How to Manage the Hidden Millennial

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

In the exploration of Millennial personas, you’ll likely come across a whole swath of research about Millennials who work from coffee shops, aren’t married, live in the city, regularly use social media, stay in a company for only two to three years, and seek to change everything the moment they start their jobs. While this research can be helpful in studying Millennials, it disregards a whole group of Millennials waiting to be found and understood.

They are everything the typical Millennial picture is not. They hope to stay in a job for at least a decade or two, are not tech-savvy (tech-comfortable at best), favor strict hierarchy in the workplace, and are already married with kids and living in the suburbs by the time they turn 23. How do you find this Hidden Millennial? The truth is they’re not actually all that hidden. They’re just not covered by the media, so you may be surprised to find they’re Millennials and scratching your head about how to manage them.

A portrait of a Hidden Millennial

You’ve always liked Derek because he seems unique in his peer group. In the distribution center you manage, he gets along best with those who don’t belong to his generation. He said in his interview that he’s in it for the long haul, and from the way he works, that still seems true five years later! He proves his work ethic by his record of no late clock-ins and no early clock-outs — he’s perfectly on time every single day.

When you asked him if he could support a new position or a change in the near future, he seemed to get nervous and assured you that he is comfortable and happy with the way things are. He responds really well to clear direction but sometimes gets flustered when you advise him to come up with his own ideas or creatively problem-solve — it seems pretty obvious that he prefers a manager who leads with a hierarchical nature

In the past couple months, you tried to bond with him about your kid’s experiences using social media only to find that Derek not only doesn’t have a social media account, but has never used one.

Breakdown of the Hidden Millennial

While Derek possesses a lot of great qualities, he can be a tricky one to read. You know he’s of the Hidden Millennial cohort because he

  • Thrives in an environment that typically struggles to recruit and retain Millennials
  • Aims to stay with a company for longer than the norm
  • Prefers an authoritative hand in management
  • Doesn’t have a social media account

What makes a Hidden Millennial tough to manage

The most difficult move to conquer in Hidden Millennial chess is the sheer unpredictable nature of their motives. Most other Millennials are a bit easier to pin down and figure out because so much is written about them on a regular basis.

The unseen challenge to managing this cohort is that while they may seem like a blessing because they don’t embody the traits that you’ve come to define Millennials by, they despise being called out as a member of their cohort and have very different expectations at work. For example, while you’ve come to appreciate the innovative nature of Millennials and created programs just for them, you may find that everything that worked for every other Millennial doesn’t work for the hidden ones. They could possibly be the most slippery Millennial persona of them all.

Why Hidden Millennials can be great

Who doesn’t love a person who is complex, unique, and different from the trend? The days when being an outsider was a negative are behind us. Chances are that you, or fellow leaders and managers like you, have a soft spot for these Millennials who do everything differently because their hidden nature has a lot of benefits for you to think about:

  • They can be predictable and lower maintenance as they stick to a schedule and a prescribed set of to-dos more than other Millennials.
  • They may serve as a natural bridge-builder between Millennials and Traditionalists or those who’ve been working in one environment for a long time.
  • Special treatment could be the opposite of motivating to this group, and that may take some of the pressure off your shoulders.

Dealing with the Hidden Millennial

Just because few resources talk about this entire hidden cohort doesn’t mean you have to hide in the dark with them. Make your Millennial management expertise obvious by stepping into the light and adopting some of these management strategies:

  • Don’t assume that all Hidden Millennials are alike. The example with Derek doesn’t even capture the most exaggerated version of the Hidden Millennial because they come in so many forms. Some Hidden Millennials have a lot of traits, and others have few. Take it in stride and learn to manage them one by one.
  • Don’t assume that they’re robotic. A common misconception about Hidden Millennials is that their aversion to work-life integration means they don’t want to build personal connections at work. In most scenarios, this is a false assumption, as most assumptions are. They’re game to build the relationship but just prefer more structured interactions that don’t take away from their workday.
  • Apply traditional Millennial management methods in doses. Just because they’re hidden doesn’t mean they lack all the Millennial traits and behaviors that you’re used to. In most scenarios, they may show these traits in slightly different ways or to a smaller degree. With that in mind, apply your methods in small doses and take note of what works and what doesn’t.

Millennials who manage Hidden Millennials may have the most difficult time with them. Millennial managers may be used to building instant connections with employees near their own age and then suddenly find themselves struggling to manage this group. Or, perchance, they’ve become so confident in managing their own generation that when the approach backfires with Hidden Millennials, their entire style is called into question. If you’re a Millennial manager reading this, try tweaking your style using some of the tips mentioned earlier. And don’t let your experience with a Hidden Millennial completely derail your style that works with others.