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People Want Too Much Praise?

I once worked with a manager who called me to ask for help. She was a really good manager, but I could hear the frustration in her voice as she started. "Do you have any classes or materials that can help me and my manager deal with young people?" she asked. "I'm sure I can help" I replied, "what specifically is the issue?"

"We are all frustrated because they constantly want to be praised! Damn millennials want a trophy for everything and if they don't get it, they pout", she said. I could hear the frustration in her voice.

I replied "I understand. I can help."


I share the above story because it is common to hear some version of this from more experienced managers. Most who I talk with about this are surprised by my response. I try to be very diplomatic as I explain the issue, but the answer comes down to this:

Those "damn millennials" are right, you are wrong.

First, one of your jobs as manager is to get results. If giving more praise gets results, do it. Sorry it might be hard, you didn't get it when you were younger, and that you think it is a waste of time. If it gets results, it is your responsibility to do it.

Second, millennials don't want praise, they want guidance. In the book Leading With Gratitude, studies show that younger people use feedback as signposts that they are moving in the right direction. Gratitude is part of that, but they use it as a map. They don't want only praise, they want to make sure they are on the right track.

Third, why is wanting feedback wrong? I know when I was first entering the workforce, we didn't get a lot of it. It was pretty much sink or swim. That doesn't mean it is right. I happen to think that many things that millennials want now are similar to things we wanted then. We just shut our mouth because we didn't know any better. I'm glad they are speaking up and making the workplace better.

Great Managers are going to have to change. The workforce and the workplace has changed. Using what you experienced 20 years ago as a guideline is a bad move. Be a manager for 2021 and beyond, not a manager for 1980.

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