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Workplace Productivity: How Much Criticism is Too Much?

Posted On: 13/06/2016

It is important to tell help your employees improve and tell them what they can do better. But too much criticism can be more of a hindrance than a help.  But how much criticism is too much?

Dramatic research from University of Michigan Business School shows that the margins for negative comments versus positive ones in an office environment are remarkably small.  Indeed, it can take just 3 negative comments to every one positive to undermine workplace morale and hurt office productivity.

It’s a remarkable finding. If you’re the kind of boss who is a bit of a control freak and questions the actions of your staff a lot, you could be hurting their ability to function.  For it to just be a 3 to 1 ratio, that’s actually quite a tightrope to walk.

The research, carried out by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada in 2004 and published in the journal American Behavioral Scientist, took a number of office working teams and gave their managers a ratio of praise and criticism to work with, analyzing the productivity of each team over time.  Not only did they discover the ratio most likely to cause distress, they also found the ratio most likely to boost productivity the most.

The best result for productivity was about 6 mentions of praise to every one criticism.  It seems that getting the most of your teams requires more work than doing damage.  This highlights just how easy it is to fall into bad habits, even if you don’t realise you’re doing it.  It also highlights how making a small change in your behaviour and criticising a little less could turn things around if things are going badly.

The study highlighted the need for constructive criticism, especially if a worker is falling behind.  But if you want to boost the productivity of your workforce, the conclusion is clear: it costs nothing to change your behaviour but it could make all the difference.

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