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The myth about millennials and feedback: They want it — even more than you think (Tammy Tierney, Biz

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

With nearly 2 million millennials receiving their college diplomas in the coming weeks, there’s a strong likelihood that more than a few of them will wind up in your workplace.

And if you want them to stick around, you’d better keep the lines of communication open.

You needn’t limit yourself to attaboys, though. Your newest employees are eager to learn how they can improve and advance.

“You hear stereotypes about millennials just wanting a pat on the back, but that’s not true,” says Anna Carroll, author of “The Feedback Imperative.”

Rather, she writes, younger workers are “ambitious and feedback hungry.” As digital natives, they have grown up with instant access to information and expect it on the clock, as well as off.

“It is not surprising that the employees most accustomed to unvarnished opinions, unverified ‘news’ from a thousand sources and emotionally ‘naked’ personal revelations on the Internet want the same instantaneous access to unpolished, raw data — feedback — from their manager. And they want it right now.”

A recent survey by San Francisco-based 15Five showed that while 81 percent of employees want open communication more than “great perks such as top health plans, free food and gym memberships” just 15 percent believe their companies are doing a good job of providing it.

A big part of the problem, respondents said, is a generational communication gap. Forty percent of millennials surveyed described older colleagues as more guarded and less open. Nearly the same number of baby boomers acknowledged that millennials are more honest but believe they are “sometimes too brash or opinionated.”

Most managers rely on an annual performance review to deliver constructive feedback. But that once-a-year sit-down can leave employees surprised and furious, Carroll says, and wondering “Why didn’t you mention this earlier?”

She recommends managers give feedback at least once a week: “That’s 52 times you’re going to get feedback before your performance review, which gives lots of opportunities to make corrections.” While weekly may sound burdensome, Carroll points out that “important feedback can take less than one minute.” In fact, she says, the more accustomed managers become to giving regular feedback, the faster, more free-flowing and effective those conversations become. “It develops trust if people know you’re being totally honest all the time,” she said. “It can be a very powerful experience. People feel validated, seen and cared for.”

Regular communication with employees can help managers tap into their talents and aspirations and slot them in the right projects and positions. However, more than 60 percent of the employees surveyed by 15Five said they discuss professional goals with managers just a few times a year or less. Millennials, especially, “feel unheard,” the survey found: Nearly 30 percent said their mangers were “too busy to listen” or “don’t ask us to share these things.”

With those numbers, it’s not surprising that engagement lags among millennials.

In Gallup’s most recent survey of employee engagement— defined as enthusiasm and commitment to work — millennials had the lowest numbers, with just 28.9 percent. Survey data showed millennials were “less likely than other generations to say they have the opportunity to do what they do best at work.”

When delivering feedback, managers should always remember to emphasize the wins as well as the near misses and to ask for input on their own performance, Carroll says.

“Say thank you for giving me feedback and start acting on their feedback,” she says. “Even if it’s ‘let’s paint the break room purple,’ say ‘I’m glad you spoke up.’ If you argue, no one is going to speak up again.”

Implement the suggestions you can right away and provide explanations for those you can’t tackle. The outcome, Carroll says, is that “more people say more and are more respectful of you. They’re happier to receive your feedback.”

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