One indicator of a manager's strength as a leader is their ability to effectively deliver feedback to employees. They must learn how to adjust their approach based on the personality of the employee. Since most workplaces now have employees representing nearly every generation, managers can get a head start by understanding how each generation generally prefers to receive feedback - both constructive and positive.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Baby Boomers are tremendously valuable members of any organization. They exhibit loyalty and dedication more than other generations, and their tenure gives them a higher level of institutional knowledge. They like knowing what's expected of them at work and feeling like their opinions are valued by their manager and peers. When these needs are met, Boomers are highly engaged employees.
Institutional knowledge and tenure don’t always equate to high performance, however, and sometimes delivering constructive feedback is necessary. When considering how to do so, keep in mind that Baby Boomers like having control. Clear feedback and tools to improve help them feel more in control of what needs to be addressed and how to do it.
Boomers tend to be goal-oriented, so try to revolve your coaching conversation around them meeting a goal or objective. They also tend to dislike conflict but value personal growth, so if you position your feedback to feel like a growth opportunity, it will be well-received.
Sometimes, the feedback might revolve around a Baby Boomer’s critical attitude toward younger co-workers. 46% of Boomers perceive Millennials to be entitled and unwilling to put in hard work. Since Millennials are now assuming management roles at an increasing rate, this means they may have Baby Boomer employees with these perceptions. Managers of all ages, but particularly Millennials, should always preface coaching conversations with some acknowledgment of the Boomers’ experience.
Baby Boomers prefer regular feedback in “conventional” formats, such as regular performance reviews. When they don’t receive feedback – positive or negative – they tend to look for it through behavioral signs from their managers and will often assume the worst. Positive feedback goes a long way with this generation, and any time you can do so publicly, you should.
Generation X (1965 -1976)
When providing feedback to employees from Generation X, it’s important to remember that they prefer a casual work environment, along with a sense of teamwork and solidarity.
Gen Xers also tend to actively look for opportunities to learn and develop skills. They expect their employers to provide learning resources and tend to learn by doing, which gives them the opportunity to practice skills and get feedback and coaching on the spot. When coaching Gen Xers, build on their desire for skill development.
Gen Xers tend to perform tasks quickly and can do several at a time. They expect immediate gratification and can get frustrated if they perceive that they are working hard but not making progress toward their goals. When coaching them, break long-term goals into shorter targets to help meet deadlines and provide a satisfaction of “getting the job done”.
Gen Xers view all team members as equally important. Many grew up in overly permissive homes in which parents frequently were absent. At a young age, they learned to manage on their own and to be an equal participant in discussions. Remember this when offering feedback and know that even though you are their supervisor or manager, they still view you as an equal in many ways.
People in this generation will often be cognizant of skills they bring to the organization that are missing in their manager or more senior employees. As a result, they may need some coaching in valuing the expertise of other members of the team. Once they recognize these skills, they will be receptive to learning.
The best managerial style for coaching a member of this generation is informal. Always remember that this generation is extremely committed to their profession and are looking for opportunities that will provide them with essential skills to further their career. They want employment where there is a clear career path and some assistance from the organization in meeting their career goals. Managers of Generation X employees should make time for teaching and coaching on a regular basis.
Millennials value continuous feedback on their performance, and they want to feel like their managers value and approve of the work they are providing to the company. However, when feedback they receive is negative in nature, some Millennial employees may struggle with this criticism. While nobody loves being scolded, many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers grew up in a culture of negative reinforcement; therefore, they wanted to change this punishment-driven mindset with their own children. As a result, Millennials grew up in more positive, supportive environments, even when they were being reprimanded. Now, as adults in the workforce, Millennials have come to expect the same environment in the workplace as well.
According to multi-generational workplace expert Lindsey Pollak, when giving negative feedback to a Millennial, you need to take the “coaching approach”. This method values a Millennial’s desire for respectful language while still offering a way for job performance improvement. “The job description of a coach is to teach, train, condition, motivate, develop and – yes – win,” explains Pollak. “Developing a coaching mentality doesn’t mean you can’t manage young people with discipline, high standards and competitiveness. What it means is that you approach the process as a supporter, mentor and teacher, not an adversary.”
Millennials value respectful language, and not yelling at them or belittling them for doing something wrong can go a long way. It will mean more to workers to if their managers respectfully tell them the problem, teach them the correct way, and motivate them to keep trying. Simply put, when managing Millennials, use your negative feedback as an opportunity to fuel your employee’s self-development and you will see positive reactions (and performances) from them.
Generation Z (1998-2010)
Gen Z is the newest age demographic entering the workforce. They have a lot to offer, and older counterparts have a lot to learn about working with them. They are more likely to be blunt and challenge their supervisors without necessarily thinking they are being disrespectful. They are confident, hard workers who are more assertive and demanding than prior generations.
Despite being glued to their mobile devices, this group thrives on communication, so understanding how to give feedback to them is critical. A study revealed that 60% of Gen Z workers want multiple check-ins from their manager in a week; 40% want them daily. Fortunately, they love digital communication so these check-ins don’t have to be in person or lengthy, but the frequency will be a real challenge for some managers. They seek instantaneous response, so be ready to give that feedback – the good and the bad – right away.
Gen Z employees can sometimes misinterpret feedback unless it is presented in a certain way. Therefore, coaching is the most effective management style when working with them. It enables the employee to self-reflect which helps them improve. Asking them questions like, “What challenges are you facing?” and “How can I help you?” will go a long way.
As a manager, you will benefit from using active listening to ensure your Gen Z employee is truly understanding the feedback you’re giving them. Be sure that any sort of disciplinary feedback includes mention of the employee’s positive contributions.
These are general guidelines for how each generation prefers to receive feedback. Obviously, each employee's unique personality will factor in as well. Regardless of which generation your employee belongs to, as a manager you should remember that every employee desires and deserves feedback on their performance. It's up to you to learn how best to deliver it in a way that helps them learn, grow and feel valued.
Crystal Jones joined The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. (AEU) in January 2011 and serves as a Senior State Act Underwriter. Prior to joining AEU, Crystal worked for an insurance agency. Crystal received her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama. She has earned both the Certified Insurance Service Representative (CISR) and Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist (CLCS) designations.
Jenna Munday joined AEU in 2017 and serves as an Account Analyst. She received both her bachelor’s degree in English and her master’s degree in Communication from the University of South Alabama.