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NEGATIVE FEEDBACK AND EMPLOYEE JOB PERFORMANCE: MODERATING ROLE OF THE BIG FIVE.

We used hierarchical linear regression analysis to test the relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance, and explored the moderating role of the Big Five personality traits in this relationship. Participants were 357 supervisor-subordinate dyads in China; subordinates responded to negative feedback and Big Five personality traits measures, and direct supervisors rated their employees' job performance. Results showed that negative feedback was negatively related to employee job performance, and that the Big Five personality traits moderated this relationship. Specifically, the strength of the negative relationship between negative feedback and job performance was reduced as extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, emotional stability, and conscientiousness increased. Implications for management and theory are discussed.

Keywords: negative feedback, Big Five personality traits, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, emotional stability, conscientiousness, employee job performance.

The role of feedback in changing behavior is well-known: Useful feedback can guide, motivate, and reinforce effective behavior (Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004). Therefore, providing employees with feedback concerning their job performance is regarded as an indispensable part of supervisors' job behavior (Leung, Su, & Morris, 2001). Although employees need to be informed of shortcomings in their performance, negative feedback is less acceptable than is positive feedback (Leung et al., 2001), and it may evoke negative emotion and counterproductive behavior (Belschak & Den Hartog, 2009). Therefore, the majority of managers are reluctant to give negative feedback (Leung et al., 2001).

In a highly competitive market environment, employee job performance promotes organizational survival and development (Morrison & Phelps, 1999). Previous researchers have found that negative feedback can either improve or reduce work performance. For example, Kluger and DeNisi (1996) found that there are moderators of the impact of negative feedback on job performance, and suggested that individual personality differences may bring about different reactions to negative feedback. However, to the best of our knowledge, there have been no empirical studies regarding this potential moderating role. Thus, we tested the impact of negative feedback on employee job performance and the moderating effects of the Big Five personality traits on this relationship, in a Chinese context.

Literature Review and Development of Hypotheses

Negative Feedback and Employee Job Performance

In contrast to positive feedback, which conveys the message to employees that they have performed well, negative feedback indicates that employees' job performance does not meet organizational expectations (e.g., Cianci, Klein, & Seijts, 2010; Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004; Van Dijk & Kluger, 2011). Negative feedback is, thus, regarded as making individuals aware of the gap between their job performance and the organizational performance goal, and motivating hard work or changes in behavior to lessen the gap (Cianci et al., 2010). As a result, negative feedback can enhance job performance. However, numerous researchers have found the opposite result, for example, that negative feedback indicates that the employee is incompetent (Zhou, 1998), may undermine employees' intrinsic motivation (George & Zhou, 2001), and tends to have a deleterious effect on subsequent performance (Van Dijk & Kluger, 2011). Even if negative feedback is given for developmental purposes, it may result in negative reactions (e.g., anger and discouragement) and cause employees to be unwilling to change their behavior (Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004). In addition, negative feedback may be viewed as an evaluative threat to the self, causing withdrawal from assigned tasks in the face of setbacks in an effort to protect one's ego (Cianci et al., 2010). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Negative feedback will be negatively related to employee job performance.

The Moderating Role of the Big Five Personality Traits

The Big Five personality model has been widely used and cited in organizational behavior research (George & Zhou, 2001). Previous researchers have proposed that different personality traits can affect individuals' reactions to feedback (e.g., Ilgen & Davis, 2000; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996; Walker et al., 2010). Each Big Five personality trait is positively associated with learning goal orientation, which is a preference to develop one's competence by acquiring new skills and mastering new situations (Payne, Youngcourt, & Beaubien, 2007; VandeWalle, 2003).

Extraversion is characterized by vigorousness, gregariousness, proactivity, and self-confidence (Walker et al., 2010). In the workplace, extraversion may result in employees asking for and discussing feedback, and can have a positive effect on performance improvement. Thus, after receiving negative feedback from their supervisor, employees who are high (vs. low) in extraversion are more likely to take the initiative to seek advice from their supervisor or a colleague, and to improve their job performance. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 2: Extraversion will moderate the negative relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance, such that the strength of this relationship will be reduced when extraversion increases.

Agreeableness is characterized by being cooperative, helpful, compassionate, and selfless (Walker et al., 2010). Individuals high in agreeableness are inclined to please others by being responsive to their feedback, and are likely to be concerned about what raters think of them, seek additional feedback, and set improvement goals (Smither, London, & Richmond, 2005). In contrast, dispositional distrust is negatively associated with the intention to utilize feedback (Atwater, Waldman, & Brett, 2002). Therefore, after receiving negative feedback from their supervisor, employees high (vs. low) in agreeableness are more likely to trust the intention of the feedback, seek additional feedback, improve job skills, and achieve performance goals. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Agreeableness will moderate the negative relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance, such that the strength of this relationship will be reduced when agreeableness increases.

Emotional stability is characterized by being restful, patient, mild, and calm (Walker et al., 2010). Individuals low, compared to high, in emotional stability tend to experience more negative emotions, even when they have not received negative feedback (Atwater et al., 2002). Unfavorable feedback can be particularly unwelcome and adversely influence people with low emotional stability, because such feedback may cause them to detach themselves from all but very simple job tasks, thus decreasing their performance or causing them to doubt or blame themselves (Walker et al., 2010). These employees are particularly likely to respond poorly to negative feedback.

In contrast, individuals high in emotional stability are more likely to address unfavorable feedback by bettering their behavior (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996), and to be inspired to utilize the negative feedback to guide performance improvement. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 4: Emotional stability will moderate the negative relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance, such that the strength of this relationship will be reduced when emotional stability increases.

Openness to experience is characterized by being curious and imaginative, finding it easy to accept novel ideas, and having extensive interests (Walker et al., 2010). Individuals high in openness to experience tend to embrace new knowledge, and to accept others' perspectives, suggestions, and feedback (Geddes & Konrad, 2003). Thus, employees high in openness to experience are especially likely to react to, and take advantage of, negative feedback, in order to enhance their job performance. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 5: Openness to experience will moderate the negative relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance, such that the strength of this relationship will be reduced when openness to experience increases.

Conscientiousness is characterized by being responsible, dependable, diligent, and persistent (Walker et al., 2010). This trait is associated with the inclination to be committed to the betterment of goals after receiving negative feedback. Individuals high in conscientiousness have a strong sense of purpose and will; are dependable, reliable, and self-controlled; and are likely to work hard to achieve their goals (Raja, Johns, & Ntalianis, 2004). They also think that using feedback is their obligation and responsibility (Smither et al., 2005); thus, employees high in conscientiousness are especially likely to react to, and use, negative feedback to enhance their performance. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 6: Conscientiousness will moderate the negative relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance, such that the strength of this relationship will be reduced when conscientiousness increases.

Method

Participants and Procedure

We recruited 500 participants from 15 enterprises in China, and made contact with them personally to invite them to take part in the study. To avoid common method bias, we collected data from supervisor-subordinate dyads. Data regarding negative feedback and the Big Five personality traits were collected from the employees, and direct supervisors completed ratings of employees' job performance. We explained the aim of the survey to the participants and all information was treated in strictest confidence.

In all, 357 valid responses were received (response rate = 71.4%), among whom 222 (62.19%) were male employees and 41 (73.21%) were male managers. The average age of the employees and their direct supervisors was 30.69 years (SD = 7.77) and 39.75 years (SD = 8.03), respectively. In terms of level of education, 50.70% of employees and 59.38% of managers had a bachelor's degree or higher.

Measures

All of the measurement scales have been used in previous empirical research and were translated into Chinese from English by following the standard translation and backtranslation procedure (Brislin, 1980). Responses to all items were made on a 7-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree).

Negative feedback. Negative feedback was assessed with a three-item feedback valance scale (George & Zhou, 2001). A sample item is "My direct supervisor often criticizes all I do." Cronbach's alpha was .75 in this study.

Employee job performance. Employee job performance was assessed with a four-item scale developed by Farh and Cheng (1997). A sample item is "Employee job performance always conforms to the requirements of the supervisor." Cronbach's alpha was .83 in this study.

The Big Five personality traits. The Big Five personality traits were measured with a 25-item scale from Goldberg (1999), with five items used to assess each trait. Sample items are as follows: "I often take the initiative to communicate with others" (extraversion), "I can always feel the feelings of others" (agreeableness), "I am easily angered" (emotional stability), "I usually know what the problem is very quickly" (openness to experience), and "I do things very precisely" (conscientiousness). In this study, Cronbach's alphas were .72, .76, .78, .72, and .75, respectively.

Control variables. We controlled for gender, age, and level of education because these variables may affect employees' responses to negative feedback (see, e.g., Ilgen, Fisher, & Taylor, 1979).

Results

To test the hypotheses, we conducted a series of linear regression analyses using SPSS version 22.0 (see Table 1). In Model 1, negative feedback was negatively related to job performance ([beta] = -.138, p < .01); thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported. As can be seen in Models 2-6, the interaction between negative feedback and extraversion, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience, and conscientiousness was positively related to job performance ([beta] = .108, p < .05; p = .172, p < .001; [beta] = .127, p < .05; [beta] = .235, p < .001; [beta] = .152, p < .01, respectively). We also plotted the interaction effect and found that the strength of the negative relationship between negative feedback and job performance was reduced when extraversion (simple slope = -.135, p < .01), agreeableness (simple slope = -.127, p < .001), emotional stability (simple slope = -.131, p < .05), openness to experience (simple slope = -.118, p < .001), and conscientiousness (simple slope = -.129, p < .01) were high, in contrast to when extraversion (simple slope = -.147, p < .01), agreeableness (simple slope -.142, p < .01), emotional stability (simple slope = -.144, p < .01), openness to experience (simple slope = -.139, p < .01), and conscientiousness (simple slope = -.145, p < .01) were low. Thus, Hypotheses 2-6 were supported.

Discussion

Our finding that negative feedback was significantly and negatively associated with employee job performance aligns with previous study results (e.g., Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004), enriching the feedback literature in a Chinese context. Additionally, we found that the Big Five personality traits moderate the strength of the negative relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance. Specifically, negative feedback was less negatively related to job performance when extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, emotional stability, and conscientiousness were high than when they were low. Previous theoretical and empirical researchers (e.g., Kluger & DeNisi, 1996; Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004) have reported that negative feedback can increase or decrease performance, indicating that there were moderators of the impact of negative feedback on job performance. Kluger and DeNisi (1996) suggested that individual personality differences may be one such important moderator. Thus, we have answered calls for more attention to be paid to the boundary conditions between feedback and employee job performance (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996).

To a certain extent, our findings are consistent with those of prior researchers who indicated that the Big Five personality traits are positively associated with learning goal orientation (Payne et al., 2007). From the perspective of learning goal orientation theory, a better understanding of the moderating role of the Big Five personality traits on the relationship between negative feedback and job performance can now be reached. For instance, when employees high in conscientiousness receive negative feedback from their supervisor, they may become aware of the gap between their job performance and the organizational performance goal, and then be motivated to work hard or change their behavior to lessen the gap. Thus, the strength of the negative relationship between negative feedback and job performance will be reduced when conscientiousness increases.

Managerial Implications

There are practical implications in this study. First, feedback helps increase employees' learning and knowledge of results (Belschak & Den Hartog, 2009). Employees need such knowledge, especially if their performance is not up to standard, so that they can take corrective action and improve their task performance (Ilgen & Davis, 2000). Our findings suggest that managers need to pay attention to the negative effect of negative feedback on employee job performance. Prior researchers have also shown that negative feedback leads to negative emotions (see, e.g., Belschak & Den Hartog, 2009). Therefore, although managers should not avoid, delay, or distort negative feedback (Guo & Liao, 2013), it is essential that they are concerned with aspects of the feedback process, such as private communication (Leung et al., 2001), interactive justice (Colquitt, 2001), constructive criticism (Zhang, Reyna, & Huang, 2011), and developmental feedback (Guo & Liao, 2014; Guo, Liao, Liao, & Zhang, 2014), in order to help, direct, and motivate employees to adjust their behavior or performance as necessary.

In addition, our results concerning the moderating role of the Big Five personality traits suggest that managers need to be conscious of different employee personalities, rather than treating all employees similarly in the feedback context. In particular, we recommend that managers provide more considerate feedback for employees low in agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience, and conscientiousness, in order to avoid reducing job involvement (Hu & Li, 2014), lowering the desire to achieve work goals (Richard & Diefendorff, 2011), and inducing negative emotions and counterproductive behavior (Belschak & Den Hartog, 2009).

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

There are some limitations in this study. First, as our findings were specific to the Chinese context, the generalizability of the results is limited. Future researchers could reexamine our findings in a Western cultural context. Second, our findings might have been affected by common method variance, because negative feedback and the Big Five personality traits were evaluated by the same survey means. Future researchers could use a different survey instrument to evaluate these variables. Third, we used a cross-sectional design, which limits the inference of causality among the variables. Thus, our finding that negative feedback was negatively related to employee job performance cannot be assumed to be a causal relationship. Given the importance of psychometric testing in the workplace, employers are less likely to employ in the first place people who are low in emotional stability, more introverted, and less conscientious. Further, employees who are more extraverted and agreeable may be preferred by supervisors, so that they are also less likely to receive negative feedback. Thus, a longitudinal design or situational simulation should be considered in future research. Fourth, although there are many individual personality types, we only tested the moderating role of the Big Five traits. Future researchers could focus on how the characteristics of other individual personality traits, such as goal orientation and regulatory focus, affect the relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance. Finally, prior researchers have shown that different cultural orientations and power distances (Leung et al., 2001) affect the effect of negative feedback. Future researchers could test the effect of these variables on the relationship between negative feedback and employee job performance.

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YUN GUO

Binzhou University

YANHONG ZHANG

Wuhan University of Science and Technology

JlANQIAO LlAO

Huazhong University of Science and Technology

XINWEI GUO, JINTAO LIU, XIANG XUE, CUNCHAO LI, MIN ZHANG, AND YUMEI ZHANG

Binzhou University

Yun Guo, Department of Economics and Management, Binzhou University; Yanhong Zhang, School of Management, Wuhan University of Science and Technology; Jianqiao Liao, School of Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology; Xinwei Guo, Jintao Liu, Xiang Xue, Cunchao Li, Min Zhang, and Yumei Zhang, Department of Economics and Management, Binzhou University.

This research was supported by the Scientific Research Project of Binzhou University (2015Y03, 2016Y34, 2016Y35) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71232001, 71602151). Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Yanhong Zhang, School of Management, Wuhan University of Science and Technology, Room 502, Unit 58, Yuyuan, Wuhan 430074, People's Republic of China. Email: zhangyher@wust.edu.cn

doi.org/10.2224/sbp.6478
Table 1. Moderating Effect of the Big Five Personality Traits on the
Relationship Between Negative Feedback and Employee Job Performance

                           NF           E X NF       A X NF

JP                Model 1  -.138 (**)
                  Model 2               .108 (*)
                  Model 3                             .172 (***)
                  Model 4
                  Model 5
                  Model 6
[DELTA][R.sup.2]           4.875 (***)  5.611 (***)  8.564 (***)
F                          0.018 (**)   0.011 (*)    0.028 (***)

                           ES X NF      O X NF       C X NF

JP                Model 1
                  Model 2
                  Model 3
                  Model 4   .127 (*)
                  Model 5                .235 (***)
                  Model 6                             .152 (**)
[DELTA][R.sup.2]           4.444 (***)  6.649 (***)  7.119 (***)
F                          0.013 (*)    0.053 (***)  0.021 (**)

Note. NF = negative feedback, E = extraversion, A = agreeableness,
ES = emotional stability, O = openness to experience, C =
conscientiousness, JP = job performance. (*) p < .05, (**) p < .01,
(***) p < .001.
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Author:Guo, Yun; Zhang, Yanhong; Llao, Jlanqiao; Guo, Xinwei; Liu, Jintao; Xue, Xiang; Li, Cunchao; Zhang,
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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