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Love Giving Upward Feedback? What Does Your Boss Think?

If you’re a young adult, you may agree with 74% of Gen Z workers who say they’re comfortable giving upward feedback to their supervisors. But is it a good idea?

The study, released by Adobe in September, defines Gen Z workers as those around 26 and younger. The respondents had generally worked full-time for up to three years at companies with 750 employees or more. Adobe also reports that, among the Gen Z workers who responded:

  • 50% ranked no clear path to promotion as one of the top reasons they would leave a job.
  • 83% believe a workplace mentor is crucial for their career, but only 52% reported having a mentor.
  • 48% want more training in hard skills related to their jobs, compared to 33% for soft skills.
  • 28% believe their current role isn’t utilizing their skills to their full potential.

So, what does this all mean if you’re part of the Gen Z cohort and vigorously nodding your head in agreement with these findings? It’s comforting to know you’re among friends. The study concludes that 80% of Gen Z workers have a strong support network of colleagues their age, allowing the majority to feel comfortable being open about traditionally sensitive topics like job satisfaction and compensation.

But what about your colleagues, managers, and company leaders who may be disarmed by transparency and upward feedback instead? Take a moment to review our recent post, Are Gen Z Grads Facing a Job Market That’s Rooting Against Them? And consider this: A remarkable 94% of business leaders recently surveyed by admit they’ve avoided hiring Gen Z candidates.

For the most part, you’re just part of the historical cycle of employers’ distaste for the differing work styles and expectations of newer generations. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore those perceptions and attitudes. Instead, consider taking the following approach:

Learn how to approach tough conversations. The bulleted points above related to desires like a more straightforward career path or more support and training are great reasons to start a dialog with your manager or supervisor. But approach these opportunities to give upward feedback thoughtfully. You can begin by reviewing our tips for How to Complain to Your Boss. The post includes a five-step plan for providing upward feedback, including a roadmap on “stating your case” from The University of Texas at Austin’s HR department.

If you dish it you, you’d better be able to take it. Humility will serve you well throughout your career. You may be confident that you know what you want, how you want it, and the best way to communicate it, but take advice from generations before you when we tell you that it’s possible—perhaps even likely—that you may be wrong. Employers have voiced that Gen Z is difficult and easily offended. Again, it’s something that every generation has endured. We can tell you with absolute certainty that if you want to give upward feedback, you’d better be able to accept feedback in return.

Don’t create or participate in “gossip” culture. The Adobe study also found that about 90% of Gen Z workers are comfortable giving feedback to their peers. Nearly 80% have no problem talking about their wages, and about 90% will freely talk about their job satisfaction at work. However, please note: It’s essential to respect the boundaries of others. There is such a phenomenon as “toxic transparency,” which Softway CEO Mohammad Anwar describes like a bird swooping over a hedge and careening headfirst into a spotless window. In this case, the window’s transparency did not serve the bird well. It’s not always appropriate to give upward feedback or to be an open book with colleagues (especially when it’s not your information to share). Discretion can be a terrific skill as you climb the ladder.

Find a good culture fit from the start. Finally, listen to your gut when job searching. Chances are, you find it vital to work for a company that you respect and align with culturally. If giving upward feedback is important to you, find a work culture that embraces it. Ask questions during the interview process that will reveal whether the environment can foster your growth the way you envision. Working with a reputable recruiter can help.

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