Managing Millennials For Dummies Cheat Sheet
Whatever your opinion on Millennials, there is one fact that stands unchallenged: they are now the largest generation in the work force. Even though they make up such a huge percentage of the workplace, Millennials are still stumping experienced managers on the best way to lead and manage them.
Whether you work with a 35-year-old or 25-year-old Millennial, you are bound to be grappling with questions like: What is the best way to motivate them? How do I address their desire for flexibility and work-life integration? Are Millennials as obsessed with technology as they’re portrayed to be? Do they really have the attention span of a goldfish? How can I get them to stay?
If any of these sound familiar, we hope this Cheat Sheet will help you pass Millennial Management 101 (and even 401) with flying colors. Here you’ll find snippets of crucial information to help you step up your Millennial managing game.
Comparing Past and Future Generations with Millennials
It’s impossible to learn about any generation in a vacuum. If you want to know how to better manage Millennials, it’s important to know a little bit about the generations before and after them. Take a quick peak at the chart below to acquaint yourself with the other folks in the generational melting pot of today’s work world.
|Born prior to 1946||Traditionalist||Loyal Fiscally conservative Faith in institutions Self-sacrificing|
|1946–1964||Baby Boomer||Competitive Optimistic Professional Eager to put their stamp on the world|
|1965–1979||Generation X||Independent Resourceful Skeptical Entrepreneurial|
|1980–1995||Millennial||Collaborative Tech-savvy Diverse Adaptive|
|1996–2010*||Generation Edge||Pragmatic Resilient Self-reliant Tech-innate|
*Because Gen Edgers are still in the midst of their formative years (roughly their teenage years), 2010 is an informed estimate of the last year in the Gen Edge birth year bracket. As they move through their formative years and more research emerges, this number may change.
Now that you know your place on the generational timeline, your managerial brain could be pondering just how your traits both help and hinder you with the Millennial generation. Assuming that nearly every manager falls into one of three generational categories (seeing that Traditionalists make up less than 2% of the workforce and older Gen Edgers are newbies to the working world), take a look at how you may be similar or different to the Millennials you manage:
- If you’re a Baby Boomer managing a Millennial:
- Why you’ll jive: You’re both optimists. Boomers are known for rallying behind big ideas, and Millennials are much the same. These two generations can connect over possibilities and dreaming up what could be, favoring brainstorming sessions and working for a mission-driven organization.
- Why you’ll clash: You define hard work differently. Whereas Boomers are known for their work ethic of arriving early, dressing for success, and staying late, Millennials are stereotyped as being lazy. To a Millennial, hard work is defined by results, even if that means arriving late and opting to work late into the night from a coffee shop.
- If you’re a Generation Xer managing a Millennial:
- Why you’ll jive: You both seek transparency. Millennials and Generation Xers value honesty above almost all else from their leadership. Xers and Millennials saw institutions crumble in their youth, so to build trust with them it takes extra effort, and a heavy dose of transparency, on the part of leaders and managers.
- Why you’ll clash: One of you grew up with the motto “There is no ‘I’ in team.” While Xers take pride in completing a project alone, Millennials take pride in team wins. They both respect independent and collaborative work, but Millennials are more prone to brainstorming meetings, frequent check-ins, and group projects.
- If you’re a Millennial managing a Millennial:
- Why you’ll jive: You both value the #workfamily. Every Millennial knows that a great workplace is one where you can (for the most part) be comfortable being yourself. This makes for an environment where it’s easy for Millennial managers to bond with their Millennial employees.
- Why you’ll clash: You both value #workfamily, but you’re the boss. When Millennials step into leadership, they have to take on a new persona. Suddenly, conversations that go too far into the informal (for example, a play-by-play of a direct report’s crazy weekend) start feeling inappropriate, and a line now has to be drawn that might not have been necessary before. Pulling that boss card, especially the first time, can be a challenge.
Dispelling Myths and Stereotypes About Millennials
Millennials are so heavily stereotyped that it’s almost painful to read through the endless articles, headlines, and news features that dismiss them as lazy, narcissistic, overly sensitive, entitled, and generally the worst thing to happen to the modern working world. To be an effective leader, manager, and colleague, do Millennials a favor and don’t take this click-bait at face value. Take the time to get to know the Millennials you manage, and while you’re at it, be an ally in the quest to bust these harmful myths.
Who are the Millennials?
As it would be with any generation, it’s impossible to dilute Millennial’s essence down to a few short paragraphs. In the spirit of a digestible Cheat Sheet, here’s some of the need-to-know Millennial info:
- Birth years: 1980–1995
- Population size: 82 million
- Alternate identity: Also known as Generation Y
- Parents: Baby Boomers (for the most part)
- Traits: Collaborative, tech-savvy, and adaptive
- Values: Customization, innovation, efficiency, integrity
Combating the most common stereotypes about Millennials
If you’ve worked with any Millennials, chances are you’ve heard one of the following stereotypes. Take it upon yourself to change the conversation and see the truth behind it:
- Headphones on = distracted and not working. Millennials grew up when music went pocket-sized mobile, and they’re accustomed to having earbuds in when they’re working hard. In most cases, if you see them with headphones in, it’s not because they’re trying to tune you out and slack off, it’s because they’re laser-focused on the task at hand.
- Asking for constant feedback = needy, participant trophy generation. First of all, they didn’t give those participation trophies to themselves. Second, Millennials grew up in the era of instant everything — instant messaging, texting, and all forms of social media have made Millennials a cohort that values in-the-moment feedback to ensure they’re on the right path.
- Asking for flexible workdays = lazy. In some cases, this may be true. In most other cases, they’re just requesting a work schedule that will empower them to complete their tasks efficiently and effectively. They’re used to mobile technology that allows them to work from wherever, whenever. Millennials don’t feel the need to be tethered to a desk or office. Some days, a coffee shop might be the better backdrop to getting their best work done. Other days, the office will be the place to be.
- Young, unexperienced employee = another Millennial. Just because someone is under 25 doesn’t mean she’s a Millennial. Too often people assume that if the employee is green, lacks experience, and is difficult to manage, then she must be a Millennial. In fact, the oldest Millennials have been in the workplace for well over a decade, with many of them already in leadership positions. That new intern you hired might be a Millennial, or she might be a member of the next generation to hit the workforce, Gen Edge.
Tips to Make Managing Millennials a Whole Lot Easier
There are countless approaches to help you better engage with this young generation of workers, but all that information can start to feel overwhelming. Keep it simple, and use these tips for managing Millennials as a starting place:
- Giving feedback: Step up accomplishment — not participation — recognition. Believe it or not, Millennials don’t want a reward for just doing their job. While it may seem like upping your thank-you game is the best approach to giving Millennials that constant feedback they crave, peppering them with thank-yous on a daily basis only makes your feedback less meaningful. If you’re constantly pumping them with accolades and thank-yous, they may wonder: Are you being sincere? Aren’t there some areas I could improve? How do I distinguish between “OK” performance, versus knocking it out of the park? When recognizing Millennials for a job well done, be clear about a specific accomplishment and why you’re giving them positive feedback.
- Motivating: Make it about the experience, not the paycheck. Everyone wants to make money, Millennials included, but it can’t be the one thing that gets them out of bed every morning. If you want to get the most out of your Millennial employees, acknowledge the importance of experiences— whether it’s through outings with colleagues, participating in volunteer work, or making a sales goal team-oriented — they’ll be more driven to succeed if rewards fit into the new definition of extrinsic motivation (experiential, team-based, and, frankly, fun).
- Getting them to work hard: Focus on results, not rules. Technology has enabled people to work anywhere, at any time, and Millennials prefer leaders who live by that mantra. Flexibility in schedule, process, procedure, and rules will make for a happy Millennial employee. Before checking the time a Millennial sits down at her desk in the morning or closely examining whether she followed Steps 1–5 correctly and sequentially, check her results. If they’re stellar, let her continue to work in a way that’s best for her — and for your team.
- Navigating the organization structure: Explain the why. Ask a Millennial to jump, and he’ll ask why. Why, you ask? Millennials were raised by democratic Baby Boomer parents who asked for their opinions on everything from what new TV to buy to where to go on vacation. They also grew up with the virtual soapbox that is social media. These two conditions combined have made for a generation that values the opportunity to give their opinions. Once they’ve given their opinion or idea, they want to understand why it’s being either accepted or rejected. Don’t be afraid to tell a Millennial no, but prepare to back it up with the reasoning behind it.
- Communicating with Millennials: Mix informal with formal. Don’t assume you need to text Millennials a message rife with emojis to effectively communicate with them. Most Millennials prefer a manager who communicates in a way that is transparent and direct, but also knows when it’s ok to not be so starchy and buttoned-up. In written communication, replace formal salutations with casual greetings. With face-to-face communication, don’t be afraid to let your guard down and connect with your report about shared interest. The more that you can be authentically yourself while also keeping it professional, the more likely the message you’re trying to convey will be heard.