How Workplace Feedback Reveals Your Humanity

We all love feedback. When  working on a task or project, we appreciate being told whether or not our work is right. School and sports provided numerous opportunities for feedback growing up. But when we got into the workforce, feedback became a once per year thing that may or may not be useful.

In my work contributing to forbes.com, I have the opportunity to speak with a number of companies. My focus is on how companies are finding and keeping great millennial talent.

During these conversation, something about feedback usually comes up. The person on the other end will talk about how their company does feedback, or how they are planning to do feedback. IBM, for example, has actually built an app that enables employees to instantly give feedback to other employees.

This theme of feedback appears in almost every conversation, regardless of industry or company size. And everyone says the same thing: if you want to engage your employees, give them feedback more frequently.

When Gallup released their massive millennials report earlier this year, they included statistics on this very topic. If a millennial meets regularly with their manager, their engagement doubles. And that ratio is consistent across nearly every generation.

Why is feedback a priority?

We can discuss how to develop a great feedback culture at a later time, but now I have another question: Why? Why are employees desiring more feedback? Is it an emphasis brought by millennials entering the workplace? Did we simply acknowledge when everyone else knew? Or is there something else happening?

Sure, we could have conversations around all of these questions. Maybe their is some sort of generational connection, but I doubt it. We millennials tend to think we are bigger change makers than we really are, and that applies here. Of the questions listed, I think the last one is the only applicable one to this conversation.

Here’s my answer to that question:

People want more feedback when they are aware of their mortality.

I’ve written before on how millennials have a greater sense of purpose because of 24 hour news, and I think similar principles apply. As news has invaded our lives for the last 35 years, we are bombarded with the good, bad, and evil of the world.

We can instantly see death and destruction happening anywhere in the world. We have seen the depths of human depravity around the world and around our cities. We’ve watched disasters and accidents wreak havoc on others.

Do we really think those images have not shaped us? Have we not changed in response to what we have seen?

Life is but a vapor

When we are more aware of the brevity of life, we live differently. When a doctor gives a patient a few months or years to live, the patient lives differently. There’s a greater intentionality because they realize their own mortality.

So what does this have to do with feedback at work? Simple: When we realize how short life is, we want to capitalize on every moment. Including work. If we are going to do something every day, we want it to count. We want it to be right.

Why would we want to waste time doing something wrong or poorly? Feedback from our managers and our peers can help us make sure we are doing the right things the right way. Their words are like guardrails that keep us moving in the right direction.

A feedback culture is something great companies prioritize, and companies who want to win will do the same. It is no longer about an annual review addressing goals or milestones. It is much deeper; it speaks to our understanding of our mortality, and it displays our desire for intentionality.

Think about these things when your coworker asks for your thoughts on their work. You are not just reviewing their work. You have the opportunity to help them live fuller, more intentional lives. And that is a responsibility one must take seriously.

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