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The Problem Isn’t Millennials All Got Trophies

Elana Centor

Start a conversation about the work attitudes of Millennials versus other generations and within three minutes someone is bound to say, “it’s because they all got trophies in Little League.“

The common belief is that Millennials need constant feedback in the workplace because of the “trophies-to-all” policies.

Interestingly, when the tables are turned and employees are asked about being recognized for their contributions at work, the majority says their employers miss the mark, failing to recognize and give positive feedback for their contributions.

Talk to managers and they simply shake their heads saying, “Why do I have to praise people for doing the job they’re getting paid to do?

What research has uncovered is that all adults want and need regular feedback. Baby Boomers and Gen-Yers want the feedback as much as Millennials. The difference is baby boomers and Gen-Yers have worked long enough that they appear to accept how feedback is doled out. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to provide it.

With nearly 40 years in the workplace, many Boomers only receive feedback once a year, during performance reviews. As a result, many Boomers have the attitude, “that’s just how it is.”

Gen-Yers send very mixed signals. On one hand, they seek independence at work and don’t like the idea of anyone looking over their shoulders. As a result, some managers may think that this Generation doesn’t seek out feedback. However, when asked, Gen-Yers say they want frequent feedback.

Millennials–those employees born between the years 1982-2000 have very different expectations. They are also new enough to the work place, so they are not as jaded by attitudes of “that’s just how it is.”

The Millennial attitude is more: “ It’s not about just getting positive feedback. It’s about knowing where I stand. I welcome negative feedback as much as positive. What is important to me is understanding if I’m doing a good job or if I need to make changes. Feedback lets me know exactly what the expectations are, and how I compare to my peers.”

So, why do the other generations find this need so annoying and difficult to execute?

In part, previous generations worked in an environment where no feedback probably meant everything was okay. It was a very real management strategy designed to increase productivity. The thinking was, “if I withhold positive feedback, the employees will work harder to win my praise.”

The late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers was notorious for following this strategy.

This difference in expectations creates a two-fold task for facilitators and trainers. First, when they have Millennials in any learning situation, they need to be aware of the type of feedback that the participant needs and adjust their own feedback style. It’s not enough to give positive feedback. Millennials want feedback that will help them succeed.

Secondly, it is important that trainers and facilitators help those from other generations learn how to give constructive feedback. It is a skill that many struggle with. To that end, Boomers and Gen-Yers might look to Millennials for advice – not only do they want feedback, they are very comfortable giving it.

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Elana Centor

Elana Centor

Since 2013, Elana Centor has partnered with TrainSmart in three key areas: training, business development, and writing. As a trainer, Elana often teaches TrainSmart’s flagship workshop: Train-the-Trainer. She also heads our Minneapolis office and as a writer provides support on everything from marketing and website content. A former journalist, Elana has previously served as a business editor at BlogHer and worked as a freelance writer for Chicago Tribune and Marketplace on NPR.