HR Management & Compliance

Three Golden Rules for Millennials in the Workplace

Having spent my career helping leaders bridge the generation gap at the office, I can assure you I’ve heard it all. I’ve seen the intergenerational warfare that breaks out in the boardroom when junior staff question senior leadership. Senior leaders claim junior staff have no respect for hierarchy. Junior staff claim senior leadership has no vision for disruptive ideas.


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I have never seen leaders struggle more than they do with Millennials. The Millennial generation, with its oldest members now well into their thirties, is still seen as entitled, fickle, and hard to retain. That perception is wrong, and I encourage leaders and senior staff to adopt a different view. To start, here are three rules to live by:

Manage People, Not Positions

Baby Boomers grew up learning that “children should be seen and not heard.” To compensate for their own silence, they urged their Millennial offspring to speak up. From their first words, Millennials have learned that their voice matters. If they see a problem, they roll up their sleeves and solve it. They want a job that comes with purpose, not just a paycheck.

One study found that 76% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, and 88% say their job is more fulfilling when there are opportunities to make a difference. Millennials want to raise their voice (and they want to use it for good)!

Many organizations say they like when Millennials speak up, but I’ve rarely found an organization built to the strengths of this generation. Over the years, I have supported the work of the WE Organization, a nonprofit started and led by Millennials. Its staff and core philosophy are marked by empowered ambition. They view working outside of one’s experience level as an opportunity for professional development. I’m here to tell you that any organization that embraces this approach will see its staff rise and grow to meet the challenge.

Innovate to Retain Top Talent

A company’s tax status is no excuse for poor innovation. Failure to innovate makes it hard to recruit and retain employees.

Millennials have a strong tendency to job hop, averaging nearly 3 jobs in their first 5 years after graduation. By comparison, Millennials’ predecessors, Generation X, averaged 2 jobs in their first 10 years after college.

Where innovation thrives, so do Millennials. These employees are “entrepreneurial,” which means they are attracted to fast-paced, changing cultures that take risks. But they are also immersed in lifestyle culture and aim to build their own personal brands.

Millennials want more than just “tech frills,” like catered snacks and an in-house barista. They prioritize authenticity, flexibility, and opportunities to travel.

At WE, I learned that it offers employees the opportunity to travel to Kenya, India, or Ecuador on group staff trips to see firsthand the organization’s work in communities around the world. Not every employer can offer this, but connecting Millennials to your work’s global impact can be essential.

And, it’s important to recognize how connecting your employees to their work in a meaningful way can help lend itself to the success of your business. A staggering 98% of WE employees believe they are making a positive change in the world through their work. And here’s the kicker: 80% of WE employees say they see a future for themselves at the company. This figure is huge for a generation commonly classified as “job hoppers” who are noncommittal at work, and it can be directly attributed to their personal connection to the work that they do.

Millennials Are Leaders, Too

Success begins with leadership. Millennial CEOs encourage their employees to go beyond earning a living and live their personal purpose through their work. We all need workplaces to embrace Millennials for who they are and for what they bring to the organization.

Too many leaders are throwing in the towel and doing as little as possible when it comes to managing Millennials. Leaders need to fundamentally alter this mind-set and see Millennials as an asset.

Why is this so important? Believe it or not, there is a generation after the Millennials: Gen Z. These are the interns at your office right now. Typically, the ones on the front lines of managing a new generation are members of the generation right above them. For Gen Z, that will be Millennials.

For over 20 years, David Stillman has been researching, writing, consulting, and primarily speaking about the generations for organizations ranging from the Internal Revenue Service to MTV. He co-authored the best sellers When Generations Collide and The M-Factor: How the Millennials Are Rocking the Workplace.

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