I am a student of Gen Y. I strive to see how the US population views my generation and to see if they are right on or smelly stereotypes. I found a WSJ article today about a trend in the twenty-something new professionals that I had never heard before. It struck me as such a sprawling generalization and seemed so self-important I found it hard to accept at first. But its true. Our generation needs more praise.
This issue was too impressive to pass up, but a little touchy for my single voice to try to explain. I’ve got my ideas behind it, and I asked some friends and my parents to let me know what they thought of this as well.
My dad’s opinion was pure coincidence. He has seen, in the workplace, an increase in praise and positive reinforcement years before my generation entered the workplace. “I don’t quite agree. The change in management style actually occurred when the generation targeted by the article was kids, because managers then were parents and started applying the same style of management they used for parenting. The fact that these kids grew up at the same time many companies where going over the top on praise (because it evolved over time like anything else) is coincidental.” So perhaps the US as a whole is stepping up the compliments.
A friend of mine took the upper hand on the issue, looking at it from the management position. She is a pitching couch for the local high school softball team. She said that her girls’ need for praise has turned into their demanding praise and rejecting negative feedback. Have we come to see praise as the norm? Do we get a handful of compliments and become jaded over our failures? Do we think we are without flaws now?
Over the weekend, some friend and I had a girl’s wine-and-chick-flicks night in. We watched The Devil Wears Prada (a personal favorite – Anne Hathaway is right up there with America Ferrara for me – helping us big brown eyed girls embrace our features and size 6 self). There is a scene when Andy is complaining to Nigel that for all the Starbucks she fetches and spa appointments she books and look-sees she has to trail to, she does not receive so much as a glimmering eye of gratitude from Miranda (a character not-so-loosing based on the equally pursed-lipped Vouge editor-in-chief Anna Wintour)
I, personally, agree to the extent that I do feel better about my work and am willing to put forth more effort when I know that it will be recognized. But is that a generational characteristic or a need that all people have? Perhaps because my generation has grown up in a, until recently, peaceful time – we have never had to worry about a war draft, or saving scraps to sustain American lifestyle – we are less aware of our part as a collective, looking more closely at ourselves instead. We do not see that our hard work is propelling a company forward, but that it is not personally satisfying without recognition. Could it also stem from being raised off the Internet? Another view of it is the instant feedback that people get after posting blogs, recording podcasts, uploading YouTube videos, writing facebook or MySpace wall posts, etc. We have become accustom to hearing what people have to say about our work in our personal lives. If most of the feedback you get from friends and family on things like that is positive, then a positive shine our your own work is bound to follow. And without getting that same approval from bosses may discourage us into believe that our work is useless.
I get rare praise for the menial work I do from day to day in the office. But there was one particularly stressful report that gets sent up to some big-wigs that I had spent days going over with a fine-tooth comb ensuring it wasn’t going to get sent back to me by the CEO wondering why a $40 million charge was made to Girl Scout Troop #5555. A few days after I held my breath and pressed “send” on that report, I got an email back from my boss’s boss saying that his boss wanted me to know that I did a great job on the report. I have saved that email, spent about 5 hours beaming over the accomplishment, showing Elaine and forwarding it to my parents to put on the fridge like an A+ report card. I now work harder every month on that one report, waiting for the praise to come again. It never has, but I still bank on the fact that if it happened once, it’s bound to happen again. The ball is now in the manager’s court, though. Does he compliment my excel qualities every month over the fact that it was done without errors – which is the basic description of my job requirements, nothing out of the ordinary – or ignore the fact that I am waiting patiently like one of Pavlov’s dog waiting to get that steak again?
I ask – how much effort does it take to stop by an employee’s office and tell them thanks? Not much. Today, pat someone on the back. If nothing else, there’s got to be some good karma in there for you somewhere.