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Millennial View: Finding a Friend in Feedback

We’ve all heard it—Millennials thirst for constant feedback. We’re narcissists who need continual reaffirmation that we’re doing a good job at work. Managers dread hiring Millennial employees due to the amount of attention they require to motivate. There’s a lot of negativity around this topic, but there’s more to Millennials and feedback than just the buzz.

More than just attention sponges

While Millennials do enjoy praise (doesn’t everybody?), it's about more than just wanting compliments. Millennials are young. U.S. Labor statistics indicate that more than 17 million Millennials between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four currently hold jobs in the United States—fresh out of school and new to the workforce. We are used to the academic cycle of taking courses and receiving feedback in the form of grades, but not accustomed to the workplace reality of submitting projects without getting red marks in return. At least at the beginning of our careers, more feedback can help us make a smooth transition from classroom to office.

Delivering feedback to employees

Speaking of school, it cost us a lot. “The next time you have a hunch about why Millennials are the way they are, ask yourself if economic insecurity might be a better hypothesis,” says Samantha Allen. She’s right. The Millennial generation is defined by the heavy student debt we carry with us. Without receiving feedback from our managers, we have no way of knowing how we’re doing or if our jobs are stable. The truth is, we aren’t hounding our managers for feedback because we want a pat on the back. We want someone to tell us that we’re doing something wrong so we can do it right (to keep our jobs to pay our rent).

Make feedback a friend

Other generations may not see feedback the same way Millennials do, but maybe that’s because it has never been portrayed in the right light. Did you watch the Olympics? Just like the tips coach Aimee Boorman gave the United States women’s gymnastics team in between floor routines, giving your Millennial colleagues feedback will make your team stronger. Especially if you encourage them to make changes based on that feedback. Better employees make stronger teams, and strong teams make more successful companies. Stronger teams win more gold medals. (Yes, we did!)

Think of it like this: when you give feedback to your employees you are intentionally promoting a positive change for your organization. You become a partner in creating a better work environment. You are not just doling out seemingly needless praise. Doesn’t that sound a little bit better?

Not every day, but often

While quarterly or annual reviews are excellent times to discuss holistic performance, these infrequent check-ins are not enough to promote a culture of learning and improvement. A TriNet survey about Millennials in the workplace found that 62 percent of Millennials feel “blindsided” by annual performance reviews. And who’s to blame them?

Giving frequent feedback, as opposed to yearly, allows employees to tweak their practices as they go and improve their weaker areas. Moreover, the majority of Millennial employees claim that they feel “in the dark” about how their managers perceive their performance day-to-day, but that more frequent conversations with their employers would make them feel more confident in their positions. Not only does constant feedback lead to more confidence and better performance reviews for employees, but also a higher quality end product for managers. That’s what we’re here for, right?

How to give feedback, to anyone from anyone

Getting comfortable with giving feedback is no easy task. It’s a delicate, but necessary art. Use these points to guide your conversations:

1. Frame the space. When giving feedback, it is important for your employee to know what’s coming. Set an agenda for your meetings so all parties know where the conversation is headed. This mentally prepares your teammate, and reduces uncertainty about the nature of the meeting.

Try something like, “Today I’m going to be looking at workflow efficiency, and provide some feedback on what I see.

2. How you say it matters. Be direct, but kind. Put yourself in someone else's shoes and think about how you would like to receive news—be empathetic. Be aware of your tone when you are speaking. Criticism can be delivered in a nurturing or caring tone—it will be taken better that way. If others can tell you care, they will make more of an effort to make improvements.

3. Give it straight.  If you’re taking time out of your day to give feedback, make sure it is effective and specific. If you want improvements in a particular area, say so. Being too general can lead to a misfire when your employee goes back to make a change. Along the same lines, be specific when you are pointing out something positive. This will show your subordinates that even their smallest achievements are not going unnoticed.

Instead of, “You do good work,”  try, “I like the way you value your customers’ time. You empathize with them and apologize for delays.

4. Teach something. Challenge your Millennial co-workers to be better employees, and people. Point out specific areas for improvement or exploration. Perform subsequent observations to give feedback on whether improvement occurred. Millennials don’t know everything there is to know, unless you show them.

5. Give praise, when deserved. Show your employees how their efforts contribute to the bottom line. Millennials want meaningful careers, and letting us know that we are making a difference will help motivate us. If you show your employees how their efforts are appreciated, they will appreciate you, and the organization, in return.

We can all use a little 

More than anything, feedback should be a conversation between colleagues, regardless of age or generation. Maybe Millennials do need a little more, but we also have a lot to give. While managers are expected to be the ones giving feedback, they may have something to learn from their Millennial subordinates. There’s always room for improvement. Whether you want to be a better boss or a better employee, feedback is an essential ingredient in success. Give a little, take a little; get a lot in return.

This article was originally published on Relate by Zendesk. Relate’s ‘Millennial view’ series is not just for Millennials. Everyone can gain insight on these important workplace issues. Topics such as Moving up, while dressing down and When giving two week's notice is complicated impact us all, regardless of generation.