Gen Y At Work: Feedback Changes Everything

It’s often said that “Millennials” (aka Gen Y — those born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s) are entering the workforce with extraordinarily high hopes for a rocket-like career progression. Even if you don’t yet work side-by-side with Gen Y colleagues, you’ve likely heard that is a common characteristic.

What’s the reason for such high expectations? Some trend-spotters say it’s the result of constant positive reinforcement that Millennials have received at home and school, even when they’ve failed. In the workplace, this translates into an expectation that every action should be rewarded — or at the very least, it merits a comment.

However, today’s work environment is also a factor. Gen Y is joining the job market at a time when global economies have been shrinking and stagnating for years. The prospect of landing a well-paid, high-flying job is increasingly slim. And banks are increasingly reluctant to issue credit for mortgages and other big-ticket purchases. So some might argue that Millennials must aim high in their careers just to reach the standard of living they’ve grown up with. To do that, they seek constant feedback and rewards for their work.

Knowing that these motivations may be driving younger members of your organization, how can you help them grow and develop? Consider three ideas:

1) Help Gen Y Establish And Achieve Goals — Or Else

More than any other generation, Gen Y is driven by progress and achievement. This is the “trophy generation,” the first to grow up receiving awards, simply for participation. Workers in this generation need to know exactly what is required of them. And they need to know if their work is on-track. Otherwise, if they under-perform and lose their jobs, new opportunities aren’t easy to find. The lack of available jobs partly explains why there’s an unprecedented rise in the “entrepreneurial spirit” among Millennials — although another factor is the confidence instilled into them at home and at school, as they’ve grown up.

How should employers handle this? Set concrete goals and benchmarks. Create career plans that show employees where they’re headed, and the key milestones along the way. To stay engaged and willing to give their best, Gen Y workers need to have big goals explained. In fact, wouldn’t we all benefit from that practice?

2) Recognize That Gen Y Wants “Instant” Everything

Gen Y is the “text message” generation. Communication is instantaneous. Because they’re always connected, they often don’t understand why managers don’t offer immediate feedback. However, that doesn’t mean they need constant ego-stroking. It means they desire immediate recognition for effort/performance, and likewise, they want immediate feedback if they’re falling behind. How should you respond?

First: Step up the pace of feedback cycles. Annual and quarterly reviews have been the norm at work, but this practice isn’t particularly effective, and it’s quickly becoming outdated. Gen Y workers certainly value timely praise for a job well done, and regular feedback makes that possible. But regular reviews also provide an opportunity to correct mistakes, while developing skills and knowledge on a more continuous basis. More frequent monitoring and feedback helps avoid or redirect missteps, ensuring that performance quality remains high.

Second: Encourage formal or informal mentoring relationships — not just for Gen Y, but for any workers who want to participate. Mentoring can augment traditional performance review processes, or replace them altogether.

Many of us know that formal reviews can be extremely stressful and ineffective. Sometimes, it can even cause antagonism between employees and their bosses. Mentoring can remove much of the pressure associated with formal reviews. And it needn’t take up hours of a manager’s day. Small, frequent, focused interactions can ensure that valuable feedback is absorbed in digestible “bite-sized” nuggets. Sharing ongoing advice and guidance promotes a stronger level of trust between managers and their employees, and helps managers understand more directly with what’s happening among their teams.

3) Embrace The “Good Guy” In Gen Y

Millennials tend to focus on the greater good. They’re more community-minded than their Gen X counterparts, and they want to know how their efforts contribute to a larger mission. They’re accustomed to volunteering, and expect employers to treat everyone fairly. If they can’t work for a purpose, they’ll typically find somewhere else to work.

Socially responsible companies can benefit from a workforce that is inspired to stay when they can chip-in and support the cause. How? It’s wise to connect the dots between employee contributions and your organization’s broader mission. Millennials may become disenchanted about their ability to change the world when they enter the workforce, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re disengaged. If employers align the mission and values of their organization with those of employees, they can help fulfill Gen Y’s desire to contribute to the greater good.

Gen Y: Driving A Healthy Business Evolution

To attract, develop and retain a productive workforce, employers must adapt to new generations as they enter the business scene. Gen Y brings new expectations that challenge the status quo. But addressing those challenges can strengthen workforce performance — for Gen Y, as well as everyone else in an organization.

It’s not about the pursuit of unjustified praise, meaningless prizes and undeserved titles. It’s about a clear purpose, continuous learning and professional fulfillment. With changes like this, the future of business looks bright, indeed.

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome. Learn more...)

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