Why millennials want real-time recognition – and what to do about it

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According to research, 42% of millennial employees want feedback every week—or twice as often as other generations—and 80% would prefer to receive feedback in real time, while 41% of millennials prefer to be rewarded or recognised at least every month, if not more frequently (PwC).

We talk to Jon Andrews, Head of Technology and Investment at PwC about the changing demands of this generation, why real-time – or at least prompt – recognition works, and how employers can meet this demand.

What makes Generation X so different from previous generations when it comes to expectations in the workplace?

Research shows that there are some clear and significant differences between millennials and other generations.

“Thirst for real-time feedback”

One distinct difference is their thirst for real time feedback and more frequent and ‘in the moment’ rewards.  This genuine divergence is almost certainly a product of the raised expectations that millennials have built up through their exposure to real time information and responses.

How exactly has technology shaped millennials’ mindsets?

Millennials have been exposed to so much real time data and information that their expectations differ to that of previous generations. Thanks to digital devices, social media and on-demand television, they have the ability to toggle between different platforms, topics and even their personal and work lives at any given time. It means that, understandably…


“If you missed Dr Who you had no other way of watching it”

If you grew up in an era where there are just three or four TV channels, if you missed Dr Who you had no other way of watching it – you couldn’t record it or find it online or go to an alternative channel. Compare that to growing up in an environment where you can always get what you want when you want it. That creates different expectations. Millennials are accustomed to everything being instant – it is how they have been conditioned.

This isn’t just in evidence in their home environment – it plays out in the workplace too. Millennials’ working processes are designed around immediacy rather than compartmentalisation.

Can you share an example of this mindset when it comes to work?

Take a millennial on holiday, compared to a Generation X or baby boomer. A typical Generation X might get up early before others to check their work emails before spending time with their family and friends and sneaking off at lunchtime to check their emails again. They are a classic example of a generation that is adjusting to an ‘always on’ work culture, which is at odds with their natural inclination to live and work in a much more compartmentalised way.

“The difference for millennials lies in integration rather than balance”

In contrast, a typical millennial will get up when they feel like it and take their phone or device down to breakfast and to the beach. They will split their time between checking work emails and interacting with people on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, for example, with socialising with their holiday friends and family. The difference for them lies in integration rather than balance, and that bleeds into the context of when they expect feedback and reward.

How does this approach play out in the workplace?

The mindset of a non-millennial is to expect feedback and reward during an event where feedback and reward traditionally happens. This may be during a monthly or quarterly meeting with their line manager for example, or during a scheduled company meeting. If they receive feedback outside of such events it can be concerning – they will see it as something their boss felt the need to share instantly, which heightens the impact.

“Real-time feedback and reward is natural”

They are used to everything happening in a constant, live stream, so…

It is not so much that they demand such things instantly, but their expectation is for it to happen in real time.

How are employers meeting this need as millennials continue to become a larger part of the workforce?

It has taken time for many organisations to adopt more immediacy in the way they deal with employees. Most generations are comfortable with being rewarded immediately for something they have achieved, and would prefer it. But they don’t expect it, because they are not used to instant gratification.  

Conversely, the expectation that immediate rewards are given to a millennial is heightened because of their familiarity with most things being immediate.  

Many, more progressive organisations are now adopting technology that allows employees to give and receive real time feedback on how they are doing.  By its very nature, it tends to be less formal and in depth, but more immediately relevant; a trade off that employers believe is worth it.  

This is coupled with organisations realising that they need to follow suite corporately with their customers too, hence the proliferation of “snap surveys”.  It seems the more feedback, the better.  

“Employers are working through ways to reward employees more immediately”

Equally, employers are working through ways to reward employees more immediately too.  This is not easy as there is a cultural shift happening that is moving employers away from reward that is easily linked to what might be perceived as socially unacceptable achievements. Take sales as an example.  Sales does not focus on ‘how people work’ and encourages people to focus on outcomes at all costs which, thankfully, is becoming less and less an acceptable norm.  

That said, the latest HR technology is focusing on building in processes and mechanisms to allow managers to instantly change the base pay of individuals or provide spot bonuses, something that was always the domain of administrators and involved multiple reviews and approvals.

How do you think the demands of millennials around rewards and recognition will continue to evolve as they mature?

I think that the expectation of immediacy is a characteristic of the millennial generation and will stay with them relative to older generations.  This is likely to apply to rewards, especially if organisations migrate to more immediate rewards en masse, which will make it difficult to back out from when it becomes the norm. 

Reaching millennials and adapting to the requirements of a new workforce will see employers offering more instant and real time rewards, including those memorable experiences that create lasting and positive associations.

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