Top Tips on Managing Millennials
We probably need to start this article with some caveats and health warnings. We cannot claim that everyone born between 1980 and 2000 is the same or has the same requirements from their manager.
And just like any other group of people, the best thing you can do as a people manager is take time to build a relationship and work out together what each individual needs from you.
However there are some particular quirks to those in the latter half of this generation known as millennials: those born after around 1990, who grew up with technology at the centre of their lives and experienced 9/11 in their formative years.
There are lots of sources out there on millennials and understanding how they have developed into people that are frequently insulted in the workplace. Our favourites are Simon Sinek’s frank and entertaining version from a US perspective and this UK version from the Guardian
But this article is about how to manage millennials. Understanding their mindset and how they have come to certain ways of thinking and being is useful, but what do we do with that information when they’re in our team and we’re struggling?
There are again a lot of places to look for such guidance, but the best by far is this book where there are specific suggestions given on how to adapt your management style in order to get the best from your team (frankly whether they’re millennials or not).
Here are our highlights:
Adaptability – are you willing to adapt to the needs of others or do you find yourself (like most people do) saying about millennials: “I can’t believe they did that. I would never have done that when I was their age / in their position.
They need to get a grip / realise the world we’re in / follow my lead or get lost.” Examples often quoted are people taking long lunch breaks, leaving the office early or taking six weeks off to go travelling.
The problem here is that we always compare ourselves to others, so we say “I would never have taken a long lunch break when I was early on in my career – I never even do that now!” But just because we didn’t do it, that doesn’t mean there is a universal law saying nobody can ever take a long lunch break.
We need to challenge ourselves to meet people where they are, challenge our beliefs about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and work with each individual to agree ways of working. In practice that probably means that sometimes it’s fine for people to take long breaks as long as they get the job done.
Challenge Orientation – ah that classic phrase – “it’s not a problem, it’s a learning opportunity.” We scoff at this like it’s false, but the fact is that when we really believe something is an opportunity to learn and stretch ourselves and a challenge we look forward to, we get a lot more out of the experience.
We only need to remind ourselves of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset work to see how powerful this can be. So do you view millennials in your team as a pain, or as a new challenge for you to work through and find a way to help them thrive? Your mindset could be the greatest barrier to your success in their management.
Power – although we probably all still come across people who use their title, rank and level in the hierarchy as their power, there is no doubt that this is losing its relevance and prevalence in the workplace.
For millennials in particular, having grown up without the need for authority figures in some ways, as they can find out just as much as an expert in seconds on google, the focus is on relational power over authoritative power.
So next time you feel like saying, “I’m the boss, so just do what I say,” remember that this is likely to switch people off. Work on building trust and helping your team understand the pressures you are under, so that you can ask people to help you and all work together on solutions.
Success – finally another point on mindset. Do you believe that millennials hinder your chances of success? Or do you see that they can help you succeed – and you can help them thrive? Not surprisingly, those managers who believe the latter tend to be better managers.
What you will notice is that far from magic solutions for getting millennials to adapt to the workplace, the research shows that businesses who see millennials thriving and contributing greatly to results, have managers with a different mindset.
So, are you willing to think differently, in order to help your team thrive?