In terms of feedback, there’s a big difference between what millennials want and what you’ve been told they want.
Every corporate leader has heard the stigmas of the millennial generation: those hooligans grew up with social media for instant wide-spread validation, have Google allowing for immediate answers and information, and have an array of other resources at their fingertips to expect feedback and encouragement early and often.
Additionally, if you want to engage a millennial in the workplace, you’d better start by allowing flexibility and emphasizing work-life balance, right? And, of course, having been excessively coddled and receiving a trophy for each and every venture, the millennial generation is unable to understand true work ethic and just reward.
From a millennial perspective, which of these are founded, unwarranted, or influenced by outside factors?
- Myth 1: “Aren’t millennials renowned for craving feedback?” While a recent Gallup survey reveals millennials tend to desire consistent feedback more than their generational peers, there are several unaccounted-for factors that impact this gap. The millennial crowd, typically falling into the entry level or young professional arena, is frequently coming fresh out of school and thrust into a new and unfamiliar territory.
- Compared to the visible structure and direct feedback received in collegiate education, working in the industry rarely provides such a clearly delineated framework. Offering criticism is unequivocally essential to the early development of a professional career, so many millennials identify with insights from their employer as crucial growth targets. Without this feedback, younger professionals’ career development is at risk, so they will consequently crave a periodic dialogue about their performance.
- Myth 2: “But I give my employees, especially younger professionals, constant feedback. It’s in our culture.” Harrowingly few firms actually excel at implementing a system of consistent feedback because it’s harder, more time-consuming, and less measurable than a scheduled performance review. While feedback can be positive or negative in nature, it must always be high in utility to perpetuate a truly effective system. This gap in utility usually divorces a consistent feedback system from a useful feedback system.
- For example, “You did good work on that project,” while certainly well-received by the individual receiving the feedback, is not an effective performance assessment. Instead, try, “Your attention to client needs and immediate responsiveness helped adequately maintain expectations throughout the life of the project.” This provides specific, actionable, and focused feedback high in utility and positive in nature.
- According to Gallup, 19 percent of millennials feel like they receive routine feedback from their employer. Much less important than the consistency, though, is that the dialogue is even opened at all. While encouraging a culture of seamless communication and streamlined evaluation is ideal, it’s often far too unrealistic for typical teams. Instead, devote time to organized conversation between employees and teams to exchange high-utility feedback. Once a baseline trust is established, your culture of feedback will perpetuate itself.
- Myth 3: “But why won’t my supervisor give me the feedback I deserve? I ask all the time.” Despite millennials being more open and confident with their superiors than previous generations, a recent survey reveals that only 15 percent of millennials strongly agree that they routinely ask for feedback. While millennials are anxious to know what their leaders think of their performance, they expect the conversation to be started from management’s side. Don’t fall prey to putting the onus on your employees to understand their weaknesses – some will without your help, but some is not enough.
- Myth 4: “But I don’t have time to provide all my employees with feedback – I barely have enough time to do my work and make it home for dinner.” Quite simply, make time. Giving feedback doesn’t require two hours per week per employee, but it takes specific, intentional, and consistent effort.
- Weekly check-ins of 10 minutes are remarkably effective in eliciting comfort and respect from your employees. If you are bogged down by a continuous cycle of keeping all the balls in the air, your situation will only improve once you sufficiently support those around you to shuffle off the rework.
- Myth 5: “Millennials hop around jobs like rabbits. Why should I invest in a young professional who will likely leave me for another employer in one or two years?” This is possibly the strongest myth that has plagued the millennial generation; ironically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median tenure with employers has increased from 3.5 years in 1983 to 4.6 years in 2014 – a steady, marked increase with low deviation.
- With so much variability and lack of control around them, millennials are desperate for a clearly-defined career path that mimics the structure and experience of school. If they aren’t receiving the mentorship, feedback, and career enhancement at their current job, they’ll leave to find it elsewhere. By adequately investing in your young professionals, you endear them to your company and may find more loyalty than you expected.
Overall, many of these principles apply not just to millennials but to the majority of the workforce. While we’re all pressed for time, it is imperative to provide dedicated, intentional feedback to your employees and co-workers. Whether an entry-hire millennial or baby boomer CEO, don’t desensitize yourself to the integral value of feedback and fall victim to the societal myths surrounding it.
Mitchell Shope is a project engineer with JQ Engineering in Dallas, Texas. He holds a master’s degree in structural engineering from MIT. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.