Managing in the age of millennials – It’s simpler than you think

For decades, parents have said to their kids ‘back in my day’ to try and influence the way in which they should see the world, the way they should behave and to instil in them the ‘right’ ways of the world. Generational cohorts have defined the way in which we raise our children, the way in which we define workplace dynamics and the way in which we behave, the habits we adopt and the temperament we take forward into life. And today, despite the huge advances in psychological theory and technology, we face the exact same dilemma.

This is especially true in the workplace. We mould and guide employees based on our generational cohort – not taking into consideration that we have grown up, and operate in a much different mindset than what they do or did. This means, not only are they a completely new generation (especially in the latter half of this generation) – with access to the world at the press of a button – but so too are they demanding more from the workplace. Maybe ‘more’ is the wrong word – rather, they are expecting different, exciting, tuned in, always-on management and leadership. They are expecting a new world of work – let’s be honest the 8am – 5pm ain’t working, and the bashing with the proverbial stick to do things our way won’t work either and, to be frank, it shouldn’t!

As leaders, mentoring and guiding a new generation means we are going to start needing to learn the new lay of the land. Yes managers, (even those of you who are millennials yourselves, or stuck between two generations) it is not necessarily just them that have to change the way they work but rather, we have a fundamental role to play in changing the way we work with millennials if we are hoping to really grow people in this generational cohort and if we, ourselves, are to truly realise our business objectives and grow our businesses successfully. As always, business is about being on the same page as our employees, empowering them, hearing them and taking their feedback on board – the difference today however, is that this is not just on our terms, the rules have changed!


Let’s take a look at what I believe we need to start doing:


Quicker gratification

The reality is that millennials don’t like to wait – they are accustomed to an always-on lifestyle and so, when it comes to the workplace, if we are to keep them interested, we need to build on this type of more-regular and quicker gratification. We are not talking about promotions here – as these should still be based on key deliverables and output – but rather on smaller more regular forms of praise and reward. Millennials need to feel needed and connected and it is up to us to make sure that we are building this mindset and really engaging them when it comes to their work delivery and contribution to our businesses.

Respecting boundaries/lack thereof

You hear many managers and leaders speak around the lack of boundaries when it comes to younger staff – they hear but don’t always listen, they want to do things their way, they have an ‘attitude’ problem. Let’s get real… they are not easily boxed and perhaps that is just what the business world needs – more loosely constructed boundaries when it comes to bringing new ideas to the table, to find their own way of doing things and to delivering on expectations. Sure, values, ethics and quality control are still critical to the workplace and shouldn’t be compromised on by any staff – millennial or otherwise – but there comes a time when we need to respect the differences and understand that we work differently and that this difference can be highly valuable. In fact, we can learn a thing or two from this way of working. Furthermore, traditional boundaries such as working hours, for example, should also be considered – how can we enable more productive staff and what do we need to do to change things up and become more relevant managers/leaders?

Map to personalities

No longer are we in the era of merely shouting instructions and expecting employees to jump right at it. Let’s not confuse this with mutual respect and solid work delivery but, today, leaders and managers need to start mapping to employee personalities. It is up to us to understand their work personalities, know how to approach and talk to them appropriately and take the time to put ourselves in their shoes. Boxing ourselves and not allowing inflow of conversation, ideas and energy from employees will only lead to frustration. Today, giving them the room to demonstrate their worth, letting them make mistakes BUT holding them accountable, is key. This way we are growing them, teaching them hard lessons and giving them the opportunity to receive the more immediate gratification that they are looking for.

Take a less formal approach

The days of suit and tie are over – especially in the agency world. The hardcore leader/manager with his/her towering scare tactics is less likely to get the results they are looking for. Instead, in today’s workplace open engagement, empowerment and allowing valid contribution to the business is what our employees are looking for. Millennials are on the other end of the scale – they want and need to be needed and appreciated more than previous generations and so, taking a softer less formal approach can sometimes go a long way.

Like the handful of liberals from Generation X – those people that allowed their kids to figure it out in their own way, to navigate through life by making the mistakes, learning from them and being better the next time – we need to start making smarter decisions when it comes to managing millennials. We need to try closing the generational gap, driving forth collaboration and ensuring that our employees are feeling engaged and valued – there is no room for anything else.

Loyalty, dedication, and ethics, however, are still the cornerstone to any successful business and so, while mapping to the new-age employee is critical, this is a two-way street – respect and be respected remains central to a successful business and happy staff.

Author picture

Candice Luis

Candice Luis

Business Director

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