The snowflake (or Millennial) generation comes in for a lot of criticism. With words such as narcissistic, flighty and fragile being used to describe the newest group in the UK workforce, you can see why they might feel a little aggrieved and employers very worried.
One of the other derisive attributes assigned to this generation is its constant need for appraisal, reassurance and guidance. With Snowflakes expected to account for 50% of the global workforce by 2020, employers need to give real thought to how they can meet the demands and expectations of what will inevitably become the largest proportion of their workforce.
Some societal commentators have argued that this need for continuous affirmation is tantamount to parenting in the workplace and the result of growing up in a world powered by social media likes and shares. However, the alternative view is that this generation is motivated by self-improvement and the need to be the best version of themselves. It raises the question, why is continuous appraisal a bad thing?
For knowledge economy businesses where people are the very engine room of productivity, people are everything. In these businesses people need to be nurtured, supported, motivated and retained at all costs. Without it they will face the expensive repercussions of staff attrition, talent replacement and business disruption.
Right at the heart of the idea of continuous appraisal is regular, easy and two-way communication and for businesses built on people this ethos should be embraced. So, what does this require of the way managers manage and the spaces people work in?
- The first consideration is that continuous appraisal requires appropriate spaces for easy communication. Snowflakes’ needs are not sated with an appraisal once a year; they want and need more regular feedback and dialogue. With this in mind it requires spaces where employees can seek guidance from their line managers in a less formal way, whether that’s a quick five-minute update or a half hour project review. Breakout areas, quiet zones, relaxed breakout spaces and meeting rooms with soft seating all help to do the job.
- The second aspect relates to technological support. The advent of agile and mobile working means that teams are just as likely to be virtual as they are based in the same office. With that in mind it’s important to have the right technology to support ongoing communication between teams and line managers regardless of their location. Whether it’s Skype, a collaboration technology or a simple internal messaging system, easy communication behaviours will make it easier for managers to keep their teams motivated and supported in equal measure.
- The third component is about objective setting. For appraisals to make sense and have value to the business as well as the individual, they need to be in relation to objectives achieved. Ensure that managers know how to set goals for their individual team members and how to measure personal and professional development against them. Creating a goal-focused culture will appeal to Snowflakes, make appraisals meaningful for everyone involved and put the framework in place to unlock greater productivity too.
- The fourth and final element is culture – the one thing that can’t be solved by investing in a new kit or a refreshed office layout. Ongoing support and feedback require a culture that is conducive, one where help is ingrained in every aspect of the business. A culture of affirmation and regular appraisal won’t get off the ground if line managers consider requests for feedback as nothing less than an unwelcome interruption or if colleagues are self-absorbed. Company culture can be improved by giving employees opportunities to come together with peer mentoring, group training and buddy systems, by providing shared company values and goals and by ensuring that you actively promote the workplace culture your organisation needs and desires.
Ultimately the arrival of snowflakes is forcing businesses to think more carefully about the people component of their business. Understanding what makes employees tick and keeps them motivated is good business practice, regardless of generation. Snowflakes do want more than just good remuneration and benefits – they also want support, camaraderie, clear career opportunities and the right tools to thrive. Businesses can stand to learn a lot from these wants alone.
In an economy where businesses are increasingly striving to achieve more with less, it’s important to see continuous appraisal as a good thing, rather than a hindrance. Continuous appraisal could well unlock extra discretionary effort and improve productivity; reduce the days lost to sickness and poor health (be that mental, emotional or physical) as line managers spot the signs before problems arise and create more communicative, people-orientated businesses that deliver even better customer service and client experiences.
It’s hard to see why continuous appraisal can be anything but positive. After all who wouldn’t want to know they’re doing a good job or to receive the support they need to do it better? It’s time to stop deriding Snowflakes and instead embrace the positive outcomes that ongoing evaluation, appraisal and support could deliver. We are doing Snowflakes a disservice before they even got started and missing an important point along the way.