Why Traditional Performance Reviews Make Millennials Want to Quit

When was the last time you didn’t dread your annual performance review?

Even if you’re a star employee, the answer is probably “never.”  And it’s especially true for millennials.

In fact, in a 2015 Wakefield Research study, the dread of an annual review caused almost 25% of millennials to call in sick, and over a quarter of all survey participants have started a job hunt as a result.But before you jump to the conclusion that millennials just can’t hack it (or any other millennial stereotype), consider this: When was the last time you felt that your annual review actually helped you improve?

Millennials simply expect more from the review process than their predecessors. Here’s why the traditional annual review process drives them to the brink…

1. It creates building animosity

The fact is, the annual review process is rife with mistrust and leaves the majority of employees–not just Millennials–feeling “blindsided” by the feedback.

It’s like when your significant other finally goes off, and you find out they’ve been secretly seething for months about where you leave your shoes.  Instead of solving a small issue early with a simple “hey, could you put those in the shoe tray?” they let their frustration build until it all bubbles over–and creates hard feelings on both sides.

While the ramifications of withholding communication at home are serious enough, at work they can alter your career trajectory. Millennials prefer a proactive approach to communication that deals with issues as they arise–no hard feelings or stewing necessary.

2. They feel abandoned

Millennials may hate annual reviews, but they love feedback. And yet, almost three quarters of the millennials surveyed by Wakefield reported feeling “in the dark” about their performance throughout the year.

Despite the depiction of Millennials as needing everyone to “get a trophy,” they’re not looking for empty praise, they’re looking for ways to grow, learn, and be more effective–all good news for their teams and the people who rely on them.

3. They’re nimble.. And annual review are not.

Far from the image of the lazy, entitled kid, Millennials are tech-savvy, competitive adults who want to succeed–and know what they need to make that happen.

Millennials already know what so many large corporations have been discovering over the past 10 years–that being able to identify areas for improvement and correct course quickly is the way to the top, whether we’re talking career growth or marketshare.

Millennials are essentially looking for ways to hack their professional development, looking for ways to increase their effectiveness and performance in as short a time as possible–something that benefits not only their career, but their customers and colleagues as well.

Unlike the annual review process of old, frequent feedback allows them to be nimble and correct in real-time, satisfying their need for continuous improvement, and allowing them to contribute back to their team more productively as well.

4. They believe in the “team” more than any other generation

Millennials have been working together, collaborating, and being asked to participate in team projects for as long as they can remember–teamwork is their home turf.

With all this talk of “team” once they enter the workforce, it’s little wonder that they expect that the people leading them are going to be instrumental in their growth. And then feel sorely disappointed when the extent of the leadership they get is outdated feedback a few times per year.

Millennials expect their superiors to coach them and help develop them into strong team members and ultimately, into team leaders themselves.

5. For millennials, work is personal…

The need for ongoing performance feedback makes perfect sense. It’s the equivalent of open communication in a relationship, and something we generally accept as being important–and yet it’s been sorely missing from our work lives for decades.

This becomes particularly important to a generation that doesn’t “disconnect” from work the way previous generations did.  Millennials don’t mind the overlap between professional and personal time–they expect it–but they also increasingly expect to work for organizations that feel more like “family” than just a job.

No wonder employees feel blindsided by the delayed, overly-structured feedback of the annual review–delivered by someone that they spend more time with than their significant other… That’s not how healthy relationships work!


What’s Next for Performance Management

In response to the growing number of Millennials in their ranks, major organizations like Microsoft, Adobe, and Accenture are responding. Even GE, the company that made the annual review the ubiquitous business tool it is today, is ditching the annual review in favor of a performance management app that facilitates the type of frequent feedback employees across the age gap need.

Fortunately, apps like the one GE is implementing bridge that gap, providing ways for managers to deliver real-time feedback while it’s still relevant. They provide coaching through tricky situations and help their employees make adjustments that will set them up to be stronger performers.

The very best of them take it a step further, by providing transparency into exactly how that feedback contributes to the company’s mission, replacing arbitrary criteria with the strong sense of purpose necessary to build motivated, high-performing teams.

Providing feedback is a critical step in developing a top-performing workforce. How that message is delivered has a huge impact on morale and turnover, particularly when it comes to millennials, and it’s important to get it right. While it might seem daunting, with the right tools, providing frequent feedback and coaching can go a long way towards establishing a happy and engaged workforce.

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