“I try to give GOOD feedback to my youngest employees. I really do. I’m not just ticking off boxes and adding up the score. But they take negative feedback so personally! I don’t get it. There’s something different about this generation.” 

This conversation—overheard in an elevator—caught my friend’s attention because she knows I study generations in the workplace. She couldn’t recall everything the frustrated manager had to say about her “youngest employees,” but shared the gist of it with me.

Unfortunately, this supervisor’s struggle to communicate effectively in today’s multigenerational workforce is more the norm than the exception. With as many as five generations working side-by-side, it’s easy for generational differences to cause misunderstanding (and lost opportunities for growth).

Using Data to Build Bridges 

Members of Generation Z (those born after 1995) are the newest age demographic emerging to take their place in the world of work. Historical and cultural forces have shaped each generation in unique ways. As a result, we don’t always share the same priorities and assumptions, which can make it harder for older supervisors or co-workers to give effective feedback to this group.

For this reason, it’s vital to use data for insight into these differences and how they should inform our interactions. Recognizing how much this group values relationships can help us give critique and guidance that benefits both the employee and the organization. 

For Generation Z, Relationships Come First 

While conducting research for my book, Generation Z in the Workplace: Helping the Newest Generation in the Workforce Build Successful Working Relationships and Career Paths, I asked members of this demographic to rank six values from most important to least: career, financial security, health, relationships, happiness, and faith.

Both women and men in this age group ranked relationships and happiness as their top values—even higher than health or career.

Because our youngest employees prioritize interpersonal connections, older supervisors and co-workers should rethink their approaches to evaluation. Seeing feedback as an opportunity for “straight talk” can easily come across as “harsh talk” that de-emphasizes the relationship between supervisor and employee. Once rapport is damaged, conflict and tension can make your well-intentioned guidance ineffective, at best.

So how should you let them know how they’re performing? Try these seven tips for a better result.

  • Relationships matter. Take the time to reflect on the relationship you want to develop or maintain, not simply the facts and figures on the evaluation form.
  • Use active listening. Give the employee a chance to talk, and then listen. Think conversation, not broadcast.
  • Don’t over-interpret. Stick to the facts, and avoid value judgments.
  • Start with the positive. Devote plenty of time to discussing areas where they’re performing well.
  • Maintain a professional attitude. Never use evaluation or reviews to vent your frustration.
  • Share practical examples. Offer specific guidance and frameworks for areas where they need to improve.
  • Show that you’re willing to help. “How can I/we help you improve?” is better than “How are you going to improve?”

This generation has so much to offer. Their optimism, pragmatism, and tech-savviness means they’re worth the effort to rethink the way we communicate. Every generation has something amazing to contribute, and Generation Z in the workplace is only just beginning to show us their potential.

Dr.Candace Steele Flippin is a multigenerational workplace scholar, author, and public affairs expert.