This year, millennials passed generation X as the largest share of the American workforce, with 18- to 34-year-olds accounting for roughly a third of all employees. That demographic of young workers is forcing companies to reevaluate their accustomed ways of doing business.
At the top of that list, of course, is the annual performance review—which many say is on its way towards obsolescence. This week, TriNet and Wakefield Research published the results of a survey that examined how full-time workers between the ages of 18 and 34 view performance reviews. We found that 69% of that demographic think the process is flawed.
But that doesn’t mean millennials want to see it done away with altogether. Even as major companies like Accenture, Adobe, and Gap, eliminate or overhaul the annual performance review, nearly 70% of young employees in our study still feel confident that the process can help them learn and grow. They'd just like to see some changes made.
So what is it about performance reviews that millennials find so off-putting?
Infrequent feedback is one of the biggest culprits. 62% of millennials in our survey have felt "blindsided" by a performance review, and 74% said they feel "in the dark" about how their managers and peers think they’re performing.
It’s not only the frequency with which reviews occur, but how they're conducted. Employees feel the traditional review process is biased, which can set the stage for resentment between employees and managers, regardless of what the feedback is.
In fact, more than half of millennials feel their managers are usually unprepared to give feedback during performance reviews. And more than half of millennials have reacted to a performance review by looking for a new job, complaining to coworkers, cursing, or crying.
The bottom line is that performance reviews suffer from a widening gap between managers’ and employees’ expectations. Companies need to radically change their process for sharing feedback in order to retain top talent and stay competitive. The question, of course, is how.
Nearly 85% of millennials in the TriNet survey said they'd feel more confident if they could have more frequent conversations with their managers.
When Adobe ditched annual reviews, it replaced them with check-ins that take place at least bimonthly (and sometimes more frequently), allowing managers to find out how things are going on a more regular basis. The logic behind these frequent touch-points is to head off the anxiety that builds up to a single, 12-month discussion. And it creates the expectation that the conversation on an employee's performance is ongoing, not a make-or-break annual event.
The more often you check in, the more fluid and honest those conversations can become. By keeping the lines of communication open, employees can get more familiar with their supervisors' expectations of them and feel better equipped to address any concerns in real time.
But while more regular feedback is a great place to start, the quality matters, too. We found that 40% of millennials want more specific feedback, 32% want more open dialogue during the review itself, and 31% want feedback to feel less biased.
So how do we achieve all of that?
Companies should use millennials’ technological savvy to their mutual advantage. The regular feedback employees crave doesn't always need to be delivered face-to-face.
Even by digital means, regular feedback can create more dynamic, transparent pathways for leadership development—without the paperwork. This frees managers to focus on helping their direct reports improve for tomorrow, all while staying engaged and productive on their work today. There's now a host of integrated digital platforms on the market to streamline the process, giving managers and employees more resources to keep track of progress on a daily basis.
But the fact is that no solution a company chooses to revamp its review process can afford to be an add-on. A strong culture builds strong leaders, and performance reviews need to reflect that culture. Better technology in performance management can help bring that culture about, but rarely can it do so all on its own. If companies are serious about attracting, developing, and retaining their top millennial talent, the commitment needs to come from the top and work its way down to the lives of every employee on staff—not just one day a year, but every day.
Rob Hernandez founded Gowerk in 2010 to challenge traditional performance management systems with an app called Perform, which was acquired in 2013 by TriNet. Rob continues to lead product management on Perform.