5 Terrible Ways to Manage Millennials

When it comes to Millennials, managers need to exercise caution to avoid irreversible errors

When it comes to Millennials, managers need to exercise caution to avoid irreversible errors.

With all the attention on the right way to manage Millennials, I thought I would share some ‘worst practices’ that I have seen in recent months as a way to help managers avoid irreversible errors in managing and coaching Millennials.

Turnover remains high with Millennials, but research still suggests that Millennials would rather work for “one perfect employer” than hop from job to job. So, here it goes… 5 terrible ways to manage Millennials:

1. Practice Tough Love

Most middle managers and even senior managers fall into the Generation X (ages 32 – 51) category. Xers came of age at a time of economic malaise and cultural tension. For them growing up, the world was a dangerous place. Generation X was the latch-key generation. Unwanted pregnancies reached a peak in the US in the 80’s and early 90’s, risk behavior such as drinking and driving and drug use increased. While Boomers practiced ‘free love’, Xers worried about AIDS.

Because of their tough gritty experiences, Xers entered the workforce, fairly successfully on their own with no help from anyone. They were the survivalists and entrepreneurs that embraced risk with a fiercely independent spirit. I see many Xer managers treat Millennials with the kind of ‘tough love’ mentality that they experienced when they entered the workforce.

News flash: Millennials don’t ‘get’ tough love. Their experience was entirely different growing up. They were raised ‘carefully’ by their helicopter parents who surrounded them with teams of teachers, counselors, physicians, and tutors that worked on every aspect of their development. Their expectation for the workplace is the same. You can’t give a Millennial too much attention.

2. Give them the Big Picture on an Assignment

For as empowered and confident as Millennials are, they need descriptions of assignments in detailed clarity. It is not enough to say, “read through this 1,000-page document and create a 3-page summary”. You would need to identify for them exactly how the summary should be developed, what font and format you want, when you want it by, and what resources are available to help them complete the assignment. Millennials prefer step-by-step explanations in as much detail as possible.

3. Take Their Toys Away

A few years ago, I was doing a research project for a U.S. government agency. We were trying to identify the drivers of satisfaction among Millennials. While the top results all had to do with feedback, two elements emerged that were unexpected: they wanted larger monitors or even two monitors on their desks, and they wanted to be plugged into to their social network throughout the workday. Now, I realize there are some jobs where this would not be possible, but consider the two things that have always been a priority for Millennials– cutting edge technology, and ability to connect to their social network. One hotel manager told me, “I tried to stop them from getting on Facebook, but it was impossible.  Instead, I have designated times for Facebook breaks throughout the day, and this really has helped, not hurt productivity and moral.”

4. Don’t Offer/Explain Benefits

One of the most remarkable and unexpected characteristics of Millennials is their interest in benefits like 401k, retirement, health benefits, wellness and flex programs, etc. It was always assumed that young people don’t care about these things– after all, retirement is a long way off, and young people are generally healthy, but according to a study by MetLife, this does not appear to be the case. In fact, Millennials actually value benefits more than older generations! This is a reversal in thinking, as it was always assumed that phase of life would influence attitudes toward benefits. There is also emerging evidence that Millennials are investing a higher percentage of their income into 401k’s compared to older generations. So, don’t assume that Millennials don’t care about these issues, and make sure you provide plenty of opportunities to explain these benefits in great detail.

5. Try to be ‘Cool’, like Them

This is an awful strategy. Millennials expect older generations to act their age. Millennials already have a very positive and informal relationship with authority figures. Studies have shown that Millennials have a far better relationship with their parents compared to Boomers and Xers when they were young. And Millennials also share many of the same cultural interests as their parents– they watch movies together, listen to the same music, and communicate far more frequently than previous generations. But Millennials value interactions with their own generation. Don’t insert yourself into their friend network and start posting stuff on Facebook and Twitter. If you do, you will not be cool, you will be weird.

What are some of the ‘worst practices’ you’ve heard about in Managing Millennials? Better yet, what works best for you in managing Millennials?

-Warren Wright


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