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Ask Slashdot: How To Improve At Work When You're Not Getting Feedback? 222

An anonymous reader writes: Too many managers avoid giving any kind of feedback, regardless of whether it's positive or negative. If you work for a boss who doesn't provide feedback, it's easy to feel rudderless. It can be especially disorienting if you're new in the role, new to the company, or a recent graduate new to the workforce. In the absence of specific guidance, is there any way to know what the average boss would want you to work on? What would you advise someone who works in IT, engineering, coding, designing or any similar industry?
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Ask Slashdot: How To Improve At Work When You're Not Getting Feedback?

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  • No need (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mycroft-X ( 11435 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @11:23AM (#54384409)

    No feedback means you are awesome and there is no room for improvement. If people have a problem with you it's just that -- their problem. If you are the problem they'll tell you in a clear. actionable and constructive way.

    • Re:No need (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @11:37AM (#54384537)

      No it doesn't.

      "No feedback," means something different to every relationship at work and is based on the nature of both the superior and the subordinate.

      Terrible manager, no feedback could mean that the manager doesn't actually want to do their job. I've seen this firsthand, and the problem lingered for many years. It was made worse because the manager was friends with his boss, so his boss didn't bother to push to uncover what was going on in the section.

      Could easily also mean that the manager is scared of repercussions for doing the job, or feels that it's just easier to ignore the problems. This can be the end-result when the previous kind of terrible manager doesn't document or do honest evaluations of employees. It can also play into problems with employees that belong to suspect classes- if the boss doesn't document problems with employees generally, then it's much harder to get rid of problem employees, and it's even harder if the problem employee happens to belong to a suspect class. That documentation on employee performance and a paper-trail of guidance and review is what allows an employer to promote or terminate without having to face accusations of discrimination.

      There's only so much an employee can do to get feedback, and the myriad of factors (everything from the nature of the job to the physical layout of the employee work area relative to the boss) determines what that employee can try. I know I can walk over to my boss' office to talk, and I usually do talk a couple of times a week to go over projects and timetables, etc. I also document by-email, we're required to submit status logs of what we've been doing anyway so I just fill mine out stream-of-consciousness as I work and edit down to something usable at the end of the week, keeps him informed so he knows what's going on.

      Try to communicate with the boss, but it's as much on the boss as it is on the worker.

      • Look....

        Are you getting paid?

        Are you getting raises and/or promotions?

        If yes to one or both of those, you are doing fine. You have to get use to the fact that no one out there has the time nor is interested in validating you and your self esteem. That's for young snowflakes...is the real big, bad world...no one really cares.

        If you are fucking up, they'll let you know. If you really need feed back...GO ASK someone about your work and what they might suggest.

        It is NOT their job to go out of their way an

        • Re:No need (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @12:35PM (#54385013) Journal

          If you're not getting yelled at or fired, you're doing just fine.

          ...or you're stagnating, and 10 years later when you finally get laid off due to cuts from high above, you'll find yourself hopelessly outdated and lost as hell in job interviews.

          I guess the point is, it's not simple validation sometimes, it's mentorship, it's a chance to let the boss know what you're up to so he/she can put you on interesting problems later down the road, or even put you on to opportunities that may come along which are more suited to your desired career path.

          Any boss who is non-communicative, let alone not do any of these things for their employees, is completely worthless.

          I mean shit man, I don't beg for daily praise/criticism, but I do want to know at least once in awhile if my initiatives and work are truly taking the company where it needs to go...

          • Re:No need (Score:4, Interesting)

            by mattwarden ( 699984 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @03:06PM (#54386409)

            Here is a secret: your boss is not there for you. They are there for the company. They exist not to mentor you or help your career but to get what the company needs out of you and mitigate company risks like you leaving. If the manager decides it is in the company's best interest to release you rather than reform you, that's what she should do. If it's not in the company's interest for you to grow, you shouldn't expect your boss to help you grow.

            I have many underlings ask for me to lay out a career path for them. To me this is an admission that they are passive actors in their career, floating along and putting in time and expecting others to figure out the next step for them. And I will do so, in some cases, depending on how much the company needs that employee to stick around even if in another position.

            Another secret: your boss is regularly asked how he/she has planned for you leaving voluntarily.

            • by TWX ( 665546 )

              Not all companies share your mindset, thank god.

              Many companies do look at the production that the employee brings as an asset, rather than only looking at the cost in wages that an employee draws as a detriment. Since the corporate structure between the end-worker and the top people doesn't usually itself produce anything profit-making, it is in the company's interest to attempt to mentor employees. It makes the employees feel more valued. It may provide more skill to the employee so they produce disprop

            • They exist not to mentor you or help your career but to get what the company needs out of you and mitigate company risks like you leaving.

              Without growth, the competent employees will *always* leave sooner than you think, and you're soon only left with the incompetents. Good luck with that.

              Also, there is no need to do any part of the employee's job (laying out a career). There is a need however to discover what the employee think his/her career should be, and if you're a competent manager, you would want to be the first to find out (which incidentally helps out with that whole 'is my employee going to leave soon, and if so, when?' bit.)

              And, su

        • by creimer ( 824291 )

          If you are fucking up, they'll let you know.

          At my job that would be your Windows accounts (regular and admin) not working, your badge deactivated and no one in management returning your phone calls. If you call the help desk, they will confirm that your termination ticket is being processed. Eventually security shows to escort you out of the building.

          • by TWX ( 665546 )

            then how did you get into the building in the first place? Or did they just let you in so that you could clean up your desk yourself instead of them having to pack everything up for you?

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        "No feedback," means something different to every relationship at work

        This.

        In one of my past jobs, I was pretty visible to people in engineering and on the shop floor (both of our group's customers). They knew when I was delivering and when I was fucking up. Meanwhile, my boss was the son-in-law of someone high up in management and he had no clue what was going on. As long as our customers were happy, his job was cake. He left me alone and I got the extra merit raises every year.

    • Probably true. Most managers only give negative feedback.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        Worse yet, I've seen managers for whom "feedback" is merely a euphemism for "criticism" and often believe that it requires blowing some issues out of proportion if not fabricating them completely in order to have an ample supply of criticism. The apparent purpose being to create the idea in the employee's mind that they are just barely doing an acceptable job, should work harder, and should not ask for a raise/promotion.

        "Praise" is reserved for totally above-and-beyond behavior that should actually be comp

      • It is true that most of my feedback is negative. However there are a lot of negative things that need pointing out. Though a lot of this comes from code reviews as I'm still doing those. I'm giving some positive feedback though maybe it's not as obvious ("keep it up").

        There is the yearly performance evaluation where you're essentially required to give feedback, and when I've done this I make a point to include positive feedback, and the negative feedback is given constructively. There are people who don

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      That's generally true at my job. Except for the one time my boss called me up to praise me before giving me a blotched printer mitigation project that I could get me fired. Of course, I'm a miracle worker and got the job done.
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @11:23AM (#54384411)

    Oddly enough, the stuff I get the most praise for is stuff that I simply started doing because it filled a void that I felt was present. Full disclosure: I have a cool boss.

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      Finding the jobs that no one else wants to do is a good way to gain recognition.
      • "Why does a build take 2 hours"?

        "Because"

        A quick profile of the process later found a stupid design decision that ate 30% the time. (On a small scale you never noticed but on the entire build it just ate time.)

        And now I'm sort of miracle worker for just looking into a problem no one wanted to look into or just assumed "that's the way it is".

        • I did that. Reduced an 12+ hour build to 45 minutes. The miracle worker status lasted awhile, but I probably coasted on it longer than I should have. At some point it turns into "what miracles have you done lately?"

    • That's likely to be the stuff I will praise the most for as well... both because it is most likely to be "above and beyond" and because it's apparent to everyone that the void is filled, but unexpectedly.

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      Oddly enough, the stuff I get the most praise for is stuff that I simply started doing because it filled a void that I felt was present. Full disclosure: I have a cool boss.

      Please oh please tell us where you can find this "cool boss" you speak of. I haven't had one of those in about a decade. (sad panda) The ones I have worked for in the past 10 years have been narcissistic, incompetent pricks that suffer from the Dunning Kruger effect. It's been awful.

  • Leave. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OmniGeek ( 72743 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @11:26AM (#54384437)

    If your boss isn't communicating with you, try to communicate with him/her as to what you need and why. Be respectful and open, but direct; you're trying to improve your working relationship. If that doesn't work, move to a department that has a more communicative manager, and failing that, just bail as gracefully as posible. That workplace isn't going to be a good place for you to work in the long run, and life's too short if you have any other choice.

    • You should be able to tell if you're doing good work or not. Don't rely on your boss; chances are your boss knows less about your work than you do. You should be able to observe how your results compare to those being done by others.

      Od course, if you're in the Dunning-Kruger regime, a self-evaluation may fail.

    • Schedule the meeting yourself.

      I put a reoccurring monthly meeting on my boss' calendar. Sometimes it gets moved, sometimes it gets canceled but it's in the calendar for a reason.

  • Serious this is an Ask Slashdot? Failing that figure it out yourself. If you can't tell if you're doing a good job at your job, you should probably find one where you can.
    • by Cederic ( 9623 )

      What the fuck does 'doing a good job' have to do with it?

      You want to do the same job every day for the next three decades? That's ok, some people welcome that.

      Many people get bored, want to do different things, have career goals. They want to improve themselves, their skills, their ability to get other jobs. They will benefit greatly from feedback, especially if it's constructive and well intentioned.

      That doesn't mean they're not doing 'a good job'. Shit, you could be the world's greatest programmer, I bet

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @11:41AM (#54384559) Homepage

    I get feedback from Slashdot. For example, as an IT Support contractor who makes $50K+ in Silicon Valley, the feedback I got is: I don't make enough money to afford the American Dream, I'm a moocher because I work in government IT, I'm not a real IT person since didn't graduate from a CS program with $100K in student loans, I'm fat, ugly and retarded, and, worse, I'm not even ashamed of being fat..

    • I get feedback from Slashdot. For example, as an IT Support contractor who makes $50K+ in Silicon Valley, the feedback I got is: I don't make enough money to afford the American Dream, I'm a moocher because I work in government IT, I'm not a real IT person since didn't graduate from a CS program with $100K in student loans, I'm fat, ugly and retarded, and, worse, I'm not even ashamed of being fat..

      And have your formed a plan of action around the feedback?

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        And have your formed a plan of action around the feedback?

        Still setting up a marketing funnel. So when the asshats attack me, other readers will wonder why all these asshats are shitting on me and then click on my Hompage link above my comment. Web traffic and ad revenues to my personal blog has been awesome for the last few months.

    • by dave562 ( 969951 )

      Aren't you the guy who suggested quite seriously that someone pursue an A+ certification?

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        Aren't you the guy who suggested quite seriously that someone pursue an A+ certification?

        If you're starting off in help desk, the A+, Network+ and Microsoft Windows certifications will make a great foundation for future certifications.

    • by darkain ( 749283 )

      You forgot the part where you're also an insensitive clod!

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        You forgot the part where you're also an insensitive clod!

        I would be working in IT if I wasn't an asshole. ;)

  • Your manager many be busy and just doesn't have the time? Maybe the manager is hands off and trusts you to fill your own voids? (very possible if you are a knowledge worker) Just because they are your boss doesn't mean you have to reduce everything that could be possibly interpreted as something negative to be just that (although in a lot of situations you would be right in doing so). If you care to check, you will find that the world doesn't revolve around you and that managers are people at the end of the
  • In my experience (both personal and looking at other people), there are three reasons why a manager/supervisor won't provide feedback:

    1. They are incompetent.
    2. They don't want you/don't know what to do with you and just wish you would go away.
    3. They are psychopaths and don't want there to be a papertrail showing that you a) succeeded without/despite them or b) failed because they don't know what they are doing (see point 1.).

    Sorry for being so harsh but I've had 1. & 3. as managers and seen lots of

  • I do fabrication drawings for corporate theater, and more, sets.
    So I do a drawing and when I get done, I'm then given direction other than what I drew.
    I once worked with a Project Manager that would intentionally produce work order for the shop that had errors. He told me it gets the shop to think.
    Moral of the story, if you are not getting feedback Do it wrong and you'll get feedback.

  • Then you'll be wishing you had the guy who didn't give you feedback. I really don't know what to say about not knowing what to do. It may be a good opportunity to look for things to do on your own. Be warned that sometimes when you open your mouth on this kind of thing, it can backfire on your spectacularly. Your manager may decide that you're "special" and suddenly be all over your workplace all the time because they conclude that you can't work otherwise. Your manager may decide that if you don't kn
  • You should always be looking at ways to improve what you are doing without feedback. A good boss helping you along is a nice luxury but I think the expectation for most senior folks is that they do this for themselves.
  • Casually drop a reference to this song by Joan Armitrading: When I Get It Right (the mtv version) [youtu.be] / alternate with lyrics. [youtu.be]
  • You need to be working on what your boss wants you to be working on. That is the point of being an employee.

    If your boss is not giving you anything to work on, why are you going to work? What are you doing with your days?

    If you have down time and want a side project, ask your boss what else you can be working on. If they do not have anything for you to do, then find something and ask them if they think it would be valuable to the company for you to work on it.

    >>This seems like the kind of topic tha

    • Ha, I have one guy that goes too fast, sort of. I give him a couple tasks, and end of the day he says he's done and is going to back to work on the old project I don't want him to work on. An hour later after looking at his code l see that he rushed it, didn't understand the requirements, or made it really complicated (I think he does it for job security). So even though he's constantly saying how he's done he never really ends up being done. There is some hope, he's starting to ask more questions befor

  • and either automate them or hand them off to junior employees. Use that to free up time in your day for more technical/valuable/interesting projects. When those projects are done hand them off or automate them and move on to the next project. Meanwhile watch out for other teams trying to hand simple/repetitive work to your team :). There's no better way to lose your job to an outsourcer than to take on simple, repetitive work.
  • In IT jobs you are basically junior, [no designation], then senior at "something". Sometimes years, decades after that you might be a lead in your role, if the wind favors you (e.g. C++ Lead). Lead is basically the guy between management and the lower ranks of a particular team - someone being introduced to the management BS that still has a soft touch for instilling the BS on the team. Then maybe manager in-between, but eventually you get another a horizontally displaced title, such as "Build Master", "Sys

  • If needed, insist. Unless you can read thoughts, there is no other way. If that still fails, look for another job.

    • I have bi-weekly one-on-one meetings. There's no structure or format. Often it's just a status update. Sometimes there's mentoring or helping out with a tough problem, but sometimes I am asked for feedback ("am I don't a good job?" was actually asked) but I am able to offer up feedback instead of waiting until the end of the year or trying to corner the person in the cube.

  • they are probably assembling a case to fire you. get a lawyer.
  • I've read articles in the recent past detailing the "generational divide" in bigger workplaces where you have the Millenials, the Xers and the baby boomers all sharing the same environment. The articles I've read seem to indicate that Millenials need much more constant feedback than previous generations. I wonder if that's part of it, and whether older managers are having trouble keeping up with the new pace.

    The workplace I'm at currently skews older, but we do have some new grads coming in every couple of

  • Rather than ask your manager about your performance, ask your manager about his (or her) goals. Make sure you understand the scope of your role if achieving these goals is a combined effort. Then, try to make the goals happen. If it's possible, make it really easy for management to learn (perhaps without talking to you) the specifics about how you plan to spend your time in the future. That way, you can understand not being redirected as approval. The information about where your efforts are succeeding or
  • "In the absence of specific guidance, is there any way to know what the average boss would want you to work on?"

    Take a look at what you think your company needs, and in particular focus on areas where productivity can be enhanced with the least effort. Then, do the opposite.

  • by hackel ( 10452 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @01:41PM (#54385633) Journal

    While I get the occasional "great job" from management at my job, that kind of feedback is largely meaningless. In order to give good feedback, you have to actually be *knowledgeable* in the field in question. In the case of programming, you actually have to review the code and understand it, including design and testing patterns, etc. In my company, that has never happened. No one ever looks at the code I produce, and there are only two other people who could even make sense of it. I think this is a huge problem.

  • by zifn4b ( 1040588 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @02:17PM (#54385923)

    "Improve" in the sense of working for an employer means better meeting the employer's expectations. If the employer is not providing expectations or feedback, you are trying to be clairvoyant which is not possible. One of my parents was like this. They would expect me to do things a certain way or at certain times but never inform me of that except by severely punishing me for not reading their minds. That's a toxic situation.

    My advice, unless your employer doesn't question your performance and you can do whatever you like, leave. During the exit interview tell HR this is the main reason you are leaving. Hopefully they will take the feedback to heart but often employers don't because they are more often than not egotistical and believe they are infallible not open to criticism.

    Just so you know, there is a cognitive bias whereby people think that everyone thinks the same and therefore they ought to arrive at the same conclusions, you know the "right" and "only" ones because you know there is a right way and everything is the wrong way (black and white thinking). They can't compute why someone wouldn't arrive at the "right way" independently other than there is something wrong with you and you are defective in some way. These people have the emotional intelligence skills of a rock and you don't want to work for them or be in any kind of dealing with them. They will make you miserable.

  • As a manager... (Score:4, Informative)

    by WolfgangVL ( 3494585 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2017 @03:01PM (#54386377)

    I have personally fielded this question from my team. On that occasion, I reminded them that when I say, "great job", I mean it, and when I say, "You missed this one, lets try $colleague's idea this time." I am not just being a persnickety asshole boss, I am providing feedback, and directing a project.

    (I think) At least half the problem today is that the younger generation no longer hears the real praise from their superiors for what it is, because they've spent their lives hearing these things for simply meeting the standard. I don't pass out high fives at the water cooler for showing up to work on time, but I do pass-out pitchers of beer and pizza when we complete a project within spec and on-time.

    When you're late on your side of the hardware, and the whole team is off grumbling between themselves while doing make-work for other departments, I'm going to point out a few things you may want to do differently next time. I'm going to remind you that this is not the way we roll around here. And I'm going to ask you if you think somebody else would have been a better fit for your responsibilities. Again this is not me being a dick boss, it's feedback, and guidance.

    If I see a problem with the way things are being done, the way you carry yourself, or the way resources are being applied, it's my job to fix it. Part of that job is making those responsible aware of the problem, as well as solicit solutions from them and avoid these problems on future projects. On Thursday, when I *ask* you to change the shirt you've been wearing since Monday, I am not *coming down on you*, or *being a dick boss*, but providing clear direction. If you're so dense you have to ask me why, (this has happened) I'm going to tell you the odor is distracting, and the catchup stain on the collar is annoying as hell. This is the feedback that is remembered. THIS is what he will tell his spouse tonight over dinner, and this is what he is going to remember when review time comes around.

    Unfortunately, "Team, we did it again, $client loves our work, and word is they are already bidding our next project. Wonderful work guys, keep this shit up. Anybody wanna join me after work this Friday at $pizzajoint? My treat...." Is considered standard for every project. It aint, It's positive feedback, as well as opportunity to debrief, and decompress, as well as for one on one time with me, over a beer, as friends and colleagues; instead of boss and subordinate.

    My boss is counting on me to both guide the teams project to completion, and keep my guys happy. I try to do both. If I don't, he's gonna ask me why not, and provide a few suggestions himself (misguided as they may be) That does not mean I'm on the hook to present a gold medal for meeting the standard, high school was a long time ago.

  • I'd suggest asking to schedule a regular one on one meeting with your supervisor, once or twice a month. Bring a list of items and ask directly for feedback. Make sure you set ground rules that you agree to LISTEN and accept the feedback, even if you disagree with it. Perception is reality, understand their IMPRESSION cannot be wrong, but that you may be able to change their view with facts. Stop waiting for your supervisor to do something and be proactive.

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