Want to Retain Good, Young HR Pros? You Better Recognize Them!

Recognition is essential for HR professionals -- especially younger ones. (Photo by istockphoto.com)

You’ve heard it before. Gen Y is the trophy generation (this mythical belief that every kid got a trophy). They’re entitled and spoiled and their parents helped fuel that belief that they deserved everything.

I’ve been in rooms full of HR professionals (many of them twice my age) looking horrifyingly at me as a speaker is trying to explain how to talk to and work with Gen Y employees like we’re some sort of space alien. If someone felt the need to praise every thing I did and “act as a coach, rather than a manager,” I’d likely go ballistic. I’m an adult. Set some expectations, assist as needed, and we can get some work done.

Once in a while though, a little recognition is okay.

Fistful of Talent’s Tim Sackett wrote about young professionals getting (allegedly) undeserved rewards. He says:

So, look, I get it – the middle aged white guy is all uptight because he didn’t get his soccer trophy for taking 8th place in the eight team league. But, what I don’t get is our compulsive obsession in trying to figure out who’s going to be the next greatest whatever. I truly don’t care to go down to the next Chamber meeting and hand out trophies to the twenty-somethings and listen to their “acceptance” speeches on how with three years of experience in the rough and tumble world they’re ready to take over for Gramps here – when they don’t have the first clue on how to take over – except for the fact that they are pretty sure there must be an App for that.

HR vets get lots of recognition already

That’s a fair point. People always want to figure out what’s coming up next rather than appreciate what they already have. I’ve got cases of wine around my house (my wife works in the wine industry), yet we still routinely buy wines when we’re out. Why? Because we want to see what else is out there.

But veteran HR professionals get a ton of warranted recognition already. As if a senior, respected position within their own company isn’t enough, many get peer recognition through countless business, industry, and trade associations. And given my association with these types of organizations, you rarely (if ever) see the award going to one of us snot-nosed kids. I’ve never seen a sub-30 HR Executive of the Year. I’ve never seen a sub-30 SHRM National Board Member.

Not that anyone in Gen Y has done enough to deserve that sort of recognition, but it throws a bucket of cold water on this whole idea that nobody is recognizing people who are already successful. That is generally what is rewarded with upward corporate mobility, peer respect/rewards, and the amount of money a person makes.

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How do you engage the best and brightest?

As a young HR pro, you get hammered with the worst kind of work. I remember doing weeks of number crunching on our self-insured benefits data only to find my boss taking credit for discrepancies I found. When I pushed for several changes in a single department to help with retention and culture and got them approved, guess who took credit for the changes he was once fighting? The department manager, of course.

As we covered before, many HR organizations (including SHRM) are looking at ways to keep younger professionals engaged. It’s not like they aren’t doing anything for the rest of their organization.

The sorts of tasks that HR folks have to do to move up in the world aren’t the greatest. And I guess I don’t see the same problems that Sackett has with finding ways of recognizing the best and brightest in hopes of keeping them engaged and in the industry while they make it through the less-than-pleasant parts of growing up in HR. He should be hoping that he has someone at some point who will be capable enough to take over his job when the time comes.

A little public recognition can go a long way in helping that.

Lance Haun is the editor of TLNT. He first joined ERE Media in 2010 as community director and contributing editor for TLNT, eventually becoming editor of our sister publication SourceCon and an occasional contributor at ERE. In between his first and second stint at ERE, he spent seven years as a consultant, writer, and researcher for The Starr Conspiracy, a B2B marketing agency that focuses on the HCM market. Prior to 2010, he worked full-time as an HR leader and moonlighted as a freelance writer and blogger. You can reach him directly at lance@tlnt.com.

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