Note to Gen Y Workers: Performance on the Job Actually Matters

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We’ve all heard about how millennials have been raised by “helicopter parents,” who hover over them and protect them from criticism and disappointment. The result is a “teacup” generation of young people who may appear outwardly perfect, but are easily shattered. For years, they have regularly been given pats on the back, often just for showing up. They made it to the end of the soccer season – fantastic, everyone gets a trophy! They took a test – how amazing! When they finally join the workforce, it’s no wonder members of Gen Y expect a promotion just for being on time to work for six weeks straight.

Sheltered from critique and failure, members of this generation ooze unearned confidence at the office, as many older co-workers and managers attest. The terms “self-involved” and “overly praised” are often used to describe Gen Y.

But their confidence may not be as deeply engrained as it first appears. When asked whether they need to build their strengths or fix their weaknesses in order to succeed professionally, 73% of Gen Y respondents choose to focus on their weaknesses — a much higher proportion than older generations.

However, Gen Y does have many qualities that can be extremely beneficial in the workplace. Millennials are very optimistic, thrive on volunteerism, and work hard when the work is something they believe in, or at least understand.

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So what does this mean for our workforce today, and how should managers handle their millennial employees? First, it’s necessary to understand this generation, especially in the following four ways:

Participation is enough. Eager not to puncture anyone’s self-esteem, parents, teachers and coaches have praised Gen Y children—and handed out trophies, awards, and medals by the truckload—merely for showing up. When this generation joins the workforce, it’s understandable that they continue expecting praise and prizes, and even job offers and promotions, simply for being present. As a matter of fact, 40 percent of Gen Y respondents in one survey said they felt like they should be promoted every two years, regardless of achievements or work habits. What’s even more shocking is that only 9 percent believed they should receive promotions when it was warranted by their performance.

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Everything is customized. Gen Y was raised on personalization. They played video games with avatars that were created in their likeness. Pandora knows which music they like and serves up more just like it. Their Facebook ads cater to their hobbies and interests. Which book should they read next? Not to worry, Amazon will tell them what they will enjoy. Everything is a reflection of their individuality. As a result they demand, even in the workplace, to be treated uniquely.

Constant, immediate feedback required. Their parents, teachers and peers have given them instantaneous responses. They send a text to a friend and receive a reply 30 seconds later. Post a witty Facebook status and receive 30 likes in under an hour. Take a picture of the meal they’re eating and they expect people to ask for the recipe. They can’t imagine only receiving feedback once a year at their job – instead they need constant check-ins with their supervisor.

Change must be embraced. Nothing in this generation’s life is permanent. The world has been in constant flux. Lives are longer, but marriages are shorter, or perhaps not necessary. The economy swings between bubbles and recessions. Gen Y employees aren’t looking for companies wanting to retain workers for 30 years. Gen Y workers will instead hold at least seven jobs in their lifetime, and 60% of millennial employees in one survey recognized their current positions as mere stepping stones. This group grew up with options, and they expect their careers and work environments to also be filled with choices.

So where to we go from here? Three of these factors can’t be put back in the box. Immediate feedback will always be expected. Customization is here to stay. Permanence is gone. But what we can — and SHOULD — change is the mindset of the generation that says simply showing up is enough to justify rewards, in the form of praise and promotions. Performance does and always will matter.

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The good news is that the generation’s greatest strengths — optimism, confidence, sensitivity, truly caring about the world and their place in it — can be powerful tools to changing the apathy toward performance. Managers can be a guiding hand in transforming the outlook of young workers. By utilizing personalized leadership development tools available anytime, anywhere, we can push Gen Y team members to enhance their strengths and become top performers. The result will be a sense of fulfillment, not for merely arriving at work, but rather for ideas, results, and performance. There is no question that Gen Y is and will continue transforming the workplace. By capitalizing on the unique contributions and strengths of this generation, we’ll be creating a better workforce as a whole.

Marcus Buckingham is founder of The Marcus Buckingham Company, creator of the StandOutM tool, and the author of seven books, including his latest book StandOut. He is an expert in strengths-based leadership. Jane Buckingham is the founder of Trendera and and author of the bestselling book series, The Modern Girl’s Guides.