Don’t Be So
The Secrets for Giving Feedback to Millennials
By Dr. Joanne
G. Sujansky, CSP and Jan Ferri-Reed, Ph.D.
Brian Castro’s help
desk department serves more than 1,000 computer users at his
company’s corporate center. Among the 23 employees in his
multi-generational staff are several Millennials (born 1980-1999)
who he hired last year, fresh out of college.
Like the rest of Brian’s help desk staff, his Millennials are
excellent at solving difficult computer problems, usually under a
critical deadline. Overall Brian, a Baby Boomer, is pleased with his
new hires and tells them just how much he values them.
That’s why Brian was shocked when his most promising
Millennial showed up at his office Monday morning and announced that
Friday would be his last day. The young employee was leaving for a
new job “where he would be truly appreciated.” Brian was speechless.
How had he gone wrong?
The Challenge of
Actually, Brian may be an above-average manager whose confidence in his
staff is deeply appreciated by most of his employees. But his style
of coaching and giving feedback may be better suited to his more
tenured employees, rather than his Millennials. Both the WWII
generation and their offspring, the Baby Boomers, were raised on the
mantra of “just get the job done.” Although feedback is important
to them, they may not demand high doses of it like the Millennials.
For Millennials, on the other hand, constant feedback is an
almost critical ingredient in performance and job
satisfaction. It sometimes seems as if this younger generation has
an insatiable appetite for praise. And if they don’t receive the
recognition they feel they deserve, they may be more likely to bail
out of their jobs for greener pastures. Why the craving for feedback
The children of Baby Boomers, the Millennial Generation
(sometimes also called Generation Y) have been raised in an
atmosphere of high expectations, plenty of feedback and heaps of
praise. They have received feedback on class assignments at each
stage of development and are used to getting support throughout the
completion of tasks and projects. Many observers consider them to
be spoiled and unrealistic in their job expectations. They complain
that Millennials show up late, leave early, refuse overtime, and
expect to be promoted without “paying their dues.”
However we can’t escape the fact that Millennials are going
to transform the workplace over the next five years. By 2014 there
will be more than 58 million Millennials employed in various
organizations in the U.S. alone! Employers must begin
adapting to the challenge of managing Millennials or risk high
employee turnover and decreased productivity.
Brian’s problem with his disgruntled Millennial employee is rooted
in miscommunication. Brian thought he was conveying a sense
of appreciation to the young man by providing him with lots of
corrective feedback to get him on the right track. Instead of
feeling appreciated, however, the few short accolades of “good job”
were overshadowed in the employee’s mind by the more frequent
criticisms he received – without guidance as to exactly how he
So what’s a manager to do? Coddle his or her employees?
Hardly! Managers must give feedback to their employees
(it’s central to the job description) but feedback won’t work if it
doesn’t penetrate the layers of expectation and sensitivity
surrounding most Millennials.
The secret is to structure your feedback – whether positive
or negative – in a framework that leaves no room for
misunderstanding. Feedback has to be clear and specific to be
effective. And by the way, this is true for all employees, no matter
what age! So, to make sure your feedback hits the mark, employ
– Find opportunities to provide both
feedback and positive feedback. Let the employee know that he or
she is a valued member of the team who can make even greater
contributions by changing some behaviors.
the Problem Specifically
– Don’t just label the employee’s behavior “unacceptable.”
Explain the nature of the problem in detail and how it affects
the organization. Build on the employee’s strengths by
explaining what aspects of the job he or she is doing well and
how improving the specific area of performance will benefit him
or her and the organization
the Employee in the Solution
– Instead of
dictating, "Here's what you need to do to change," ask the
employee for ideas about what he or she can do differently. Be
ready to provide specific examples of how the employee can be
even more successful.
a Follow-up Expectation
– Ask the employee to commit to behaviors that need to change
and set a due date for review. Stick to that follow-up schedule
and make sure you acknowledge changes and improvements.
And also try to
give plenty of on-the-spot feedback as the employee is progressing.
Don’t make the mistake of confining your praise to formal meetings.
Catch your employee “doing something right” and let him or her know
on the spot that you noticed. Give a pat on the back when it’s
Millennials are far
more accustomed to receiving praise, congratulations and positive
reinforcement as opposed to criticism and negative feedback.
Corrective feedback can seem like an attack to many Millennials. It
may actually raise their defenses, thus causing them to “tune out”
and miss valuable guidance. To provide solid feedback you have to
“crack the Millennials’ code,” giving feedback that acknowledges
areas for improvement while building on their strengths.
Managers too often
give feedback in vague generalities that come across as threatening,
frequently saying things like: “Your behavior is not acceptable.
You need to stop (the problem behavior) now because you are causing
problems for others. If you don’t change there will be consequences.
Correct it and we’ll talk about this again at a later time.”
resonate with employees, particularly Millennials, because they
would rather hear something more positive (and unrealistic), such
as: “You’ve been doing a terrific job and I’m very happy with the
results. Regarding (the problem) I know you had the best of
intentions and that it really wasn’t your fault. I know that you
know best what needs to change and that you will follow through. I
trust you to do the right thing and make these changes as soon as
While more positive
in tone, this approach is just as general and as unlikely to yield
results as the first example. Instead, following the model above,
you need to say: “I’m very happy with many of the things that
you’ve been doing, such as (give examples). However, if you improve
(the problem behavior) it will be good for you and for the
organization. I understand what you intended, but if you make these
changes you’ll be more successful. However, if you don’t make the
changes there will be consequences (give examples). What are you
willing to commit to? Let’s agree to review progress on the changes
that you committed to make by (set a date).
Millennials may be challenging. But when you take the time to
consider reframing your communication, you’ll find that your
Generation Y employees will respond with enthusiasm and commitment.
You may even be surprised at how well this applies to all
generations of employees!
Read other articles and learn more about
Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky, CSP
and Jan Ferri-Reed.
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