Millennials in the workplace get called a lot of things in the business press: Self-centered. Entitled. Technology-obsessed multi-taskers who can’t take critical feedback and job-hop every 12 to 18 months. Leaders devote significant time and attention to strategizing about how to manage this unique generation of employees that is fast becoming a large segment of the U.S. workforce.
As a 29-year-old who has worked with students and young professionals on career development over the last seven years, I have seen a broad spectrum of millennial attributes, habits, and preferences.
Along with some of the stereotypical negative traits of millennials, we also possess a number of positive characteristics that can benefit a workplace. With the right approaches to management, millennials can bring unique and positive impact to your team. Here are four suggested ways for managers to manage millennials — and harness the traits of millennial employees for workplace success.
1. Give us short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals
Many organizations offer annual performance reviews and goal-setting conversations — with minimal performance feedback in the interim. Millennials are used to a faster pace, so a year can feel like an eternity.
During that time, we ruminate about whether we’re making progress toward our organization’s goals and whether we’re advancing in our own careers. Sometimes, if we feel uncertain about where we stand, we may just up and quit — leaving you, our manager, to spend valuable resources hiring and training a new junior employee.
Instead of annual reviews, think about offering quarterly performance conversations so that millennial employees can absorb feedback and course-correct as we go. Set transparent goals that should be achieved in the short-term, mid-term and long-term. I would even recommend offering quarterly incentive structures.
For example, instead of a 4% annual raise each July, consider giving millennial employees a 1% raise each quarter for meeting particular benchmarks. This helps to motivate us and assure us that we’re on track.
2. Put us on teams where we can learn and collaborate
Millennials show a natural proclivity for teamwork, as we grew up in classrooms where group projects were the norm and on sports teams and musical troupes where collaboration was essential. Managers wring their hands over millennials’ perceived lack of ability to work independently, but I would argue that this trait can be leveraged for huge wins within your company.
Consider placing your millennial employees on cross-departmental project teams where we can build relationships and gain a better understanding for the entirety of your business. Not only will this satiate our interest in teamwork and help us build broader context for our work, it will break down some of the silos that exist within many workplaces.
When setting up teams, it is critical that you explain your reasoning for placing an individual on the team, as well as clarifying your expectations for their individual contributions. We enjoy group work, but we need to know, transparently, the metrics on which we will be judged as individuals on a team.
3. Establish a reverse-mentoring program
Let’s face it — millennials have a lot to learn! We’re new to the workforce, with the youngest members of our generation fresh out of college and the oldest among us only 32 or 33 years of age. We can all use insight, guidance and wisdom from more experienced professionals and leaders.
But we also have a lot that we can teach you — about technology, new communication techniques, trends in digital media and pop culture. And we like to feel that we’re the experts!
While many companies offer traditional mentoring programs — pairing senior executives with junior employees to impart wisdom — a richer option is to provide a reverse mentoring initiative, where young employees can also share valuable perspectives with more experienced leaders.
By creating a reciprocal mentoring relationship, millennials will feel valued and will likely help senior leaders understand topics and technologies that may be helpful in their own professional development.
4. Resist the urge for top-down management
Telling millennials to “fall in line” — without providing context for the order or an opportunity to provide feedback — is asking for them to submit their letters of resignation. No one likes to feel bossed around, and this is doubly true for millennials.
We crave context and meaning in our work; we want to know the “why” behind decisions, and we want our voices to be heard as part of the decision-making processes.
Instead of adopting a command-and-control style of leadership, focus on providing a clear and inspiring vision — a framework for employees to think about their contributions.
Push decision-making rights as low on the organizational chart as possible, helping millennials to feel empowered to make decisions over their day-to-day work. When it is necessary for a leader to dictate an order, be sure to provide ample opportunity for millennials to express feedback as part of the process.
After all, we are often the ones on the front lines — working with customers and coming up against issues first-hand — so our perspectives can generate actionable insights that help the bottom line.
Managing Millennials: Well Worth the Effort
Managing millennials effectively doesn’t require overhauling your company’s HR policies or unlearning best practices in workplace leadership. It may just mean tweaking your management style or updating existing processes.
Just like employees of any age, millennials can contribute to your workplace in significant ways. We bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective that can add new energy to even the most thriving, forward-thinking work environments. When we’re managed with a bit of extra thought and attention, the odds of success increase dramatically.