Getting the most from Millennials

Entitled.  Workshy.  Snowflakes. Job-hoppers. Difficult to manage.  Hard to engage with.  Millennials (usually defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s) have had some bad press over recent years – mostly from Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who haven’t realised that what worked for us in ‘our day’ won’t necessarily work as well today…or indeed tomorrow.

Given that Millennials will make up 75% of our working population by 2025, those of us who haven’t worked out how to get the best out of this generation coming through our organisations had better wise up.

Accurately labelling and describing a whole generation is, of course, impossible…so apologies now to those reading who feel wholly (or indeed partly) misrepresented by this piece. However, a large number of surveys and an increasing body of research have pointed to some generalised traits and characteristics that might help some of us understand this cohort a little better. 

Many Millennials report that career growth and advancement is important to them, even when their Gen X or Baby Boomer bosses feel they haven’t yet put in the necessary ‘hard yards’ – a classic Boomer expression. If they feel that they are stagnating in their roles or don’t believe they can learn from the people around them, they are more likely to consider moving on.  

However, they are generally very enthusiastic about their work and view it as something that can give them meaning and purpose. If they feel this is missing, it can lead to dissatisfaction and discord with more orthodox line managers who could be more task and finish-orientated. 

We are told that Millennials value independence and are unlikely to respond well to micro-management. They prefer to have access to the right tools necessary to complete a project and to be allowed the space to figure out solutions themselves. As you might expect, technology is important to them, so they are likely to be eager to embrace tech that connects people. This will also make them less tolerant of the need to be seen as ‘present’ in the office. 

They tend to be inclusive, given they have grown up in a more diverse and interconnected world than previous generations and, on the whole, they will be comfortable embracing difference and adapting to change.  While they see work as important, they are less likely to make it their sole focus and will often value a good work/ life balance so that they can pursue other goals.

Acknowledging that we must tread with care when creating and describing stereotypes, what does the headline research tell leaders and managers about how to get the best out of their Millennial colleagues?

1 Create a clear sense of mission and purpose: Millennials want meaning in their work, and an organisation that is clear and explicit about its true purpose will engage them. 

2 Be mentors, not micro-managers: Millennials are naturally results-orientated, so show them what needs to be done and give them as much space as possible to do it their way.

3 Recognise their work: praise and commendation will tend to motivate more than just financial reward. But be aware of their strong sense of their ‘value’. If they feel underpaid and undervalued, they will look for pastures new more readily than previous generations.

4 Allow them to develop: trust their abilities and provide opportunities to take on different or larger tasks or projects. If you hold them back, they will likely disengage, but if you give them space and guidance they will often work hard to deliver at a higher level.

5 Provide ‘real-time’ feedback: given they are the used to immediate responses from technology, their expectations about when emails will be answered and queries responded to, have been shown to differ from older generations. 

6 Take advantage of them being tech-savvy: many are digital natives; they will often naturally see ways technology can be used to make improvements better than those of us who have had to learn to adapt. So, get them involved in new developments and systems, it will give you greater access to insight and satisfy their need to get involved.

Millennials are an incredibly rich source of organisational energy, ability and creativity.

As with every other cohort, recognising and celebrating some of the differences can go a long way to bringing out the very best in people.

Martin Tucker is the managing director and founder of Færfield appointments

Martin Tucker

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