Employee Engagement

How to boost employee engagement with generation-specific feedback

employee engagement-2


If you’ve been reading up about employee engagement lately, chances are you’ve come across quite a few resources that stress the importance of regular feedback and the important role it plays in fostering an engaged workforce.

Rightly so as well - a recent report on South Africa’s top employers used learning, development, and performance management as yardsticks in their HR Best Practice Survey, and found that the companies that provide regular, tailored feedback to their employees are viewed more favourably by SA’s top talent. 

This begs the question - what type of feedback would be seen as ‘tailored’?

Should you be ordering in every employee’s favourite takeout before you sit down to discuss the tough stuff? Or play their best-loved tunes softly in the background? While we’re not saying that a person might not be more inclined to respond favourably to a performance review with a KFC Twister in their hand and a bit of Beyoncé on the stereo, the type of tailoring we’re referring to has more to do with timing and tone. 

One of the major challenges facing HR professionals today is the fact that our current workforce is made up of individuals of different ages and generations. While this is great for everything from peer-to-peer mentoring and building creative teams that come up with innovative solutions, it also means that there are certain employees who spice up their text narratives with TBH, BRB and IMO, while others still sign an SMS ‘kind regards, Steward’. 

As such, it makes sense that performance reviews and feedback should be tailored to the needs of each of these groups. Here are a few top tips to get you started: 



Traditionalists, also known as the ‘Silent Generation’, were born between 1928 to 1945 during the Great Depression and World War II. There aren't too many of these fine folks left in the workforce, but those who are, like to get the job right the first time round and don't care too much for frequent feedback sessions. Instead, they prefer to be briefed properly beforehand. Traditionalists tend to take the 'no news is good news' approach and prefer to be spoken to in person, behind closed doors. Their traditional values may also mean that you might have to prompt them to provide input during feedback sessions.


Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers came into the world between 1946 and 1964. They prefer face-to-face feedback and flourish when provided with public recognition among their peers. Baby Boomers are open to constructive criticism, but require facts and evidence to back up any claims because they value control over their work. 


Generation Jones

Generation Jones is a micro-generation that is often left out of the lineup; it refers to people born between 1954 and 1964 (the latter half of the 'Boomer era). Although they share many traits with Baby Boomers, they tend to be more cynical in nature due to the fact that they were born in the ear of flower power and hippies, but were confronted with high unemployment and de-industrialisation in the 1970s and 80s. Gen Jones are discerning about their positions and at the current stage of their employment cycle they may balk at new responsibilities. They prefer to have choices, so structure your feedback sessions around these if possible, and loop them in on big questions pertaining to long-term goals and security, etc. 


Generation X

Generation X falls between 1965 and 1980. As the children of 'Boomers, they are self-reliant and independent, but like to be kept apprised of their performance quite regularly. Gen X-ers also like to know whether their actions are having a positive effect on the overall organisation and actively seek out opportunities to grow and develop, so be sure to offer those. 



Millennials were born between 1981 and 2000 - the first generation to bridge the gap between an analog and digital lifestyle. As the first generation to embrace social networking tech from a very young age, they see feedback as something that should occur instantly, and is required for sustained career progression. They adore positive reinforcement, which means recognition and reward is key for this demographic. 

Read more here 👉 Millennials and performance reviews - here’s what you need to know


Generation Y

Born between 2001 and 2011, these young guns grew up in the era of the startup, so they value everything to do with entrepreneurship. Distance working has become the norm for a large part of this demographic, but they like to feel engaged with their team and leverage technology to do so. While you may not need to be in the actual room to have a proper feedback session, face-to-face interaction is normally preferred over email or other less personal modes of communication. 

By following these guidelines when you provide feedback to individuals from different generations who make up your team, you’ll be laying the groundwork for effective communication and positive employee engagement in the long run. 

However, it is important to note that human beings seldom stay in neatly defined boxes, so you may well find a Gen X employee who prefers to get feedback only when something is amiss, or a tech-loving Baby Boomer who will happily engage over Slack.

As such, it also makes sense to comply with a few general feedback principles that apply across the board. Take a look at a few of these principles:


Focus on the what and the how (not the individual)

If you want feedback to drive employee engagement and improve overall employee satisfaction, you need to focus on the what and the how of a given situation, instead of the individual themselves. For instance, you may discuss the fact that tardiness on the part of an employee causes a lag in customer service that reflects poorly on your business, rather than berating the individual for being late on a regular basis.

Once it has been established that their behaviour is counter to one of your company values (e.g. providing exemplary customer service at all times), you can then work with them to find the root cause of the issue (e.g. that dropping off their child at daycare causes them to get stuck in traffic) and find a suitable solution (e.g. flexi time, or the opportunity to work from home on certain days if their position allows). 


Remain objective at all times

Both employers and employees have innate biases - we like some people more than we like others.

Whether this is because you frequent the same spinning class or have a shared penchant for duty-free Toblerone, you cannot allow it to have an impact in the workplace.

A good manager of people is able to stay objective at all times. Focus on the holy trinity of performance throughout your feedback: the job, the process and the result. This is a good way to keep things from getting too personal. 


Practice your communication skills

Communication is a skill that needs to be honed and practiced just like any other.

A good communicator is able to listen attentively, keep conversations on track by focussing on the matter at hand and managing communication to remain clear and concise.  It is quite a tall order, and many managers find that they benefit from communication courses that allow them to practise these skills among peers. 


Provide feedback in a timely manner

The best type of feedback is provided as soon after the event that prompted it as possible.

This counts for situations in which your employees are recognised and rewarded, as well as tougher conversations that are required to address behaviour that might become problematic in the long run. As such, it helps to have a system in place that allows members of your HR and managerial teams to address situations as they arise, instead of lumping all your feedback into one, lengthy annual performance review. 


Be sincere and kind

There is a lot to be said for having an authentic, open and sincere conversation with an employee, instead of banding about a rule book or conducting your interaction according to a flow chart.

Sustainable employee engagement occurs naturally in environments in which each member of the workforce is treated like the living, breathing, complex human they are. Keep this in mind during your feedback sessions and see what a difference it makes. 

Read more here 👉 How to give effective employee feedback

So there you have it - top tips on improving employee engagement by providing tailored feedback Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Jones, Generation X, Millennials and Generations Y and Z, as well as a few feedback principles that apply across the board. As soon as Generation Alpha graduates from their Bumbo seats to the boardroom table, we'll take a look at their preferences as well, so check back soonish!


Are you looking to build a recognition program that harnesses the power of effective feedback to promote better engagement and satisfaction? Then look no further we have just the resource to help you do that. Simply click the button below to get started 👇

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