Annual Review: The Professional Millennial's Report Card

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It's that fun time of year in my office, time for annual reviews! If you're anything like me the thought alone evokes a mix of fearful anxiety and emboldened hope. This is my one shot to learn what my boss really thinks of me and my work -- for the next 12 months. Annual reviews are the closest things many of us get to report cards in the workplace. We only find out once a year if our boss considers us an asset or just a responsibility.

For 12 to 16 years (more for you overachievers), we as a society are conditioned to complete work assigned to us and await a grade from someone more knowledgeable than us. When we begin working in a "real job", those daily, weekly, monthly, even bi-annual check points and measures are gone.

With the exception of people working toward strict performance measures or sales, many of us lack regular formal or structured reviews of our overall performance. Sure when issues arise or amazing things happen, we may hear from our higher ups. But it is rare those conversations involve a long-term, track-able plan. "Keep doing what you're doing unless I tell you I don't like what you're doing."

As I've spent more personal time researching generational perceptions and more professional time inching up the ranks, I am struck by a new, slightly concerning question/consideration. Do I require more time, energy, cajoling? Does my boss consider reviewing me to be a special challenge because I'm a millennial?

One of the central themes in millennial-focused media is the idea that millennials want access to and regular, if not immediate, feedback from management. According to a recent Millennial Branding study, "Gen Ys don't get enough feedback at work and want mentors". While I'm sure this desire for more regular feedback could be dismissed as immediate gratification or self-importance, I believe it actually has more to do with improving, shockingly enough.

Many millennials have been affected by the recent economic recession, whether it be directly or indirectly. We've either been laid off because we were the lowest people on the totem pole in the mid-to-late 2000's. Or we've seen our parents and older family members struggle with the loss of jobs, pensions and benefits. Personally, I may not crave criticism but I will remember it and aim not to repeat the same mistake. I want to keep my job – and I'm not alone.

Despite the belief that millennials are ever-preparing to jump ship, the data doesn't always back that up. The Washington Post reports that 24-35 year old millennials have been at their current jobs for about 3 years, a number that has not changed much since the Boomers in the 80s and Gen Xers in the 90s.

In addition, many millennials recognize job security is more of a nice concept than an expected reality. Kind of like arriving to the airport 45 minutes before your flight, those days are long gone. We can't rely on the institutions our parents and grandparents may have been able to. We've lost that sense of stability.

There is probably not a 30-year retirement party and gold pen in many of our futures. In fact, career advancement (financial and professional) may be more up to the individual seeking new opportunities outside of their current employer than it has ever been before. According to a recent Forbes article, "Staying employed at the same company for over two years, on average, will plummet your lifetime earnings by about 50%." For debt-strapped Millennials, that is a scary and sad statistic.

Millennials need to envision their future. That future may or may not include their current employer. If you manage a millennial, consider it part of your responsibility to include your organization in that vision. One of the truths to retaining millennial employees is understanding many are eagerly seeking professional development. Employees who believe management values their contributions and is investing in their professional development may not feel the need to look outside for growth opportunities. Grow your own!

(If the concept of adjusting your review process to appease these special millennials annoys you, simply consider it an exercise to avoid the estimated $15,000 – $25,000 it costs to replace each millennial employee...)

Professional development is not an annual process for the employee. Performance reviews with management shouldn't be either. Let us know how we're doing more often. Give us a more regular report card (stickers optional).
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