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The Savvy Office Manager

In defense of millennials: Yes, we hand out trophies!

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Cal Butera

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in The Savvy Office Manager

These are for the 9 o'clock starts only

Conventional thinking says that millennial workers need a steady flow of congratulatory reinforcement in the course of their workdays in order to keep them engaged. It’s as vital to them as air, food, water and Spotify.

Failure to give them those well-placed, well-timed pats on the back (sincerity is not necessary) will result in them feeling undervalued and hunting down another job where the appreciation is more robust.

After all, these are the folks who received a trophy for just participating or just showing up, and heard the encouraging cries of “Good job!” for displaying a basic motor skill—like kicking a soccer ball in the general direction it’s supposed to go. Intention trumped effort, and effort trumped results. Criticism damaged self-worth and was better left unsaid.

Perhaps you’re lulled into thinking that you, the manager, in loco parentis, need to step up and deliver the accolades and the unconditional hugs to your millennials. Not so fast.

Two reasons why you need to rethink this age group: (1) It’s demeaning to reduce them to Hogwarts graduates who can’t distinguish between success and failure, good work and shoddy work, Sesame Street and Wall Street. (2) Because many of them got their first trophy before they acquired the ability to remember anything, the awards that came early and often mean little to the millennial. Boxes of plastic trophies, wrinkled ribbons, framed certificates and plaques not worth hanging up carry marginal significance. They really don’t crave more of this.

Here are the three trophies millennials do need:

  1. In-house opportunities. Millennials do have a sense of professional development and desire for work that puts them on a career trajectory. Salary aside, millennials’ desire for opportunities to progress and to be leaders runs second only to work/life balance in degree of importance, according the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016. Show them the ways and what it takes to rise up. But unlike the pats on the back, these need to be sincere.
  2. A fair shake. Millennials know when you’re patronizing them. They also know when they’re not treated fairly, too. They want the same feedback you give to the more seasoned workers, and probably understand more than you give them credit for that output and results should be the driver of compensation, more than tenure or face time. That being said, they will produce, but don’t want to be shortchanged in the process.
  3. Recognition, when it’s warranted. Management often erroneously believes that many millennials enter the workforce with a sense of entitlement and the need for instant status updates on how the boss feels about them. But take a look at your staff and you’ll find that the sense of entitlement seems to be pretty strong among the workers who’ve been there the longest. And those who need twice-daily affirmations are just insecure people of all ages. Millennials, like all workers, know when they’ve done well and their efforts are making a difference. This is what needs to be recognized, whether it’s formal or spontaneous.

Bosses should remember that non-recognition, when it’s warranted, is a turnoff at any age.

 

Cal Butera is the editor of Business Management Daily’s Office Manager Today, Manager’s Legal Bulletin, Managing People at Work and Communication Briefings newsletters. He has been with Business Management Daily since 2007 and worked 22 years for midsize daily newspapers as sports writer, news reporter, layout and design editor, copy editor and city editor.

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