Managing Millennials - it’s not a mystery

Source: Gallup, 2014

Source: Gallup, 2014

Generational differences in the workplace can be challenging.  Our backgrounds, experiences, and societal influences determine some of the ways we behave at work and even the ways we perceive the idea of work.  Much has been written lately about the “issues” inherent in working with the Millennial generation:  they’ve been described as selfish and entitled, the product of “helicopter” parents who doted on them at every step in their lives, creating a constant need for approval and praise.  I’m not a fan of these types of generalizations – in my experience, our individual differences are much more profound and, more importantly, useful, when thinking about working with and managing others.  While my inclination is to take a Strengths-based approach when thinking about managing different generations, I also recognize that there are indeed some commonalities within each generation that can inform the way we effectively work with others on our team.  Here are some of the best ways to maximize the Millennial talent on your team:

1. Contextualize your Decisions and Connect to a larger purpose

Provide the "WHY" - Millennials are information-savvy; they want to be "in the know" and understand how their jobs fit into the organization’s purpose – which ideally should have a component that betters the world.   Most Millennials want more than just a job - they want to connect their work to their values and feel like their job serves a purpose that they deem important.  In addition, Context and Input talents (see Top 5 list, above) indicate a need for lots of information, an understanding of the big picture and how their work fits into the larger company goal.  Give them access to information and let go of “need to know” limitations so they can feel connected. 

2. Provide feedback, effectively and often

Growing up as they did in the information age, Millennials have never been more than a few keystrokes away from an answer on Google.  They can YouTube how to do just about anything, and any quick Internet search can validate that they're on the right track.  Being accustomed to instant feedback (about everything) online, they expect the same at work, from their peers and their manager.  Be mindful that feedback doesn't always have to mean praise; often what they seek is validation, i.e. "am I on the right track?" or "could I be doing this differently/better?" so keep the focus on continual improvement rather than simply proverbial pats on the back.

 

3. INCREASE YOUR COMFORT LEVEL WITH ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION

Millennials are the most connected generation in history and have an intuitive comfort level with all forms of electronic communication.  Text and chat on smartphones and tablets are as valid forms of communication for this generation as the rotary phone was for Baby Boomers.  Embrace these forms of communication and have some fun with it - it's okay if you had to ask someone younger than you to explain what a hashtag is or what TTYL means (ok maybe that was just me), but they'll be much more likely to build a positive relationship with you if you simply ask for their help rather than roll your eyes and dismiss them with a "kids these days..." comment.  LOL!  :-)  

 

4. EMBRACE THE CONCEPT OF WORK/LIFE INTEGRATION

While their predecessors in the workplace often draw a firm line between work and personal life, that line blurs for many Millennials.  They have grown up balancing school and activities (sports, friends, community involvement) and they're often talented at juggling these multiple priorities, so work doesn't necessarily have to be separate from life.  Accept and embrace that blurred line, and allow for flexible schedules, creative work hours, and mid-day breaks, as long as work outcomes aren't at risk.  Remember that their idea of work/life balance has evolved: it's work/life integration that makes more sense.

5. Paint the future path (or let them paint it for you!)

Challenging work and growth opportunities are key components of an engaged workforce, for any generation.  These elements tend to be stronger drivers, however, with people in their 20s and 30s, since more of their career is ahead of them than behind them and it's natural to have a future-focused perspective.  Feed this need by asking questions about interests, passions, talents and values and how those preferences align with their work.  Millennials need to see where their career is going and they want to know exactly how to get there, so you're likely to keep them engaged by entertaining a dialogue about career goals and aspirations for what lies ahead on their career path.