Managing Millennials: What Can We Learn?

 

As managers, you are undoubtedly starting to recruit the newest generation of workers. They have been dubbed ‘The Millennials’, and according to Forbes will comprise 75% of our workforce by 2025. 

Added on 13 January 2017 by Angela Jowitt

Managing millennials

Research into this group has revealed some common themes about their views on work: 

  • They have a sense of entitlement and expect promotion early
  • They do not recognize hierarchy in the same way as older generations
  • They are feedback hungry
  • They place a higher value on work-life balance than their older colleagues
  • They have a greater social conscience
  • They have a lower sense of loyalty to their employer

This topic was raised recently by participants on our Management Development Program. In all honesty, the hype surrounding Millennials is probably not much different to the hype that surrounded older generations. We were once all young, keen, eager and impatient to make our mark in our careers.

There are some distinctions we can make between the generations, but these relate more to the organizational context, which has made a dramatic shift in the last decade. I am of the Baby Boomer generation, and came into a working world where we were small cogs in a larger machine. Our ideals were based on optimism, loyalty, a job for life and an expectation that we would work long hours to achieve. All this would be rewarded in the long term by a decent pension and a (hopefully) long retirement.

For Millennials, these ideals no longer exist and this will impact on what they find important in their careers and their priorities will be different to ours as a result. Their career is likely to be longer, job security may not be as guaranteed. Where older generations were brought up to believe a second job was ‘moonlighting’, which was frowned upon by some organizations, this generation see multiple income streams as the norm. The Baby Boomer generation has been accused of being selfish, of not thinking about the future owing to an individualist paradigm. The Millennial generation intend to do something about that.

During our recent Management Development Program, we were hearing how hard it is to manage their expectations, and were being asked the question of how to retain their loyalty. Clearly the traditional way of managing doesn’t appear to be working.

"They leave their desks for hours without telling us."

"They go to the gym in their lunch hour, then sit at their desk and eat their lunch."

"It is a struggle to retain them, they leave at a drop of a hat."

Millennials are challenging the status quo: this might not be such a bad thing. Irrespective of age, the organizational context has changed for all of us. Why not take this opportunity to rethink how your organization is structured, and challenge some of these long-held assumptions?

In order to help you foster greater loyalty in all your team members, but particularly your younger employees think about providing:

  • Regular feedback, in the moment, which is timely, specific and above all, clear
  • Clarity when joining the organization about what they can expect, and clarity about where they stand
  • Greater empowerment - allow people to take on responsibilities and to learn new things
  • Equality in the work-life balance. Encourage a work hard/play hard culture
  • Opportunities for them to utilize their phenomenal skills in problem solving and critical thinking

Seven tips you could try:

  1. Let the team carve up their working day to suit their energy levels. They are responsible for ensuring critical tasks are covered and everyone is present at busy times, being clear that they are accountable if this does not happen
  2. Coming together regularly as a team to offer feedback and praise on things that are going well, and support and encouragement for things that are not working
  3. Encouraging entrepreneurial thinking from all, thus increasing innovation and engagement
  4. Devising some rules of engagement that the whole team create jointly. The agreed rule of ‘mutual respect’ for example, could mean that everyone in the team agrees to check in with each other before leaving their desk
  5. Encouraging regular social gatherings, so people get to know and appreciate one another better. Often misunderstanding and frustrations arise out of not communicating enough. These don’t need to be huge time eaters, but the increase in team cohesion may be worth every minute invested
  6. Can the team work more flexibly? Occasional days working from home often result in greater productivity
  7. Involve the team in ethical projects that benefit society. It helps with team cohesion and allows younger team members the chance to lead on something that matters to them

Every organization is different, and not all businesses can flex to such an extent. However, if we see the arrival of the Millennials as an opportunity to change our working practices and world view, rather than another management headache, we may find the workplace becomes a better environment for all of us.

The Management Development Program is designed to cover not only the ‘hard skills’ of management, but also the often more tricky ‘soft skills’ that come with your role, such as: 

  • Understanding what motivates your team
  • Dealing with and minimizing conflict
  • Discussing common management issues with other participants and sharing solutions based on your own real life examples
  • Dealing with and overcoming difficult conversations
  • An opportunity to reflect on your team so you can create greater engagement from all the generations
  • Space to think about the kind of leader you want to be, both now and in the future
  • Strategies for developing your team so that you retain rather than lose your top talent 

Here at Ashridge we have run a number of research projects looking into the different generations: Our latest Generation Y research asks what Gen Y really want from work and our research into Baby Boomers and the Multigenerational Workforce is available as an on-demand webinar to download.