Supervisor negative feedback and employee motivation to learn: An attribution perspective

Lu Xing, Jian-Min Sun*, Denise Jepsen, Yejun Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Why do some employees respond well to negative feedback, whereas others respond poorly? We suggest it depends on two factors: first, employees’ attribution of the feedback, or why employees believe their supervisor provides negative feedback in the first place, and second, employees’ core self-evaluation (CSE). These factors have implications for employees’ motivation to learn and learning performance. We tested our hypotheses using two three-wave time-lagged survey data from 370 employees in the United States (Study 1) and 302 hospital nurses in China (Study 2). Results suggest that for employees with high CSE, negative feedback is positively associated with the attribution that the feedback is given for performance-driven purposes (i.e. external attribution), which is in turn positively related to their motivation to learn. For employees with low CSE, negative feedback is positively related to the attribution that the feedback is given for self-serving purposes (i.e. internal attribution). Such attribution is negatively related to motivation to learn (Study 1), which further predicts the increase in their learning performance (Study 2). This study not only extends the theoretical understanding of negative feedback effectiveness, but also offers implications for supervisors to better deliver and for employees to better receive negative feedback.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
JournalHuman Relations
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Aug 2021

Keywords

  • core self-evaluation
  • feedback attribution
  • learning performance
  • motivation to learn
  • supervisor negative feedback

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