Managing Millennials

millennialscollage

The largest generation in the U.S. workforce today is composed of people born after 1980, and they represent Generation Y or Millennials. These 54 million workers are often called digital natives because they do not know of a world without computers and the Internet.

And while they may not fully appreciate that FAX machines and interoffice memos were once essential, it’s important to see the value of their unique perspectives and contributions.

Millennials were educated working in groups and therefore may be more accepting and effective in work teams than others. They are likely to be more technically savvy and connected. And while they may want regular feedback acknowledging their contribution, they also want to be challenged in the work they do.

Previously I wrote about Millennials as Managers with regard to how these younger workers show up as leaders and how they can best manage others. In this post, I’d like to address how those of older generations can best manage Millennials.

The generations are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely, and this impacts how to best manage them.

One methodology for managing will not necessarily work for an entire generation of people, of course. Workers are individuals and a method that works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another—even if they happen to be born within a similar timeframe.

Nevertheless, there are some common characteristics Millennials may share due to the timeframe in which they were raised, and it is therefore useful to consider how this shared perspective may require managing them differently than those who were born earlier.

Millennial workers may be misunderstood by those of other generations. According to research discussed in their book Managing the Millennials, authors Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch found the perceptions managers have working with Millennial employees can also be viewed as the Millennial’s intrinsic values. For example:

Manager’s Perception Millennial’s Intrinsic Value
Autonomous Work-life fusion – It’s about getting work done; not punching a clock to satisfy office processes.
Entitled Reward – Being recognized and rewarded for their contribution; Millennials want more than just an opportunity. They want a guarantee their performance will count for something.
Imaginative Self-expression – Offering a fresh perspective that they want to be heard and their ideas taken into consideration.
Self-absorbed Attention – In search of trust, encouragement and praise for how they individually are contributing to the whole of the group.
Defensive Achievement – They are more interested in how to focus on building their strengths than having their weaknesses pointed out.
Abrasive Informality – Though their behavior may be interpreted as disrespectful, their casual communication style is simply how they grew up learning to express themselves.
Myopic Simplicity – They may see their own individual task as essential without fully appreciating other tasks around it.
Unfocused Multitasking – If they have always juggled several tasks at a time, they may find it difficult to really appreciate the benefit of full focused attention on one thing at a time.
Indifferent Meaning – They can’t care about their contribution unless they know the meaning behind it.

This difference between a manager’s perception and the Millennial worker’s intrinsic values can lead to a great deal of conflict unless the manager is aware of it. This doesn’t mean managers should abdicate all responsibility from workers because they hold these intrinsic values. Instead, they could seek to find mutual understanding in the difference.

Ideally, this would take place in the normal course of working together and not held off until that dreaded and often detrimental annual performance review. By then, it is often too late.

Authors Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch further outlined nine managerial competencies that can be essential to managing Millennials effectively. These competencies may both reduce tension and create an environment in which both the manager and the employee can thrive.

  1. Be Flexible – to enable the autonomous, work-life fusion
  2. Create the Right Rewards – to engage them; often simply through verbal recognition
  3. Put Their Imagination to Work – allow for their self-expression to be incorporated
  4. Build a Relationship – listen to what they have to say and encourage their development
  5. Be Positive When Correcting – focus on strengths to build up their confidence
  6. Don’t Take Things Personally – don’t mistake their informality as an affront to you
  7. Show the Big Picture – help them see how their contribution connects to others
  8. Include the Details – spell out expectations until you are certain they are clear
  9. Make it Matter to Them – connect their aspirations to the organization’s objectives

None of these are necessarily revolutionary nor would they be less useful when managing Gen Xers or Boomers. However, it is important to consider that the Millennial worker may be especially predisposed to function at a higher level when working in an environment where these competencies are demonstrated by those who manage them.

And managers who seek to fully appreciate their workers’ unique perspectives will find a way to engage them and bring out their best.

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