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Managing the Millennials: Part 1

by Stephen J. Stine

A new generation of technologically savvy, idealistic, and independent-minded young people is entering today’s workforce. Born between 1980 and 2000, this generation, the children of the baby boomers, is collectively known as the “Millennials” or “Generation Y.” They’re sociable, optimistic, well-educated, collaborative, open-minded, and achievement-oriented. Which management styles and strategies should today’s companies use in overseeing these workers of tomorrow? Do Millennials present any legal challenges unique to their generation? This week we’ll examine who they are and tips for managing them.

Audio Conference: Are You Ready for the Millennials? What HR Needs to Know to Recruit and Manage the iPod Workforce

Who are they, and where did they come from?
It’s a well-known fact that the baby boomer generation, which currently makes up a large percentage of the American workforce, is rushing toward old age. The Millennials are poised to step into the vacuum their parents will leave behind. Already, companies large and small are scrambling to understand, accommodate, and sometimes change the Millennials’ attitudes toward work, accountability, and corporate culture. That’s a significant challenge considering the cultural, social, and informational barriers between corporate boardrooms and their newest employees.

To understand what motivates Millennials and what makes them tick, we must first understand how they grew up. They were, by and large, raised in two-income families in which both their father and mother were often away from home. Despite that fact, parents of Millennials weren’t neglectful; they tended to be quite doting.

Millennials were taught the value of education. Their parents stressed that academic achievement would lead to professional and personal happiness. Thus, on the one hand, they gained optimism, energy, and lofty aspirations from their parents’ influence. On the other hand, many of them also acquired a sense of entitlement and an inability to cope with everyday work-related stress.

If Millennials’ parents gave them their outlook on life, then technology fueled them to live their lives in the Information Age. No generation has ever been so plugged in to the rapidly evolving Internet technology and other communication media. They are as comfortable with iPods, flash drives, text messaging, and smartphones as their parents were with digital watches, Walkmans, and tape cassettes. But more to the point, Millennials have surpassed previous generations in their ability to seamlessly assimilate technology into their personal lives. Not surprisingly, they try to adapt their technological savvy into workplace assets.

Read more on the Millennials in the workplace at Diversity Insight

Tips on managing Millennials
How should companies manage this new workforce, given their familial, educational, and technological background? Here are some tips for successfully managing the Millennials and acclimating them into your company:

Take advantage of their team-oriented focus. Millennials have been taught that collaboration is a plus. They are eager to work within an organized group to accomplish challenging tasks. That’s not to say that they can’t think and act individually, but these young people are used to working together.

They have experienced team success, whether it was on a sports team or on a business-school group project. Try to use their ability to think collectively — especially when paired with older, more experienced workers. A Millennial’s “team first” approach may be a refreshing addition, and he likely will provide unique insight.

Give them meaningful work. One of the best (and sometimes worst) attributes of the Millennials is their need for constant stimulation and purposeful challenges to motivate them at their jobs. They want to make a meaningful contribution immediately, and they want their input to be taken seriously.

While this is an admirable trait in many ways, there are pitfalls to consider. Millennials aren’t the type of workers who expect to “pay their dues.” If unsatisfied with her substantive job duties, a Millennial will try to find another, more challenging workplace rather than stick it out with a job in which she has lost interest.

Listen to their opinions. Millennials want to have their opinions seriously considered. They aren’t shy about voicing their ideas because they’ve been taught that their views are valuable. That attitude may annoy and even alienate your older, more experienced workers. But Millennials aren’t really arrogant; they’re just results-oriented. They try to think creatively to solve workplace challenges, and they want honest feedback for their input.

Use their electronic literacy. Unlike some of your older employees who may be set in their ways and unwilling to adapt to technological advances in the workplace, Millennials will likely be adept at using a variety of computer software programs, conducting Internet research, and communicating with their BlackBerry.

They also tend to be good at multitasking and can easily talk on the phone while checking e-mail and answering instant messages. Look for diverse opportunities during the workweek that let them exploit their technological prowess.

Audio Conference: Four Faces of Today’s Workforce: Effectively Manage Across Multiple Generations

Bottom line
Like it or not, Millennials are here to stay, and they will become an increasingly larger part of your workforce. With the right training and motivation, they can be great assets to your company. But like any other generation, they also pose unique problems. Next week, we’ll look at some of the challenges Millennials present in the workplace and how to deal with them.