How to Troubleshoot Common Feedback Issues with Millennials

By Dummies Press

If you’ve ever struggled giving a Millennial feedback, you’re not alone. It’s hard. There is no one way to do it, and it doesn’t always get easier with the more people you’ve led or managed; however, one thing is true. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Others have felt your pain, your strife, and your desire to be better. A Millennial is just as much of an employee as someone from any other generation though, so there’s no getting around this. Here’s a brief guide on how to navigate the ins and outs of feedback with Millennials.

The delivery of tough feedback

No matter the generation, level, or age, delivering tough feedback is rarely a fun process. It can lead to a defensive attitude, a reluctance to change, or even a desire to leave. But everyone deserves the opportunity to identify and improve on sore spots, and you’re entitled to the opportunity to improve your team and fix problem areas. The way Xers prefer to receive difficult feedback (they most likely want you to rip off the Band-Aid as quickly as possible) doesn’t necessarily work best for Millennials.

The challenge

When you deliver tough feedback to Millennials, you worry that they’re worrying. You may be nervous that they’re starting to think too hard about what they need to do differently. Chances are that what you thought was a helpful conversation became one of their worst work moments ever.

Possible cause

Millennials were raised in the self-esteem movement and weren’t given the tools for handling criticism at a young age. While other generations learned how to let it roll off their backs or deal with it and move on, younger generations internalize the feedback, all while merging their personal lives with their professional lives.

The remedy

If they’re internalizing your feedback, it typically means they care … a lot. They likely view you as someone whom they want to impress. Maybe they view you as their confidant and coach. It may not seem like it in the moment, but this is actually good, so here’s how you can move past the discomfort:

  • Get comfortable knowing that the situation may get tense or awkward.
  • Don’t waste time getting to the tough feedback.
  • Deliver your critiques in an appropriate time frame, the sooner the better.
  • Provide a structured road map to improve.
  • Follow up with next steps.
  • Be a voice of encouragement along the way.

What to do if a Millennial cries

It’s most managers’ and leaders’ worst nightmare — what happens if a Millennial starts blubbering, you panic, and you don’t have tissues to provide for them? Okay, not all Millennials cry, that’s an exaggerated depiction of what truly transpires. But it’s more likely to happen with this generation, especially in their earlier years at work. You better start prepping now if you haven’t already.

The challenge

Millennials can sometimes internalize evaluations and react defensively or sensitively, occasionally resulting in watery eyes, drops of tears, or a minor breakdown. This outcome can prevent a productive review session if what you intended as helpful words of change were instead heard as scathing criticism.

Possible cause

Millennials grew up in an environment that asked them to be vulnerable and open with their feelings, whereas other generations learned early on how to control their emotions and keep their poker faces intact. Additionally, Millennials may be taking feedback personally, not just professionally, and a comment about their work may be heard as a comment about them as a person.

The remedy

Although the tears may be distracting, confusing, and even a bit frustrating, you can take these simple steps if a Millennial is crying:

  • Don’t automatically get frustrated.
  • Don’t draw too much attention to the tears.
  • Continue with your thought.
  • Ask if there’s anything the Millennial wants to say.
  • Welcome the option to talk later.
  • Don’t respond with pity or condescension.

What if Mom and Dad get involved?

Millennials have a close bond with their parents and view them as trusted allies and quite possibly even friends. Sometimes this relationship can go a bit too far if the doting parents become meddlesome in the work environment. It started when Millennials were young, and it’s very different than the way their parents were raised.

Millennials are growing up and becoming more independent from their parents — especially older Millennials who have been in the workforce for well over a decade. Luckily, that means fewer calls from Mom and Dad. But when it comes to younger Millennials and even the generation after them, their folks may still be around for support — much to the chagrin of managers.

The challenge

Millennials’ parents may overstep and contact a work environment to discuss a feedback session gone wrong, amongst many other things. It comes across as unprofessional, annoying, and inappropriate.

Possible cause

In many cases, your Millennial employees may not know that their parents are calling. They likely discussed the situation with their parents, asked for advice, and may be seeking a solution, but the parents took it upon themselves to help solve the problem for them. Your Millennial employee likely didn’t set his parents on you like a pack of Rottweilers.

The remedy

Consider some damage control and prevention before griping about meddlesome Boomer parents.

  • Thank the parents for their interest, but let them know you need to speak directly to their Millennial child regarding anything work-related.
  • Ask the Millennial about the incident.
  • Explain to the Millennial why his parents’ involvement can actually be hurtful, not helpful, to his career.
  • Confront it and move on.
  • Don’t hold the incident against the Millennial or use it as a reason to think poorly about him.
  • Use the close parent-child relationship in a positive way to boost your company’s employer status. Consider creating an environment that welcomes parents to the office in a “bring your parents to work” day. This can be a great marketing strategy.

I think my Millennial is about to quit …

If Millennials leave an organization, it can likely be traced to the last time that they received feedback. You don’t want that last review session to be the ultimate reason that a Millennial decided to leave the organization.

The challenge

A Millennial receives a firm review, and rather than planning how to change her behaviors or work, she starts plotting her exit to find a workplace she feels will be more conducive to her growth and career improvement (or hurt her feelings less).

Possible cause

If Millennials receive critical feedback without a clear structure of how to improve, they’ll feel deflated instead of motivated. If weaknesses are focused on more than strengths, Millennials may be wondering whether they do anything right. What are my contributions? Why am I even here? While other generations wouldn’t have dreamed about leaving their job without finding another one, Millennials believe that it’s worth it if they don’t have to sacrifice more of their life in a job that makes them unhappy.

The remedy

Move quickly and swiftly if you want your Millennial to stay:

  • Schedule an informal meeting.
  • Have an honest check-in and provide the option of a follow-up check-in.
  • Give the Millennial the opportunity to give you feedback.
  • Ask whether a clear structure is in place for the Millennial’s growth and improvement (if not, put one into action).
  • If things aren’t going well for you or the Millennial, consider that it may be time for the Millennial to leave.