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The Generation Gap – delivering feedback to different age groups

Employment Law & HR

Being a manager requires a certain level of skill when it comes to delivering feedback. It’s impossible to manage a team without having to tell employees how they’re doing, what they’re doing well, and what they could do differently in order to improve.

Of course, how you deliver this feedback during appraisals and meetings will depend on the person you’re speaking to. One person can react very differently to another, and the method of communication is key in these situations.


One of the aspects we need to be aware of is how people of different ages respond to feedback. People from different generations often have different values, and have been brought up in very different circumstances.


Here, we’re going to look at how five different generations can expect feedback to be given, and what they tend to appreciate.


The Traditionalists – 1928 to 1945

Also known as the Silent Generation, people from this generation were born during the Great Depression and Second World War, and came of age in the 1950s and 1960s.


There aren’t many people from this generation left in the workforce, and any that are will be more likely to be self-employed. However, as the name suggests they tend to have traditional values pre-dating the activism of the 1960s and 1970s.


As a result, they like to get the job done right, first time around. They prefer a “no news is good news” method of feedback, and being allowed to get on with their work. Because of this, it’s a good idea to give any feedback in person, privately and candidly, rather than by telephone or email.


Due to their traditional values and tendency to defer to authority figures, they may need encouragement to provide input during a feedback session.


With this generation, it’s important not to be condescending. They have a wealth of experience that could benefit most organisations.


Baby Boomers – 1946 to 1964

Baby Boomers are less formal than Traditionalists, but still value face-to-face feedback. They are also known to appreciate public recognition through public or peer-to-peer feedback.


The Baby Boomer generation tends to prefer more frequent feedback than Traditionalists. However, this feedback should be backed up with facts and evidence due to their high need for control over their work. Without it, Baby Boomers can sometimes assume that they are not doing a good job.


According to Green (2012), without regular feedback the Baby Boomer generation will look for it through behavioural signs. They are also still unlikely to actively seek out feedback. As a result, it’s advisable to make clear how they’re doing and not let them assume the worst.


Baby Boomers are also likely to be thinking of retirement and pensions. Feedback sessions should acknowledge these subjects and include planning towards them.


Generation X – 1965 to 1980

Generation X have previously been branded as the MTV Generation, and are the children of the Baby Boomers. They have been described as self-reliant and independent, with an “I want it all and I want it now” attitude.


As the first generation to actively ask for feedback (albeit cautiously), employees from Generation X may feel that they are doing a bad job if they’re not kept informed of how they’re doing. This requires regular performance updates rather than yearly or ad-hoc appraisals.


People from this generation also like to know how their actions contribute to the overall success of the organisation. They like to have the opportunity to grow and develop, so may have career progression in mind when receiving feedback. If they don’t get them, they could start looking elsewhere.


Millennials – 1981 to 2000

Millennials have grown up in a world of social networking and technology, so often see feedback as something that can be received instantly. Like Generation X, they appreciate regular feedback with one eye on career progression.


This generation responds well to positive reinforcement, so be sure to acknowledge achievements as and when they happen. If they are failing in some way, correct them immediately rather than waiting for the next appraisal. One way of looking at this is that Millennials don’t want a boss in the traditional sense – they want a coach.


Due to a preference for positive validation, Millennials like to know that their daily contributions are noticed and appreciated as it validates their contributions to their organisation (Green, 2011).


Generation Y – 2001 to present

Many of the traits associated with Millennials can be said of Generation Y – those born after the turn of the new millennium who are just starting to enter the workforce. As they’ve been brought up in an era of start-ups, they are especially tuned-in to the idea of entrepreneurship.


Feedback may become more remote with these youngest members as flexible working becomes the norm. However, they will still appreciate face-to-face feedback. They have a tendency to want to feel engaged with their work and make a difference instead of just seeing it as a financial necessity.


This generation’s comfort with technology can be used to their employers’ advantage. Feedback can be given via video conferencing remotely, but yet still retain the feel and structure of a face-to-face meeting.


What next?

Keep in mind that not everyone will fit the profile of their generation! The above descriptions and recommendations are subjective, and are of course broad generalisations.


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