Addressing the “praise deficit”: young workers putting a strain on organizations and organizations are responding inappropriately

I wrote a couple weeks ago over at Black Dog how companies across the US are flying headlong toward a massive macro-succession pile-up, and the collective personality of the Millennial Generation (born from ~1980-2000) is going to play a major part in mid-management breakdowns in the next few years.

If you’d like a glimpse of the stress the Millennials are already exerting on organizations, you’ll want to read a new analysis from the Wall Street Journal‘s site. In it, Jeffrey Zaslow chronicles how businesses are addressing the Mills’ excessive need for praise: (More at Black Dog Strategic…)

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  1. I’m technically an Xer, but am young enough in that group to have some of the traits given to Millenials. As such, I understand the need for praise. I may know that my work is great, but if I don’t occasionally hear that it is, I get depressed and start questioning my own confidence in my abilities, and as a result the quality of my work suffers.

    But there are also times when I actually get offended by empty praise. It’s very much like Dash says in The Incredibles, “If everyone is special, no-one is.” And since I’m exceptionally skilled in some areas, being praised for something that every electrical engineer has to be skilled in to do their job just makes me feel like an also-ran.

    There’s another aspect of praise for just showing up that you haven’t talked about, at least not directly – how praise can actually REDUCE performance instead of improve it. For example, if an engineer get praised for something so basic as to be a fundamental aspect of his or her job, it makes them think that they can get away with doing lower quality work and still get praise (in the form of perks, raises, promotions, etc.) And so that engineer could potentially backslide from their actual potential to the level expected by the praise given.

    Praise in some form is important, but if it’s not meaningful praise, then I think you’re doing yourself more harm than good.