How Hard Is It to Manage Millennials?

by:Evan Hackel

Evan Hackel

Let’s define our terms. The so-called millennial generation (also called “Generation Y”) includes people born between 1980 and 1998. For today’s post, however, I will focus on people born between about 1990 and 1995.

Although generalizations about any demographic group tend to be flawed, here are some attitudes that tend to be shared by a significant number of members of this cohort. I have observed these traits in younger millennials I have hired and supervised, and I am willing to bet that you have too.

A High Comfort Level with Technology

If you lead a company that employs millennials, you have noticed that they tend to access information and communicate with each other (and do other things that you do not quite understand) on their smartphones and tablets. When you watch them taking breaks or having lunch or walking across your parking lot toward their cars, you’ve noticed that they spend a lot of time using their smartphones, and perhaps that puzzles you.

A Tolerance for Risk

Many are self-confident, happy to take risks, and willing to help their employers take chances too. This characteristic can cause misunderstanding – and even friction – with more mature leaders who take a more measured approach to running their organizations.

Social Awareness  

These are outlooks that all leaders would do well to embrace. Many millennials welcome being part of diverse workforces. Furthermore, they are more welcoming of alternative lifestyles than preceding generations were. They also tend to be compassionate and respond positively to working for companies that embrace and support social causes and “do good in the world.”

An Entrepreneurial Mindset

Many want to stake out a business identity and space for themselves, even within larger companies. For some leaders, that creates the impression that they are not team players in the traditional sense. But I do not think that is the case. They simply view teams in a different way from the way older employees do.

A Need for Flexibility and Mobility

Many younger millennials do not hesitate to change jobs as a way to achieve the personal goals and success they are looking for. But in my experience, many millennials can be loyal and long-lasting employees, provided that your organization offers them appropriate opportunities to gain recognition, “own their work,” and advance.

One Big Misconception about Millennials

Many managers in my age bracket have told me that millennials “expect to get promoted for doing nothing.” I think that those managers think that because millennials are ambitious – but ambition and laziness are poles apart. Millennials do want to move ahead quickly, but that doesn’t mean that they avoid working hard or expect advancement to be given to them for little or no reason.

In our earlier years, people in my age group generally expected to advance our careers by “moving up through the ranks.” Millennials, in contrast, expect to move ahead more quickly. Their heroes are people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who achieved success early. And because millennials are so eager to move their careers forward, one key to managing them is to explain what they need to do in order to get to the next level in your organization. Earlier in our careers, people like me who are older than millennials somehow learned to never push our superiors to tell us what we needed to do to get promoted. We tended to play by the rules, work hard, keep kind of quiet, and get singled out for promotion thanks to some kind of process that was going on behind closed doors.

You have to open up those doors when you’re leading millennials, because success in managing them comes when we set clear goals for them.

 

Processes and practices like these work well:

  • Have a great training program. This is critically important. Training helps millennials discover a way to grow and achieve their goals more easily in your organization.
  • Engage millennials in conversations about the future of the company. When they feel that their voices and ideas have been heard, they will become much stronger team players and deliver more valuable insights.
  • Offer autonomy and opportunities for intrapreneurship. Millennials expect to “make their mark” by taking ownership of their work and achieving personal successes.
  • Overcome organizational structures that limit individual initiative. Ambitious millennials feel stifled by hierarchical structures in which they can only communicate their ideas up to their immediate supervisors. It has been my experience that company-wide meetings where people from all levels contribute ideas that are given equal consideration can be a motivator for millennial and younger workers. (They motivate all other employees too.)
  • Talk openly and specifically about what represents accomplishment in your organization. You should do this during job reviews, but also start earlier, when you are hiring millennials. In interviews, you can explain who you are, what you are trying to accomplish as a company, and explain the role that they can play. And be sure to offer excellent training during onboarding.

In summary . . .

All leaders pride themselves on managing change and building legacies that will endure well into the future. I believe that one of the clearest paths to reaching those goals is to welcome, embrace and cultivate millennial workers, who will become your organization in the years to come. I hope you will agree.