Giving work performance feedback

Feedback considerations

Autistic employees may have greater sensitivity to feedback which can stem from having lower levels of self-esteem and a low sense of security. Feedback given in an inconsiderate manner can leave individuals feeling vulnerable, misunderstood and undervalued.   

Some managers/supervisors can feel uncomfortable giving developmental feedback and may not fully explain or provide specific examples of under performance.  This can be unhelpful.  

Some considerations if you do need to give performance feedback are:

  • Allow extra processing time to ensure they fully understand and process your feedback
  • Perfectionism: your employee may feel ‘hurt’ or upset that their work is being criticised as they take their work very seriously.
  • They may think they are not good enough
  • Fight or flight response: their brain is more wired to react to a perceived threat and so they may have the urge to leave work or have a negative response to the feedback
  • They may ruminate terribly on your feedback: dwelling on anything that they perceived as negative
  • They may catastrophise and think of the worst possible outcome: I am going to get fired!
  • They may immediately think of previous ‘bad’ work memories

The ability to self-reflect on one’s own experiences or internal processes is a common inherent difficulty for individuals on the autism spectrum. Work performance self-reflection and self-assessment can therefore be difficult for some people. Employers and managers need to be considerate of this when giving feedback.

Tactful and supportive feedback

Developmental feedback needs to be delivered in a tactful, considerate and to-the point way. Be concrete and specific about what the feedback is based on and why any change is needed and give other people’s viewpoints if that helps. If improvement is required, outline it in a clear and kind way, and focus on what the individual can do to improve and how you can support them.   

  • Avoid using analogies, euphemisms and other forms of non-literal language as these can be difficult to understand.
  • Avoid overcompensating. 
  • Don’t overwhelm the individual with too many areas of focus. Where there are several areas for improvement select the most critical to work on immediately and propose a progressive development plan over time.
  • Even if you are giving positive feedback give concrete examples of what the individual is doing well. Give assurance that you do not have an ulterior motive for giving the good feedback.
  • When providing developmental feedback avoid “leading into” “sugar coating” or “dancing around” the feedback. 

These strategies are often used to soften the delivery of the feedback and maintain the relationship with the individual; however, this can confuse the message. 

Some autistic employees like re-assurance and regularly seek feedback to ensure they are doing a good job.   It is common for autistic employees to seek reassurance and approval by other people.

Recent global research on autism employment programs found that more frequent feedback on performance is the most requested accommodation for autistic employees. However, it needs to be done effectively and consistently to be helpful. Feedback should be considerate, meaningful and specific.

If managers provide feedback effectively, the person who receives it is more likely to understand it and know what actions they need to take to improve their performance.  If feedback is given poorly, it can enhance the employee’s already low self-esteem and self-worth and make them feel inadequate.