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How to manage millennials

Generation Y, or people born between 1982 and 1996, represent a major population boom that is changing and shaping the world in a significant way. As more of these millennials enter the job ranks, their perspective of how work blends into their lifestyle presents a shift in thinking for management. Through their eyes, the traditional norm of how one is supposed to build a career path is different: paths don’t have to be linear, influence don’t depend solely on job title, and pay is tied purely to output – not tenure or experience. Balancing the needs of Gen Y and running a business can be challenging at times and the following tips can help you manage expectations, not entitlements.


Do give them a challenge

The Gen Y workforce comes to the table with a host of skills pertinent to a variety of jobs. They will need time to adjust to the job content but the resourcefulness they have built through technology use, and adeptness with accessing multiple data sources, is quite honed. When you provide them meaningful work that requires them to tap into their natural strengths and interests around rapid change, they will produce consistently. This is a demographic that embraces working in gray areas provided there is a point to what they are doing and as well as an ability to speak their mind while they are doing it.

Do provide just enough structure

Every team environment requires a basic framework of operation in order to define key deliverables and what success looks like. For millennials this is especially true – offer them just enough expectations around due dates, schedules, and requirements but without the heavy constraint of over processed, and needlessly complex, working parameters.

Do zero in on their social network

The millennials are very comfortable with the notion that people succeed better as part of a strong team rather than a collection of individual triumphs. Find out how their social network at work is constructed and why. Who are their go-to people, the people they avoid, etc.? The better you understand their social structure, the easier it will be to gain information on attitudes and feelings in the group, where the challenges are, and how best to launch new initiatives that have the best pathways for success.

Do educate millennials on confidentiality

Being social, millennials tend to blur lines sharing personal and work related issues. Since so much of what they do is simply shifting and multi-tasking through people and events, it’s not unlikely that confidential business information might be shared with friends under the assumption that nothing will be said.  According to a 2012 Harris survey conducted for Filetrek, 68% of the respondents who considered themselves most high-tech savvy (mainly millennials) found no problem taking confidential work files home to finish work. This comfort level with sensitive information can create big headaches for managers so make sure to explain not only company policy on confidential information but also that they respect and maintain the privacy of others.


Do not expect them to be blind followers

Managers might think that inexperience means you don’t have a clue what you are doing and following along with mandated protocols is the way to go. Millennials don’t think in terms of follow the leader – it’s follow the group. They want to participate in their career from the beginning while sponging up new skills and experiences. They also expect to thrive in a fun environment that draws on what they can offer. Treat them as people who are seeking growth with a guiding hand that allows them a voice and the space to be free thinkers.

Do not process them to death

Probably most people have issues with too much process, but millennials are particularly irritated by it. They have ideas and seek to break from convention if it makes sense (to them) to do so. If you try to fit the organizational box around their personal drive and boundaries you can expect disengaged employees almost immediately (if they don’t quit out right). Although millennials are multitasking aficionados, there is a point at which they will not give so much of themselves for work if their personal lives are destroyed in the process. That doesn’t mean they are not willing to put in long hours, follow strict protocols, nor do they expect a reward for every little above and beyond effort they make – it’s about balance. They are more vocal about what bothers them especially if the expectations appear to be unjust or a waste of time. 

Do not forget to nurture when giving feedback

One characteristic of the millennials is the expectation for recognition and reassurance that their performance is excellent. This expectation stems partially from a period of time during their childhood years where they were rewarded by parents and educators whether the child finished first or dead last. By treating both placements the same, in adulthood, they have a harder time handling harsh feedback even if its warranted. Millennials prefer constant feedback done gently and purposefully for their growth without hampering their self-expression.

Do not forget business training

Millennials are eager to learn and will evaluate the information they are given in the context of their traditional approaches to social connection. That means they are practical and tend to communicate in a more casual manner. As they start corresponding in the business world they often benefit from training on how to correctly correspond both online and offline with clients and management. The goal is to adapt their strength with technology into more effective and efficient ways of doing business.

Jumping cartoon

The US workforce is set to welcome almost 60M millennials (roughly 36%) by 2014 which means that most organizations are going to experience a shift in workplace dynamics.  Management teams that believe they will run business as usual may be in for a rude awakening in terms of finding the brightest new minds to move a company forward.  Given the sheer number and impact of Gen Y it’s important to understand this profile and adjust internal workplace design to accommodate this talent pool. Of course every individual brings their unique work ethic to the table, but treated as a group, the better prepared you are to encourage and grow your millennial talent, the faster your business can reap the rewards.

More expert advice about Career Success as a Manager

Photo Credits: Closeup of serious business team@ WavebreakmediaMicro -; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Tony DeblauweWorkplace and Career Expert

Tony Deblauwe is a Workplace and Career Expert and founder of consulting firm, HR4Change. He has over 15 years’ experience working in high-tech companies supporting Human Resources, Organizational Development, Talent Management, and Training. H...

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