Feedback at Work Across Generations

Feedback is imperative to growth, both personally and professionally. It is far more socially appropriate to ask for feedback at work now than it used to be, though how each generation prefers to supply and receive feedback can differ.

Every generation in the workplace has distinctive identifying characteristics. For example, “traditionalists” are seen as rigid, silent performers, while “millennials” are commonly viewed as flaky yet technologically savvy. These perceptions cloud judgment and lead to communication problems — interfering with the ability to accept and provide meaningful developmental feedback at work.

Here are some suggestions for giving feedback for each of these generations:

Generation Y/"Millennials" (born between 1981 - 2000)

Relationship with Feedback

Millennials grew up during the age of online product reviews and social platforms, they’re not only intensely familiar with the concept of feedback, they expect it. It’s what they know, and they’re uncomfortable without it. In fact, more and more, we here at Rhabit are hearing that milliennials crave feedback. Millennials are also comfortable with giving feedback – though it’s important they be educated in how to give it in a structured, effective way.

How to Give Feedback 

For employees in this generation, constructive feedback should be posed as growth opportunities, as millennials tend to dislike feeling criticized or confronted. Do your best to provide frequent, individualized feedback and redirection to your employees of this generation as often as needed – otherwise, these teammates may either believe their performance is undervalued, or continue executing tasks in error due to lack of awareness and correction.

Generation X (born between 1965 - 1980)

Relationship with Feedback

Gen Xers grew up watching their Boomer parents work hard and, often, burn out. As children, they spent a lot of time alone, and as a result became very independent and entrepreneurial-minded. Teammates from this generation appreciate the ability to work and manage their professional growth independently, and value relationships with mentors who can help them build their personal brands.

How to Give Feedback 

This generation’s growth mindset and entrepreneurial spirit means these teammates value understanding how their independent contributions support larger company goals. They also crave independent learning opportunities; if they can’t find any within their current organization, they will look elsewhere. This generation was also the first to begin asking for feedback. When giving feedback to this group, focus on empowering them with new ways to learn the skills that will help them expand the impact of their individual work.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 - 1964)

Relationship with Feedback

These teammates did not come of age in an era of prolific feedback, and take more of a ‘no news is good news’ approach to feedback. Thus, a structured approach to feedback – vs. event-centric feedback cycles – is helpful to ease a frictive response to feedback and ensure these teammates don’t feel singled out or mistake the sit-down for a lecture. 

How to Give Feedback 

Employees in this generation are passionate about making their mark on an organization. Big goals, heightened responsibility, and opportunities to share their expertise are markers of appreciation for this group, so center your feedback around how they can tweak their behaviors to achieve those goals. Additionally, one way to ease them into frequent feedback is to provide it in a group setting; in this way, they won’t mistake the feedback session as having been derived by some misdoing on their part, and can have an opportunity to share their knowledge on a broader stage.

In conclusion, while there are differences in how we should engage each generation with feedback, many processes work universally. Sure, there are personal preferences, but feedback is ultimately a valuable tool for teammates in every generation.

To close the gap, take a look at behaviors first so your employees can derive meaning from expanding their skills, strive to improve their performance, and master new domains.

Feedback is the bedrock of high-performance organizations and outstanding workplace cultures. Want to learn more about how feedback shapes your company and best practices?

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With data-driven love,
The Team at Rhabit