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Can Millennials Handle Criticism?


You sit down to review a new employee using the customary forms, processes, and procedures. Only this time you are reviewing a Millennial for the first time. You get to the section where you comment on “room for improvement”—or in HR speak “an area of opportunity”—and you share with the Millennial where s/he is not performing up to par. You expect to move on to the next section only to discover that the Millennial is shell shocked with the bad (or in your opinion constructive) news. In fact, there are tears!

Reports are in from managers nationwide that Millennials are not ready, and in many cases not able, to hear about their shortcomings. Unfortunately, reactions are right there with accusations such as referring to Millennials as “babies,” dismissing them as not being coachable, assuming they are weak… and the name calling goes on and on.

So much for what’s happening around the conference table, but to get to the bottom of it, we need to look at what has taken place around the dinner table. Mom and Dad have praised Millennials for everything from getting the A+ in spelling to eating all of their vegetables. This generation has grown up in a world where you get stickers for practicing piano, a hefty allowance for something as easy as carrying groceries, and as much recognition for 10th as for 1st place. After all, it really never mattered if you won or lost, as long as you tried your best.

In a nutshell, Millennials have not been given a lot of bad news about their performance on anything. Should we really be surprised that when it happens for the first time they are caught off guard? Or more surprised when we realize that the first time they hear something negative about their performance, it’s at work?

The irony is that many of the managers who are frustrated by Millennial colleagues are the very same individuals who have raised them at home. The good news is that since parents have spent so much time coaching their Millennial children, we now have a generation that is open to being mentored. The challenge is we may have to ease into some of the more difficult messages.

From generational collisions in the past, we have learned that what we must not do is dismiss a generation or write them off because they are different. At the same time, what is a manager to do when he or she needs to deliver constructive feedback to a Millennial but doesn't have the time to set up a support group or call in Dr. Phil?

One idea is to have Millennial employees, especially those being reviewed for the first time, do a self-evaluation before their performance review. This allows managers to scope out whether or not they are on the same page as their Millennial(s) and determine where they might be caught off guard. Then before doing the formal review, give their employee a "heads up" so s/he can think things over, prepare themselves somewhat, and not be so surprised by a criticism that they can't focus on the rest of the review.

What ideas do you have for delivering honest, constructive feedback to Millennial employees?


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