Managing Millennials Q&A: Why Do Millennial Employees Want Constant Feedback?

Note to readers: This is the third post in my new series based on questions I frequently hear about managing millennials — those ongoing management challenges that can really make or break workplace relationships.

Each month I’ll tackle a question and provide some advice for managers and millennials (and millennial managers!). I hope the advice I share is helpful for all generations.

Have a question you’ve been dying to ask? Send me an email and I will try to cover it in a future edition!

This month’s millennial management question: Why do millennial employees seem to want constant feedback at work…and usually only positive feedback?

“More, more, more…How do you like it? How do you like it?”

If you’re a manager, chances are that ‘70s song represents exactly the way some of your millennial employees seem to feel about feedback. They want more. And they seem to want it all to be positive.

I know because it’s a common lament among managers I speak to — that young professionals want endless feedback, constant feedback, continuous feedback. Even the most well-intentioned manager can feel overwhelmed.

The Why: Early Career Employees Crave Feedback (and You Probably Do, Too)

You’re not wrong: Millennials do want a lot of feedback. In fact, many companies are doing away with the process of the ”annual review,” because it is no longer helpful to a generation who doesn’t want all that guidance saved up for a once-a-year meeting. In fact, almost half of millennials would prefer weekly conversations.

As you know, I am strongly against any shaming of millennials, so let’s look at three valid reasons their desire for feedback at work is so strong.

  • Culture: Many (but, of course, not all) members of the millennial generation grew up with a lot more adult support than previous generations. And it wasn’t just from parents and teachers. Millennials have had coaches, college academic advisors, career advisors, tutors and other supportive adults to provide guidance almost 24/7. So it’s no surprise they would expect this to continue in their workplace.
  • Technology: Millennials are digital natives, and they’re used to pressing a button for instant results. They post pictures on Instagram for immediate likes. They play video games for that rush of leveling up. “Video games provide instant feedback, allowing us to learn from our experience and improve our performance,” says Ron Friedman, a psychologist and author of “The Best Place to Work.” That could be why more than half of millennials play video games at least three times a week. This instant gratification experience can translate, often subconsciously, into workplace expectations.
  • School: And finally, this generation — like all others — has entered the workforce following a lifetime of school, where they received constant feedback in the form of grades. Chances are good you remember that rude awakening where you went from getting an A on your paper to having your supervisor accept your report with nary a word. It can feel like a slap in the face, if you think about it, especially for high performers who are used to doing A-caliber work and measuring their worth by that GPA.

The How: You Can Fit Feedback into Your Day

When we look at the reasons millennials crave feedback, their attitude about work makes more sense, right? And yet, I completely empathize that it’s tough to add another task to a manager’s packed schedule. The good news is that giving feedback can only take one minute. Literally.

Since the 1980s, managers around the world have been using the principles in The One Minute Manager, and in 2015, the authors released an updated version, The New One Minute Manager. When I was writing my book, Becoming the Boss, I surveyed managers and asked what management book they found most valuable. “The One Minute Manager” was the hands-down favorite. Its two main principles have stood the test of time:

  • Keep it short. You don’t need an hour-long meeting or a page of notes. This business classic extols the benefits of giving one-minute praises and one-minute corrections. Feedback. Done.
  • Make it specific. Parents are told to praise the colors in a drawing rather than giving a vague “Great job.” That holds true for managers. Don’t say “Great presentation” as you leave the meeting. What was great? Did they connect with the audience? Did they smoothly handle tough questions? Let them know exactly what they did that was spot-on.

When the “Other” Minute Backfires

So, chances are good they’re loving the “praise” minute. The “correction” minute? Maybe not so much. As managers, we need to ask ourselves a tough question: Are millennials (and other employees) not good at accepting negative feedback (a.k.a. constructive criticism), or are we not very good at giving it?

Here are three questions to ask yourself about why your guidance may not be received as you had intended.

  • Do they know how to handle it? Back to these high-performers who are used to shiny As and pats on the back. Maybe we need to teach them how to accept criticism. Almost a decade ago, Harvard University recognized that students were crumbling under rejection, and its Office of Career Services began hosting a seminar on building resilience. Sometimes it can take practice to respond positively to negative feedback, but it’s a teachable skill.
  • Are you good at it? We’re so used to sending emails that sometimes we’ve lost that muscle for walking into someone’s office and giving them constructive criticism face-to-face. Maybe you pad it so they don’t really get it, or lose your temper and yell, which makes them tune you out. If you think you might need a tune-up, I highly recommend the book Crucial Conversations.
  • Are you explaining why? Finally, make sure they realize why your pointers are important. “I want you to get better and earn that promotion.” “The client is frustrated and we might lose the business.” The “why” is what makes it all make sense and motivates an employee to really want to change.

How do you carve out time to give frequent feedback? Do you find it helps your employees perform better? Let us know in the comments what your experience has been.

Time to Show Shaming Millennials: Watch the TEDx Video

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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