Recognition on the Job: It’s Not Just a Generational Concern

It seems I’ve written a few posts recently on “Questions I’m frequently asked.”

Here’s one more: “Derek, what are the differences in how the various generations should be recognized?” Or sometimes it’s phrased a bit more bluntly: “Derek, don’t you see Gen Y demanding more recognition and that having a negative impact on recognition overall?

My usual answer is this really isn’t a generational issue, but a stage of life challenge.

The importance of feedback and coaching

For those of you not a Millennial, think back to your first “real” job. Didn’t you often seek out validation that what you were doing was the right thing to do or way to do it? Don’t we want our newest employees asking these questions? Shouldn’t we as managers and mentors be looking for opportunities to give Gen Y/Millennial employees frequent feedback to help ensure they are working up to potential?

This topic became top-of-mind for me again recently when I read the latest “Corner Office” column in The New York Times, featuring Ben Lerer, co-founder and CEO of the Thrillist Media Group. In the interview, Ben responded to a question asking if he thought about the culture he wanted to create in company by saying:

Not in any way aside from being affected by the way I felt very mistreated by a manager I had in a previous job. Part of the problem was that I was young and immature and I sort of walked in on Day 1 out of college and had this attitude of, ‘Give me the keys.’ But I ultimately didn’t like going to work because of the way I was treated, my work suffered, and I didn’t have confidence in what I was doing. And ultimately that led me to decide to leave.

I remember being regularly publicly humiliated. I’d send out an Excel spreadsheet that didn’t have first and last names broken out into separate fields, and he sent a ‘reply all’ to the entire company telling me how stupid I am and how bad I am at Excel. There were so many situations where I remember being just made to feel inferior and stupid, no matter how hard I worked. I was a kid out of college and I was not qualified to do some of the work I was being asked to do, but I did my best. And when my best wasn’t good enough, I was told I was very stupid, essentially.”

It’s not about a specific generation

Here’s a highly motivated employee whose desire to go above and beyond is destroyed through public shaming. How much more could this bright, entrepreneurial employee have given to this company if, instead, he’d been given public praise and private coaching and mentoring?

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My advice is to stop thinking about recognition in terms of generations in the workplace and start thinking about it strategically as a powerful form of feedback that can motivate and inspire when done right.

Do you think the need for recognition is generational?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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