Workplace training

9 minute read

How to Manage Millennials in the Workplace

Nahla Davies

Nahla Davies

A perpetual challenge of good management is melding divergent personalities. These clashes can be especially pronounced when multiple generations separate upper management from its workforce and, as such, many Baby Boomers face challenges while managing Millennials.

Five years ago, Millennials overtook Boomers as the largest portion of the workforce and will comprise 75% of workers by 2025, but in terms of seniority, Boomers are still in charge. This dynamic has fueled friction between the two groups, who have different values, habits, working styles, and personalities.

It’s easy to disparage another group as “lazy”, “disloyal”, or “entitled”, but more difficult to understand what makes them tick, and how their traits can be turned into strengths. Managers who master working with Millennials will be ahead of the game in leveraging the present and future workforce.

This article explores how to manage Millennials in the workplace, so that leaders can utilize the strengths of this growing segment of the workforce.

Mind the gap

Much has been written describing problems with Millennials in the workplace that is based largely on unflattering stereotypes, but are these depictions rooted in fact or fiction?

Generation gaps are an inherent byproduct of society's unending progression. We all want a better life for those who follow, but inevitably resent it when it happens, and therefore each generation is judged and criticized by their predecessors. Of course these are broad generalizations and don’t necessarily apply to any individual, but such labels can still sow workplace disharmony by perception alone.

So let’s examine who Millennials really are. Millennials are generally defined as those born between the early 80s through the late 90s, and they make up America’s largest ever generation. They grew up alongside the Internet explosion during relative economic prosperity, and while plugged into a world largely at peace, and thus able to deal with deeper social challenges and iniquity. 

This life experience has left them ambitious, idealistic, team-oriented, results-driven, tech-savvy, and entrepreneurial. A recent study conducted by Freshbooks even found that Millennials are more likely to hire employees than work only for themselves or others.

Of course, if the above are viewed in a negative light, then these very same characteristics could be interpreted as being entitled, screen-obsessed, and even disloyal. It’s a matter of perspective, but that can affect management.

When leading Millennials, as with any employees, it’s far more productive to attempt to understand them than to simply sit by and criticize. By understanding their tendencies, motivations, and goals you can build solid working partnerships with dedicated employees.

You don’t have to work long hours

Darwin never said that the “fittest” would survive, but those who could best manage change. Indeed, management and business are, at their core, vessels for navigating transition. 

If you’re hoping to retain workers in the 2020s and beyond, this is critical to understand. Too many businesses are tethered to legacy or devoted to imposing conformity. They recruit square pegs and place them in round holes instead of retooling for the 21st century.

The “secret” to managing Millennials isn’t about changing them, but adapting the system. You will find that millennials are hard-working, devoted, conscientious, and talented once you tap into their source code. 

Previous generations prided themselves on working long hours, weekends, and taking sparse vacations that demonstrated commitment and stamina. Millennials have no such compunction. They aren’t lazy, but they focus on results and finding ways to achieve them more efficiently. Instead of camping in cubicles to be the last one to leave, they use tech to accelerate their work and log-in on-the-go. 

When required, they’ll put in the time (nearly three quarters of Millennials work over forty hours in any given week), but don’t do so just for credit or an impression. They value a better work/life balance, which is seen as soft by some superiors but ultimately results in a healthier workforce and more productivity than those who labor wastefully or burn out quickly.

Offer flexibility 

Millennials are best managed by affording them flexibility and respecting their time. Judge their performance by accomplishment rather than clock-punching, leaving them room to maintain a life. By doing this, you’ll not only find their tasks completed to a high standard, but will find workers who are happier and more motivated, too.

When managing Millennials, don’t purge their identity, but acknowledge and channel it. Create opportunities to hear them, hold “retention interviews” (like a preemptive exit interview) at least once a year, offer customizable benefit packages that cater to selected preferences, and remind them that they are seen individually. 

Some supervisors complain that Millennials expect recognition and promotions regardless of accomplishment, commonly known as the “participation trophy” syndrome. Rather than withholding approval and recognition, smart managers use these as incentives that boost morale and retention. Even lateral promotions or assignments to multi-generational teams sate their yearning, and benefit all by granting broader skills, greater feelings of value/connectedness, and the ability to serve as more versatile workers with greater institutional knowledge.

Be a mentor, not a boss

One of the most basic tenets of Millennial management is to act more as a mentor than boss; empower workers and facilitate solutions rather than unilaterally dictating action. By answering tough questions and engaging authentically, while also recognizing that camaraderie solves more problems than does deference, you’ll solidify your team and produce more competent workers.

Often labeled as “Job-Hoppers” for their perceived willingness to switch employers, Millennials are often decried for being fickle and difficult to retain. The truth is that they tend to be devoted, though not to money or trademarks. They value not only quality of life, but participating in social causes. They want to make a positive difference in the world and be associated with responsible practices. 

Where previous generations might have taken a paycheck and settled within an unhappy fit, Millennials want to feel part of a team or community and are willing to seek new employment or go it alone if necessary. This is one reason why we have seen a noticeable uptick in the number of younger people utilizing their tech knowledge to launch online businesses from home. 

This is one of the simplest dimensions of the Millennial mindset to turn from a perceived problem into a strength: instead of complaining that Millennials want to work for positive, responsible companies that make a difference and value employees… become one.

While Millennials have proven willing to jump ship when unhappy (and many are currently unhappy), they’ve shown great loyalty to employers they admire – including a notable uptick in Millennial retention by firms who received high grades for sensitive, respectful policies.

Embrace millennials’ technical aptitude 

While employees shouldn’t be so distracted that they neglect their actual work, technological acumen allows them to be more efficient on the job, and connectivity allows them to work from wherever. Digital skills also facilitate easier training and on-boarding for Millennial employees.

Online life and social media are genies that are out of the bottle, but don’t let employee preoccupation destroy productivity. Rather, acknowledge that screen-checks are far less intrusive than smoke breaks or martini-filled lunches. Better yet, recognize that Millennials’ technical aptitude makes them better employees, and if your brand can benefit from such exposure, deepen your bond by recruiting adept workers as social media ambassadors.

Ultimately, every gripe has a silver lining. The next time you’re ready to complain about an age group, perhaps try to see the situation from another perspective. Forego rigidity and be fluid; shape your organizational expectations to fit the circumstances. Call it empathy, or call it strategy… call it good management. 

It’s human nature to question change, but good managers won’t reflexively condemn it.

Millennials’ methods and priorities differ from their parents, but different doesn’t mean worse. Before running-off younger workers for failure to conform to old practices, question whether the practices themselves should conform to changing realities.

By listening and learning from the emerging generation, managers can fashion a style that both motivates employees and retains them in a flexible corporate culture built for the future.

Another way to keep your company’s training adaptive and its management practices nimble enough to mesh with an ever-changing workforce is through a Learning Management System (LMS). The right LMS can streamline training and customize programs to fit your specific small business needs.

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Nahla Davies

Nahla Davies

Nahla Davies is from Brooklyn, New York. Since 2015, she has worked with enterprise clients around the world developing RegTech protocols and best practices. She shares her insights at