What Every Manager Should Know About Recognizing Their Millennial Employees

Some have said to me in the past that the millennial desire to be recognized for their work amounts to their ‘trophy kid’ upbringing, where every kid got a trophy, even if they didn’t win. This couldn’t be any further from the truth.

What normal employee doesn’t want to be recognized, thanked, and praised for a job well done? This is not just a millennial desire. We all have a deep-rooted need to know our work matters, regardless of our age.

Working For A Purpose

Despite the universal need for appreciation, we must acknowledge that in recent decades there has been an increase in the sentiment that we should be able to show up to work with our whole heart, pursue roles that align with our values, and seek out positives in a job beyond the paycheck.

That being said, millennials are not lazy, as some labels have attested. In fact, they are usually hard-working employees, that is, when there is a purpose behind the work.

“Working in HR for over 30 years, I’ve seen various generations come on board and move around throughout our organization,” said Barbara Galante, director of human resources at Ascensus, a retirement and college savings company. “When I step back and look at the millennial generation, I can definitely see how they crave recognition and praise in the workplace, but this stems from their desire to make sure they are doing things right or wrong. I often tell the leaders I work with that a millennial would be willing to scrape gum off a chair, as long as they knew what they are doing has a purpose. They are extremely hard workers.”

Millennials are unlikely to work on a project when they can’t understand the “why” behind it. When you give them the rationale for why a project is important, they will use that explanation as fuel to complete it with excellence.

Job Hopping

“Another surprising thing about millennials is how quickly they want to climb the ladder,” said Galante. We are constantly working to figure out how best to retain talent, because in a year or two they might be ready to leave for a new position. This is not always about a new title, but about paying off their debts and being able to advance in their life. Millennials are facing new responsibilities such as purchasing their first home, paying their own children's tuition and any of their own additional student loan debt. They are not going to sit on a job that is paying them less if they can move on and get another that will pay more.”

All the praise and recognition in the world won’t make a millennial stay loyal to their company when they have bills to pay and there’s a job offer with a 40% raise staring them in the face. Millennials know all too well that staying at the same employer for over two years, on average, can cost you50% or more in lifetime earnings.

Outside of salary though, which is a huge driver for those burdened by debt, recognition can be the difference between a job-hopper staying the course or finding the next company to move up the ladder.

“Millennials want managers to know what they are doing and up the game every time,” said Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner of Keystone Partners, a career management company. “Managers should continue offering development and praise past contributions now with opportunity as the reward.  Boredom and repetitive work is a millennial’s ticket to start looking for a new opportunity, so stay in front of them, the work they are involved with, and recognize their contributions on a regular basis.”

Anyone who doesn’t feel valued or appreciated will likely see other opportunities because the “grass is greener”. Combatting this means taking honest account of the last time you publicly and privately recognized and rewarded your best talent.

Recognition From A Millennial Manager

I’ve spent enough time talking about how praise and recognition should be utilized for millennial employees in the workplace, but one perspective that needs to be considered is that millennials are becoming managers at increasing rates as they age in the workforce. What does it look like when a millennial manager dishes out praise?

“Now that we have leaders who are millennials, we need to teach them how to give recognition to those under them, which often includes boomers,” said Galante. “We encourage them to be patient and help them understand the boomer generation doesn't necessarily learn the same way millennials do. They have to learn patience and also how their learning styles differ.”

As millennials manage, they have to adapt to differing working styles and preferences, especially from those that are older than themselves. While there are innovative ways to work that millennials often employ, boomers and generation X bring valuable experience and insights that need to be treated with respect.

“Managers and HR managers need to understand how each generation views the workplace, as well,” continued Galante. “Generation X think of work as a job, whereas boomers think of it as their career and see it as the place they will spend the rest of their working years. Millennials often have less loyalty to a job. They have a constant need to move up the ladder and see each job as a stepping stone to do so. We’ve had a number of exit interviews where a millennial employee noted they did not feel like they were being recognized or advancing enough, so they left.”

I have often said that millennials don’t just want to know what the next wrung on the ladder looks like. They want to know what the next five look like. Painting a picture for their future makes their future at their current company come into clear focus.

“To combat [millennial employees leaving] we make sure there are opportunities within our organization for them to go,” said Galante. “We have our leaders create career paths or timelines so employees are aware of what each step is and where their next opportunity is to be promoted. We create these road-maps so if they want to continue in a certain direction, there are options for them here to stay and it’s not necessary to leave.”

Praise and recognition was not invented by millennials, nor is it only important to these young adults. It’s important for everybody to feel appreciated. The difference in millennials is that they do not feel loyal to a company simply because they were hired by them. They are loyal when they feel appreciated, challenged, and rewarded.