Managing Millennials in the Standard Workplace


There are no other living adult generations in the United States as large in population as today’s millennials, who number 73 million based on the latest records.

The U.S. Bureau of Census defines millennials, also known as Generation Y (Gen Y), as individuals born from the early 1980s to early 2000s. With about a third of them making up the American workforce as of 2018, businesses are faced with the challenge of knowing how to effectively manage them as new hires or how to further develop them as managers. 

In a multigenerational workplace, baby boomers and Gen Xers may have preconceived notions about what type of workers millennials are. Entitled, narcissistic, demanding, lazy, and disloyal are some of the unfortunate labels attached by older generations to Gen Y. 

But as HR guru and No Ego book author Cy Wakeman puts it, we can’t keep blaming millennials to justify the unchanged leadership styles in our organizations.

The question for company leaders to then answer is how we can understand millennials and what we can do to reach out to them.

For starters, let’s look at a few of the prominent characteristics of this group.

Qualities of Millennial Workers

They’re tech savvy.

Because most of them grew up with digital technology, they are very familiar with its use. They use online resources for banking, shopping, travel, and entertainment.

They’re more comfortable communicating through text messaging, email, or whatever social media is also used by their friends and colleagues. 

They are close to their families.

Millennials look for better work-life balance and are willing to trade a high-paying salary for more flexible work hours. This is because of their desire to spend more time with family than work, whether they’re married or single. 

They are achievement-oriented. 

Many millennials were pampered by parents who strove to protect their children from the hardships or mistakes of previous generations. As a result, they are more educated, ambitious, and achievement-oriented. 

They make financial decisions geared toward sustainability instead of just aiming to “strike it rich.” They are also likely to delay marriage and buying homes. 

They value teamwork and feedback.

Millennials seek input and the affirmation of others, as most of them grew up being asked by teachers—from grade school to college—to accomplish tasks in groups.

They also prefer a flat organization versus a hierarchical one.

They are curious and open to change.

Being on the lookout for what’s new and better make millennials prone to changing jobs after two or three years. 

They are creative and excited to learn new skills. They invest time in becoming better employees and tend to move on after acquiring a skillset that moves them up their career path.

They are also progressive, global thinkers, and cross-cultural communicators.

Effectively Managing Millennials

Millennials actually have a lot in common with employees of other generations in that they all desire meaningful work, recognition, autonomy, feedback, and personal/career development opportunities.

Armed with this knowledge, how can organizations build, motivate, and retain millennials?

Provide consistent communication and feedback.

They normally look up to their managers for guidance and approval, so it’s best to be approachable and keep an open-door policy. 

Schedule short but more frequent feedback sessions apart from the quarterly or semi-annual reviews. They may perceive constructive criticism as attacks so plan your delivery as well.

However, avoid too much “hand-holding.” Let them try things on their own, fail, and practice their inherent resourcefulness.

Other ways of helping them improve on the job include:

  • Job shadowing you or others 
  • Sharing articles and other content with them about trends and predictions related to their field or career interest
  • Trusting them with extra duties every now and then when you see that they are ready to try something new

Encourage collaboration.

Structure your workforce in a way where everyone needs to work together while having defined roles. Motivate them to brainstorm new ideas and strategies as a team.

Create opportunities for people to build friendships with co-workers and nurture a collaborative  atmosphere instead of a competitive one.

Part of having a collaborative workplace is to foster transparency between employees and management. Involve your millennial managers or personnel in tasks, projects, and meetings on mission, culture, and business strategy.

Stay focused on results.

There is a myth that millennials are a lazy and entitled bunch. However, according a Gallup poll, 56% of millennial respondents who said that their managers hold them accountable felt engaged in their work. 

Millennials are willing to work hard to achieve targets. Unlike the older generation, they may just not prioritize some aspects of the traditional management such as fixed work schedules and dress codes.

Recognize their achievements and give rewards. 

Millennials aren’t particularly after public recognition, but instead seek acknowledgement that their work is valued and worthwhile.

A simple smile and “thank you” from their team leader or manager may be enough. Of course, it would be best to know them personally to determine how they like to be recognized and rewarded, then respect their answers. 

Give them adequate resources. 

Have a clear training program for your millennials, and do research to plan relevant training. Learning isn’t only acquired through workshops and conferences; also consider books and online courses.

Your company can set up mentorship sessions, invite a thought leader, or read a book together as a team or organization.

Millennials are receptive to technological tools that can improve how they work and might suggest them to management. Listen to their suggestions then see if they can be used on a wider scale. 

Allow remote working.

Many millennials are attracted to organizations who offer telecommuting as long as they get their work done. 

Seventy-five percent of US millennials said that businesses must be “flexible and fluid,” according to an American Express survey. Respondents to a separate poll by Deloitte claim that working remotely even boosts their productivity.

Support their future.

Millennials aren’t unmotivated as some might like to believe; they are actually very interested in rapid career advancement and leadership positions.

Lay out your internal promotions or succession plan. Doing so will strengthen employee retention among millennials and send a positive message that you value career development.

If your millennial workers come to you saying they feel that their job isn’t going anywhere or they’re not making an impact in the company, meet them one-on-one and discuss a long-term plan for success together. 

Let them see how each step contributes to the organization and their personal goals. Lead by example in celebrating the effort exerted in individual tasks instead of trying to make a huge impact at once. 

Consider revising organizational hierarchies to have sublevels (manager 1, manager 2, and manager 3) so that millennials will feel that there is “overt progression” in the company and an internal career path they can pursue. 

Leading Millennials in the Multi-Generational Workplace

Although the millennial population makes up a large portion of our current workforce, baby boomers are working longer and the wave of post-millennial workers are entering the scene.

Companies must encourage collaboration among generations by fostering acceptance. You can organize activities so that younger and older workers can better understand each other’s priorities, preferences, and values. 

Moreover, emphasize that each generation has something to bring to the table and that all generations must adapt and embrace what’s best for the organization and its clients.