Gen Ys Graze for Praise, Gen Xs Want Jobs

Driving Employee Performance through Recognition
Featured on GAIA Insights June 20, 2014 

From a Generation X perspective…

“Recognition” – now that’s a loaded word for Generation X.  As children, our non-observant parents gave us very little recognition or attention – neither positive nor negative.  Because we were “ignored” compared to other generations, we are known as the “middle child” generation,  latchkey kids or the disadvantaged generation.  However, the upside is that we learned how to be resilient and independent at a young age, not relying on the approval of others. Yet we see Gen Y demand and receive and think, “Hey, pay attention to me”. In the workplace we are resilient to gossip and politics, our lives are marathons and we make rigorous efforts to succeed. Now isn’t that kind of performance worth recognizing?

Feedback – It’s meaningful if it helps us perform

For Gen X, feedback is meaningful as long as it relates to Job Security. With our kids approaching college, boomer parents needing care, and Gen Zs demanding endless technology, we need that steady income. Gen Xers are struggling more than other generations to pay their bills and to save for retirement. From 2007 to 2010, for instance, Gen Xers in the US lost 45% of their wealth, significantly more than baby boomers, according to a study this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

We work and listen hard to retain our jobs, and want enough recognition and feedback to tell us we’ll be here for a while, or what can we do to guarantee longevity. We don’t need daily or weekly feedback, and especially dislike a Gen Y giving us irrelevant feedback.  We like to give feedback because it’s a vehicle to deliver improvement.  When we get feedback – good or bad – we don’t take it personally, we appreciate the attention and thank people, then march off to create a plan of action based on that feedback.

With too much to juggle and limited time, we like to “cut to the chase”:  we want  honest, direct communication to deliver and to receive. We prefer verbal feedback – in person or phone, not via text – and on a formal basis so we can be mentally prepared. Formal performance discussions and reviews give us job security. However, 80% of Millennials prefer on-the-spot recognition over formal reviews.

Social Appraisal – Say what?

Contrary to what Gen Y and Gen Z think about Gen X, we are not as illiterate in social media as people think. We are learning as fast as we can, because we have to keep up for job security and also to text with our kids, share relevant articles, network for jobs on LinkedIn. Facebook (65%) and Twitter (53%) are being used most at work but we are behind Gen Y in Instagram and Twitter, making us vulnerable to missing out on important messages. Besides, being “digital natives” has helped millennials overtake older candidates in jobs where understanding of such things as social media helps.

When it comes to recognition via social media, there’s a huge gap between Gen X and Gen Y. Gen Y seeks praise constantly: they are grazing for praise across the social media landscape.56% of millennials won’t even accept jobs from firms that prohibit the use of social media in the office.Gen X doesn’t seek recognition and praise in our online social circles beyond a “Like” for a family photo on Facebook. Gen X posts with a purpose – factual, blunt, not emotional. Our motivation is to inform and not seek praise or social acceptance. Also, we’re very protective of our images and expect permission for our work or photos to go viral.

But when we do get praised for performance, we prefer personal recognition, face to face. For example, if I sign on a new client, I’d like my leader and/or colleagues to pull me aside for a few words of praise… not a tweet by my boss. A tweet would be insulting. Using social media for major recognition seems really lame to me, but I’d accept a tweet or post for recognition of a minor accomplishment.

Total Lifestyle Package – Job security is the biggest perk

In the 1990s and early 2000s, many Fortune 500 companies held family events at amusement parks, awarded performance-based paid vacations, and other perks that sound so lavish in today’s economy. Young Gen X families relished in such perks which felt just as good as the strong bonuses and salaries. If we worked after 8pm, we’d get dinner at any price and a limo home. Did you see the movie Wolf of Wall Street? Fairly accurate of life on Wall Street in the late 1980’s! (I was there.)  But economic times have certainly changed in the US!

For Gen X, the biggest perk is job security, it means more than salary, workplace flexibility or lifestyle perks. Trying to bribe Gen X with extra days off wouldn’t feel rewarding, it feels scary; we’d think, “are you trying to get rid of me”? Gen X doesn’t want or need lifestyle perks because we know how to manage our lives, we’ve been relatively independent since the age of 16.

But Gen Y wants and needs these lifestyle perks and companies are offering them. According toMediaBistro, 91% of Gen Y expects to stay in a job for less than 3 years. And 45% of companies have higher turnover with Millennials. With such little job loyalty, offering Gen Y perks may help retain them as employees.


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