April 24, 2007
News & Opinion: A Manifesto from a Praised Young Person.
This is the generation of twentysomethings who have grown up on praise and the words "you're special." The generation where everyone became a winner on the soccer field, swim team, or drama club. Gold stars and ribbons abound their world.
I, too, am in this generation brought up on praise and warm-fuzzies (a.k.a. compliments, as one of my elementary school teachers explained). Employers are responding to our generation of praise.
They "are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands' End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation. The 1,000-employee Scooter Store Inc., a power-wheelchair and scotter firm in New Braunfels, Texas, has a staff "celebrations assistant" whose job it is to throw confetti -- 25 pounds a week -- at employees. She also passes out 100 to 500 celebratory helium balloons a week."
Bob Nelson, thank you consultant and author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, would tell you that each generation has different praise requirements:
60+ years -- prefer public, formal awards but don't need constant praise.
Baby Boomers -- are looking for "more self-indulgent treats" such as massages and new technology.
Under 40 -- need a bit more praise and "near-constant feedback."
He goes on to explain that, "'It's not enough to give praise [to this generation] only when they're exceptional, because for years they've been getting praise just for showing up.'"
If an employer is complimenting "us" for merely showing up, of course we expect to be praised when we do something above and beyond showing up. It's Pavlov's basic rule. The expectation for praise becomes a reflex.
But what if the expectations were set higher than just showing up?
Coming from a member of the praised generation, we want to be challenged. We want to care about what we're doing and we want you to care about we're doing. My favorite bosses and coaches have always been those who make me stretch and grow; they're the ones who sit me down and explain that they have big expectations for me. I have to earn their praise. It's only when I've challenged myself and succeeded (however you define success), that I can actually accept and savor a compliment.
In the end, Bob has it right. "By encouraging and praising them [the praised generation], you'll get more out of them."
So yes, we were raised on praise. Most of us benefited with self-esteem. That self-esteem gave us a backbone. That backbone helps us stand up for our ethics (which after such scandals as Enron and Worldcom, can't be bad), question company policies and processes in a productive way, and use disappointments to better ourselves rather than take it personally.
We're not asking for kudos and presents for every small success. Challenge us and congratulate us when we go above and beyond. As a fellow member from my generation and co-worker chimed in, "Take us seriously." If we're not doing well, tell us. Don't hold us to anything less.
We're not so different from other generations.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.