• 12th June 2007 - By proteman

    “I can’t deny the fact that you like me…you like me!”

    These words, delivered with elation by Sally Field when she won a Best Actress Oscar for Places in the Heart, reveal the depth of a performer’s need for recognition.

    In the work world, it seems we have our own brand of love-starved performers: the “me” generation.

    A podcast last week on NPR discussed how the 20-somethings now flooding our workplaces are fueled by constant praise. Experts cited in the story theorize that this trait was instilled by this generation’s parents – whose parenting style was more focused on building self-esteem than on objective self-appraisal. Kids that grew up in the late 80s and 90s often played in sports leagues where there were no losers (everyone got trophies), strong discipline was frowned upon, and kids got praise for everything including getting up for school or getting dressed (things they’re supposed to do anyway).

    We All Like Praise, But How Much?

    When these praise-hungry kids grew up and entered the workforce, their expectations of authority figures were high. As a result, managers have had to look for reasons to lavish recognition on younger employees who need regular pats on the back to stay engaged. (“Congrats on meeting that deadline.” “Thank you for showing up for work on time.” “You’re really smart.”)

    Some may argue that every worker likes positive feedback. True. The questions are: “How much?” “How often?” and “For what?”

    Research into “Generation Me” shows that overall, this younger group of workers typically needs more positive stroking, more often, for more types of behaviors to stay motivated.

    The Implication for Managers

    The impact on managers’ jobs can be significant. If you manage people today, you’ve got to go out of your way to look for positives to praise, even if you’re busy or under pressure.

    Managers: challenge your own principles. Below are attitudes that won’t work anymore for managers who lead younger workers:

    • “I had to work hard without much praise. Younger employees need to suck it up and work hard too, like I did.”

    • “I don’t have time to babysit and pat people on the back for every little thing they do. I’m too busy for that.”
    • “I feel phoney giving out praise for little things. I don’t give a lot of thanks, but when I do, I mean it.”

    • “They should feel lucky that they have a good job, benefits and decent pay! That should be enough to keep them motivated!”

    While there’s validity to all of these beliefs, they just may not work today. Managers who cling to these principles may quickly find themselves losing young employees to managers who dole out a daily dose of praise.

    © 2007. Phyllis Roteman, The Loyalty Group. All Rights Reserved.

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