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7 Surprisingly Simple Secrets to Managing Millennials

Many of my clients have expressed confusion and frustration about the challenges of working with Millennials, including their tendency to expect everything to be easy and straightforward; their need to be “spoon fed” and treated as special; their desire to work from home and have flexible hours; and their need for constant variety. Plus, when the slightest little thing goes wrong, they leave!

At least that’s the way things go without skillful intervention, according to The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016. “Two-thirds of Millennials express a desire to leave their organizations by 2020,” the report states. “Businesses must adjust how they nurture loyalty among Millennials or risk losing a large percentage of their workforces.”

Although the Deloitte study provides some suggestions, it mostly details just how tough the situation can be. So what’s an overworked, overstressed leader to do when it comes to working with these ostensibly demanding young people?

Welcome to the Real World

Based on my observations and interactions in multiple organizations, there’s a wide variety of approaches for managing Millennials successfully, and they’re all about sound leadership and management: knowing your people well, communicating context, ensuring accountability, providing growth.

Sure, you may have to change up some current practices to accommodate them, but the forces that drive Millennials are not frivolous. Although their motivations are remarkably similar to those of older employees, their expectations run higher.

Prior generations of workers were raised with more hierarchically-focused customs and are more likely to have been ground down by workplace dysfunctions and compromises, so they often go along to get along, and then stick around with their disaffection showing.

Millennials, on the other hand, still have big dreams — as well as some unrealistic preconceptions. Here are seven major themes to be aware of and work through when dealing with Millennials:

The Kids Are All Right

  1. Millennials don’t want to be sheep. They expect to be recognized and treated as individuals. They believe there’s something wrong with an organization that treats them as indistinguishable fodder for the system’s mill.
  2. Similarly, Millennials expect to be able to customize their workplaces the same way they customize their devices. They assume they should rate everything up or down, constantly expressing what they like and don’t like, the way they manage their playlists. And they’re used to a certain amount of curation as well as a smooth operational path, in the same way that they prefer shopping online to poking around in a bricks-and-mortar store.
  3. Whether they were trained mostly by Sesame Street or by Snapchat, most Millennials have a shorter attention span, but they also enjoy binge-watching. You’ll find them taking a deep dive into subjects that interest them, but not necessarily responding to the third and fourth points in your email.
  4. Millennials need context. They will be more overt than others about asking for it and more stymied if they don’t get it. They want management to be straightforward and provide clear expectations, direction, ongoing support, and conditions. They’re used to intuitive design — put your hands on the device and it works — so if things seem overly complicated without a reason, they’ll think it’s stupid.
  5. Millennials seek meaning, so it’s important to show them why your business is good for people and why your service policies are fair. The work doesn’t have to be life-saving, but they need to see that you care about both people and profits.
  6. Millennials are quick to leave if they feel they’ve stopped growing, not just because they’re bored, but because they expect to find straightforward ways to level up — along with the gamer’s equivalent of cheat codes and hints to help them get there. So it’s key to offer them development that provides richer, more complex experiences and the experience of gradually increasing risks.
  7. Although they try to play the game, and they’re optimistic about the future, if you grind Millennials down, all they can think about is getting out. That’s not due to an inherent lack of loyalty, it’s because they know there are lots of potential opportunities out there. We’ve trained their generation not to tolerate hurtful or negative conditions — no bullying, lots of opinion sharing, lots of support — so if their managers neglect their emotional or life balance, they won’t want to stay.

Give Them Growth and They’ll Grow Up

Of course, these Millennial themes are generalized, so they won’t fit every individual precisely. Nonetheless, they should provide some sense of how to assess and modify current management practices, how to communicate better, and when to individualize more. And if you need more help in dealing with a specific situation, or with translating these guidelines into living workplace norms, do get in touch.

Onward and upward,


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