Millennials and Employee RecognitionEavesdrop on conversations among HR managers discussing employee recognition lately, and the topic of Millennials is bound to come up again and again. Millennials, aka Gen Y, dominate the conversation on recognition and appreciation in the workplace. Why? Because they demand it. Call them entitled, call them savvy, call them what you will — but the reality is the generation born after about 1980 is asking for new practices in employee recognition, and it’s time to listen. Your business depends on it!
“Managers accustomed to using certain practices to engage Boomers are going to have to change their ways — and practices — if they hope to engage and retain the newest heavily scrutinized employee cohort, the Millennials,” according to Jay Gilbert of the Ivey Business Journal.
First, before we get started, a disclaimer: keep in mind the following suggestions are good rules of thumb based on the latest business research, not ironclad laws that will fit every situation. It can be a little dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about a generation. After all, not a single person fits the stereotype perfectly. As a cohort, however, like every generation before them, Millennials tend to share certain attitudes, experiences and expectations.
Wonder how much you fit the Millennial “type”? Take this Pew Research study, “How Millennial Are You?”
By 2020, Millennials are expected to make up 46 percent of the American workforce, according to an evaluation of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in a white paper by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, “Maximizing Millennials in the Workplace.” (This figure is based on the people born between 1976 and 2001 who have already joined or are preparing to join the workforce.)
To really understand why this generational shift is affecting employee recognition, let’s break it down to the Whats and Whys.
What Millennials Expect: A Collaborative Environment
This is a generation that wants to give input, not simply follow orders. Asking for and recognizing their insights and creative skills makes them feel appreciated. It’s also an opportunity to kickstart positive change and growth in your company. As Kanaka Sathasivan, a 28-year-old Communications Coordinator, told the You Earned It Blog, “I understand that I won’t always be able to do fun or creative things, but I like have the occasional opportunity to flex those muscles.”
Why Millennials Expect This: Children of the ’80s and ’90s, unlike the “latchkey” kids of the ’70s, received intensive parenting. They’re considered the “most parented generation in history,” according to a How Stuff Works article defining and explaining Gen Y. They were raised by parents and teachers who expected them to voice their opinions, explain their feelings and be creative.
What Millennials Expect: Instantaneous Feedback
This is the big one. “Long gone are the days of annual employee evaluations, quarterly bonuses, employee-of-the-month awards or a round of applause at the biweekly sales team meeting,” according to an article on LVB.com (Lehigh Valley Business). Consistent, clear, quick feedback will go over well with Millennials. Instead of waiting until an annual review to go over an employee’s work performance, consider ways to give them feedback on the go, as you go. Everyone appreciates hearing “Thank You” or a constructive suggestion for improvement, and it can have an even greater impact when an employee hears it right now, not four months from now.
Why Millennials Expect This: Millennials came of age in the Internet and smartphone era, and they’re accustomed to lightening-paced communication. They expect to interact with friends — as well as businesses — on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Business communication on social media is jarring to many older folks because it feels so informal, but to Millennials it’s convenient and engaging.
What Millennials Expect: Shareable, Public Recognition
Sharing a Millennial employee’s achievements and successes only via the company newsletter or a staff pizza party will come off as stodgy and old-fashioned. Lehigh Valley Business suggests posting individual employee or group achievements to the company website, the organization’s Facebook profile or their supervisor’s LinkedIn profile: “It gives Millennials something they can brag about in a media that their friends and family can access.” It’s also a way to promote your business online and to their peers, Lehigh Valley Business adds: “As an ancillary benefit, it can drive potential new hires or customers to those sites as well.”
Why Millennials Expect This: Millennials are already used to sharing their personal achievements, major and minor, on Facebook, Instagram and other sites. They received a lot of public recognition for their achievements growing up, and now they’re expecting the same as adults.  If this entitlement makes you grumble, consider that this generation is also known for their positive outlook, optimism and self-confidence, despite growing up in economically tough times. (Harvard Business Review has a good post on the surprise positive aspects — and thorough debunking — of certain Millennial stereotypes: “You’re Probably Wrong About Millennials.”)
Interested in reading more about Millennials in the workplace? Here are a few related gThankYou! blog posts:
Learn from Millennials About Employee Motivation
How to Approach Employee Recognition with Millennials
Engaging Employees with Collaboration, the Millennial Way

Employee Recognition

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