Communicating with Millennials in Mind

As the American workplace shifts from being filled with Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to dominated by Millennials, this generational shift also creates a cultural shift—one with younger workers who have different expectations and values than their predecessors. This is not your father’s cubicle.

While technology, globalization, diversity and many other factors continue to impact the modern workplace, Millennials are also directly influencing how, where and when we work.

The U.S. workforce is currently represented by Baby Boomers (27%), Generation Xers (27%) and Millennials (44%) with another 2% represented by those born before Boomers and after Millennials. And this shift to majority Millennials has created a dramatic shift in workplace culture that demands we redefine how to best manage people.

According to Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaker Thinking in a white paper titled “The Great Generational Shift,”  this radical shift in numbers is accompanied by a profound transformation

in the norms, values, attitudes, expectations and behaviors of the emerging post-Boomer workforce.

“Today’s generation gap, in contrast, is about much more than a clash of styles and preferences; much more than the creative energy of youth challenging the cautious wisdom of experience; more than the new butting up against the old,” writes Tulgan. “The ‘Generational Shift’ unfolding today is of historic significance, defined by the confluence of macro forces driving change at an extraordinary magnitude and pace.”

This dynamic has made it particularly difficult for managers as they are being asked to do more with less, operate with increasing ambiguity, supervise workers in diverse locations, and rely a lot more on interdependence with other departments and workgroups. All the while, the Millennials they are managing have a different level of expectations than their predecessors.

For example, Millennials may very well expect that:

  • Relationships are less hierarchical and more situational;
  • Learning and training programs are less directed and facilitated with a defined curriculum and specific goal-orientation than they are self-directed, collaborative, on-going, open-ended and multiple sourced;
  • Communication style is less formal and about going through proper channels as it is about being more constant, on-going, high-tech and high touch;
  • Attitude about life and career is less about building a life around their career as it is building a career around the kind of life they want to have;
  • What they are looking for in a manager can be summarized as “Please help me do my job . . . Give me guidance, support and feedback every step of the way;”
  • The performance evaluation should not be annual or semi-annual, but regular and frequent, ideally daily;
  • What Millennials are looking for first and foremost in employment is not so much job security, but flexibility.

While some may complain that these Millennials are too high-maintenance and that we shouldn’t have to bend so far to meet their preferences. The reality is that Millennials are bringing on this cultural shift that is both natural and necessary in order to assimilate their unique contributions in the workplace.

And what makes managers successful in this environment is the ability to deliver clear, consistent and constant communication to these younger workers.

In their research to measure the effectiveness of successful managers, Tulgan and his associates found that all of them had employees who consistently delivered the highest productivity and quality along with higher morale, team spirit and the best business outcomes. And their direct reports were more likely to describe them as “one of the best managers I’ve ever had.”

The common denominator among these successful managers was in the high-quality communication they consistently engaged in with every direct-report in ongoing, content-rich dialogue about the work. And things went best when managers consistently made expectations clear and provided candid feedback for each employee at every step.

This more involved, more present manager may rub some the wrong way, yet for younger workers, it may be exactly what they are looking for in order to be most productive. While some may see it as “telling me how to do my job” Millennials may instead receive it as “give me direction and support as well as immediate feedback so that I can do it on my own.”

And perhaps this deliberate hand-holding is necessary for the younger generation to learn before putting their unique spin on the work and then taking it to new heights.

The manager’s role will continue to evolve but the notion of clear, consistent and constant communication will prove especially effective as our generations continue to shift.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s