforce, which means the differences between older and younger workers are becoming more apparent and it is something you have to take into consideration as a boss.

Research has shown how different age groups within the organization require different approaches when it comes to giving feedback. It is important as a leader to understand these changes if you want to attract, recruit, satisfy and retain your employees of all ages but also if you want to manage their performance effectively. In connection to the changing workforce two factors; feedback and SST, are now more important than ever.

What is feedback and SST?

First; let us take a look at the feedback factor. The definition of feedback is: “feedback is conceptualized as information provided by an agent (e.g., teacher, peer, book, parent, self, experience) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding”(

The second important factor is SST and can best be defined as: “socioemotional selectivity theory contends that as people become increasingly aware of limitations on future time, they are increasingly motivated to be more selective”

The difference between younger and older employees

Social awareness and utility have proved to be two parametres highly relevant when talking about SST and feedback because research has shown that older workers have higher levels on both parameters than younger workers. Younger adults focus more on skill, knowledge and opportunity development.

They view “time” as time since their birth and they thus see time as open-ended. Therefore their goals tend to be future-oriented but in a work-relation, they will have a tendency to aim more toward knowledge acquisition, career planning and developing skills and the ability they can use in the future.

In contrast to the younger workers, older workers view time as time left in life and thus see time as limited. Instead of being focused on the future like the younger individuals, they tend to be more present-oriented. Their objective is to regulate their emotions to be positive and pursuing positive social relationships with others.

Furthermore, research has also shown how older employees are more cooperative and less competitive than younger employees. Moreover, older workers display more effective commitment to their organization, while younger employees place greater importance on “employability” and opportunity for advancement. This also means older workers are more sensitive than younger workers because of their socioemotional focus.

Feedback quality

Another thing highly relevant when speaking of feedback is “feedback quality”. But how do you make sure your feedback is good quality and applicable? Would you be satisfied if your boss said the same thing to you and all of your colleagues? No, right? You would want him to be more specific, detailed, consistent and relevant in accordance to your skills right?

If feedback is given this way, the feedback is perceived as being more useful because the informational value of the feedback is high in terms of helping you improve your job performance.

What Does All of This Mean for Your Company? 

We now know older workers put more emphasis on social awareness than younger workers. The impact it has on your organization is that you should be more sensitive when engaging with them. Second, the positive association between feedback quality and feedback reactions was stronger for younger workers than for older workers.

The final thing we learned is how age-related differences in employee feedback orientation could explain the different patterns in feedback reactions across older and younger workers, which means you have to take into consideration how you approach your employees when it is time to give quality feedback.


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