How Managers Can Cope with the Needy Millennial

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

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of managing Millennials who are so dedicated to doing something flawlessly that it appears they can’t do anything by themselves. They ask numerous questions and prefer to be shown every single step in the process before they attempt it. While to some this may feel like hand-holding or needy, the Millennials in question are simply attempting to avoid making a mistake. This Needy Millennial persona can be more properly understood if explored a bit.

A portrait of a Needy Millennial

Let’s pretend that you manage an ambitious Millennial named Gunther. In his initial interviews, you valued how prepared he was, from his knowledge of the company, to his new ideas for the role, to the list of questions he came prepared with. Right away, you knew that Gunther would be a dedicated, hard worker.

Fast-forward a couple months, and you’re starting to grow agitated every time Gunther comes near your desk to ask a question — he asks a lot of questions. Just last week, you assigned him a project and he checked in not one, not three, but six times to pose a query or ask you to review his work. You’ve started to think that he can’t complete an assignment on his own, and you hear murmurs that others agree.

When Gunther asks, “Did you get my email?” his colleague Whitney responds through clenched teeth, “Yes, I got it, but haven’t yet had time to respond.” If you have one more 10-minute meeting that turns into 20 minutes because Gunther needs step-by-step instruction on the correct way to do something, you may just start pinching yourself to control your anger. You want to remain a great manager and groom Gunther to be all that he can be, but your patience is wearing thin and he’s burning through hours of your own productivity.

Breakdown of the Needy Millennial

Whew. Gunther sounds a wee bit exhausting to manage. His Needy Millennial persona showcases that he

  • Asks a lot of questions, all the time
  • Wants constant feedback
  • Checks in too often on tasks that don’t require it
  • Impatiently pesters others who are working on their own schedule or list of priorities
  • Wants to know the ins and outs of all the information he receives
  • Needs validation of his work and decision-making before sending it along

What makes a Needy Millennial tough to manage

Though these Millennials may be needy, they’re also anxious to do right by their team and the company. While you might already see that, that won’t stop you from feeling annoyed when you have to provide hand-holding on every single task and project. Your time slips by when you dedicate hours to grooming a Needy Millennial instead of completing items on your own to-do list. Instead of feeling like a manager, you begin to feel like the thing that you loathe — a micromanager.

Why Needy Millennials can be great

While it’s so easy to get frustrated with a Millennial who pesters, questions, and checks in on a regular basis, instead try to think more along these lines:

  • Wow, this is one of the of the most engaged employees I’ve ever managed.
  • Well, at least I never need to wonder where he’s at.
  • He probably won’t keep any secrets or go rogue!

Surviving the Needy Millennial

While your predicament with a Needy Millennial may seem dire, don’t worry just yet. Check out the following:

  • Clearly communicate boundaries. Set expectations early on with each project or scenario. Articulate when you want to check in and for how long. Explain when you are okay with being approached with questions and when you’re not.
  • Stop the behavior as soon as you see it. The earlier you can call out actions and behaviors that appear needy, the better. Don’t let them get used to certain behaviors, because if you address them later on, they’ll be confused and even a bit perturbed. These Millennials may not even know that they’re coming across as needy.
  • Acknowledge that sometimes, you will need to hold their hand. Unlike Generation Xers, Millennials sometimes need a bit of micromanaging. Not in a breathing-down-your-neck, watching-for-everything kind of way, but in a will-give-specific-instruction-at-all-times kind of way. To a Millennial, giving specific instruction or answering a laundry list of questions isn’t micromanaging, it’s ensuring that everything is running smoothly.

“[Some Millennials may be] a little more needy; they’re inexperienced and I do feel like they don’t tend to take things a step further proactively. If you give direction, they take it amazingly and do what you told them to but there is a lack of [follow-through].” — Greta H., Millennial and manager

  • Praise them when they do something solo. Some behavioral psychologist out there is smiling. It’s not just about correcting the bad behavior but also about reinforcing the good. When a Needy Millennial does manage to do something on her own, recognize it. This specific type of Millennial tends to be super sensitive to positive praise, which can be a powerful tool.
  • Create a safe space for failure (within reason). Failure, or doing something wrong, is a Needy Millennial’s kryptonite. On low-risk projects, give them free reign, and if they fail or mess something up, let them know it’s not the end of the world, but coach them on how they can improve next time around. Once they’ve conquered their fear, they’ll feel more confident tackling the next project without constant supervision.
  • Delegate their needs. You are not the only resource for a needy Millennial, so delegate their coaching, championing, and instructing to other members of your team. Chances are the more exposure to people in the organization, the better for you and the Needy Millennial.