Generation Validation

May 21, 2007, 11:51 PM UTC
Fortune

After a stellar weekend of Harry Dresden novels and avoiding the blog—with which I was becoming a tad obsessed—I came in today excited to write. Until, of course, I read some of the comments from Thursday. Suffice it to say, I have new sympathy for Johnny Drama! (For those of you who aren’t Entourage fans, our anti-hero spent last week in hysterics over bad reviews.)

While the overwhelming majority of you guys have been sweet, supportive, and very vocal, I got my real first taste of why bloggers need a thick skin—and I realized I absolutely do not have one. So I called my little sister, who’s both my biggest fan and my most honest critic, to mope about someone calling me junk.

And she laughed at me.

Thing is, she’s right; I could be a child soldier in Colombia, and that would really put a few snarky comments on the blog in perspective. But it was my knee-jerk response to her heckling that really got me thinking. She started chuckling, and I said, all crybaby like: “I know, I know, I’m Generation Validation.” When I gave that a second thought, it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember that moniker being in any of the research I did for my Gen Y story. (And before I continue, let me stem the tide of citations by saying that I’m certainly not saying I made that up; it just popped into my brain, and I wanted to share.)

Whether or not we’ve gotten this particular label in the popular lexicon yet, we are Generation Validation, aren’t we? I for one do need at least five people—none of whom are relations, close friends, or cute boys with an agenda—to tell me something I’ve written is quality before I even start to consider the possibility that it doesn’t suck. And even at my advanced age (26!), I can’t think of a worse thing that disappointing my mom. (Maybe now that I’ve written a Fortune cover, I can finally forgive myself for not going to med school :o).

And this applies doubly in the workplace. Many of the young people I spoke to for the Gen Y story talked about needing more feedback in the office. And one study by corporate social networking solutions company SelectMinds stood out to me. According to a survey of 2,000 employees, 28% of Gen Yers report leaving a job because they felt disconnected from the organization, while 81% feel somewhat or very disconnected from the information flow, politics and career opportunities across their organizations.

To me, that’s all about feedback. After all, how else are we supposed to feel connected? And while I know that some more senior folks might say that they managed without, it seems to me that in this age of less loyalty and more options, better feedback more often would be an easy way to get young employees engaged. (By this, I mean, an evaluation conversation more than, say, once a year, and with some takeaway beyond a few multiple-choice questions answered by a superior who hardly knows you.) Some of us might even appreciate the opportunity to offer our direct reports a bit of constructive—and anonymous—criticism. Although many companies try to make this possible, I’d bet it’ll probably be a while yet before all of us feel completely safe participating.

So do we just need a little validation? And is this an example of how characteristics that grew out of our extra-loving childhoods can spur change for the better in corporate America? Or do Johnny and I just need to get some self-esteem and stop being so dramatic?

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If you want Gen Y in another medium, I’ll be discussing these and other Gen Y issues tomorrow at 11 a.m. Eastern on the NPR program On Point, along with Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of My Reality Check Bounced! and one of the stars of our Gen Y story.