3 Tips for Being a Better Manager of Millennials

By Hannah L. Ubl, Lisa X. Walden, Debra Arbit

Millennials represent a significant portion of the workforce right now. If you are in a managerial position, you will inevitably find yourself in charge of a Millennial. Here are some tips for refining your approach.

Individualize your approach with each millennial

Some managers tend to take a “same equals fair” approach with their management style, which can backfire with Millennials who have been raised in a world that celebrated the individual. No one wants to feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick, but everyone’s opinion of what the stick looks like is different, and Millennials expect an advanced level of personalization.

Customizing your approach is critical with a generation that has been able to personalize everything from their song playlist to their sneaker color for as long as they can remember. If they see you using a one-size-fits-all managing model, you risk them checking out, or worse: leaving. They don’t want to be grouped with every other Millennial, especially not as the Millennial that the media consistently describes.

Consider all the ways that you can change your ways, within reason. There is no reason to do guesswork here — you aren’t psychic. If you aren’t sure of the best way to customize your approach for a certain employee, just ask:

  • How do you best receive feedback?
  • What would be the most impactful way I can help you through this project?
  • What time of day do you feel like you do your best work?
  • Do you work better in a team or alone?
  • What can I do to make your work life better?
  • What is your ideal reward?

Set clear, structured expectations for Millennials

A very fine line exists between micromanaging and setting clear expectations. It’s arguably one of the toughest distinctions that you will face, and it’s a dance you’ll be perfecting as long as you choose to lead.

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Don’t forget that for the Millennial generation, the last thing they want is to feel that they’re on a deserted island without the necessary tools. While fiercely independent Gen Xers may love the freedom to tackle a project by themselves, Millennials want clear guidelines to follow. Before setting them on a project, ask yourself:

  • How much do you expect them to work by themselves versus with you?
  • What are the check-in points?
  • How are you structuring those check-ins, if at all?
  • When is the deadline? How are you tracking it?
  • In what format do you expect them to deliver the final project? How are you going to give them that direction without micromanaging the situation?

For most projects, you will have some very clear expectations (deadlines, deliverable structure, and so on) and some flexible expectations (PowerPoint or Keynote for the presentation, agenda for check-ins, and so forth). Be sure to point out both sets of expectations and what items fall into which category. Explain why some things are nonnegotiable, but also highlight where you are giving them freedom.

Invite input from your Millennials

If you are a leader or manager, giving feedback to your employees on how they perform is part of the job description. However, asking your employees for their feedback on how you are doing is less normal. Some managers welcome and thrive on this two-way conversation. Others may find it to be the hardest pill to swallow on this list of ten objectives.

For those of you who find it difficult, you’re not alone. It is easy to fear not only what they may say, but also how their input will affect your leadership. Can you trust their advice? Will they be too hard on you? Do they lack the emotional intelligence to see the situation for what it really is? If you fall into the camp of the latter, don’t worry:

  • Millennials don’t view your soliciting input as a weakness. If anything, it will only boost their confidence in you. Keep in mind, this generation has been reviewing everything from books to hotels to restaurants for as long as they can remember. If a website doesn’t allow them to share feedback, they are very likely not to trust it. The same can be said about their manager. Soliciting feedback builds trust.
  • They will freely give constructive feedback, but not without accolades. Millennials grew up during the self-esteem movement, so they know how to dish out the good feelings. So while many managers may walk away from these conversations with areas to consider changing, just as many leave the conversation surprised and much more confident in the job they’re doing.

Before they know it, they’ll find out that they’ve earned the title of #BestBossEver.