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5 Tips for Managing Millennials

This article was written by Logan Harper, community manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government’s Masters of Public Administration program – a top online MPA.

Millennials are taking the workforce by storm.

Generation Y, or millennials, as they are commonly called, are those born between 1976 and 2001. And by 2014, they are projected to make up 36 percent of the workforce. Thus, it’s quite likely that as a manager working in government, you will encounter and work with millennials.

Millennials and older employees can often clash due to divergent perspectives on values and approaches pertaining to work, so in order to create an environment that elicits the best performance from millennial employees, it’s important to understand their perspective. Here are five tips to help you familiarize yourself with the Gen-Y perspective and effectively manage millennials:

1. Give Them a Chance to Lead

While millennials are young, they don’t want to be coddled. In fact, according to the “Maximizing Millenials” infographic produced by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Young Entrepreneurs Council, millennials want to lead.

  • Ninety-two percent of the surveyed 21-to-24-year-olds in the infographic believe entrepreneurial skills are a necessity in the present economy and job market.

  • Thirty-five percent have started a side business.

  • Thirty percent started a business during their time in college.

Recognize the entrepreneurial spirit that millennials possess and give them opportunities to explore that side of their nature. By providing an environment that allows for skill cultivation, you’re less likely to have high millennial turnover. And you can benefit immensely from millennials’ proficiency in fields like social media and technology.

2. Provide Real-Time Feedback

The fact remains that millennials are in the early stages of their careers, and they’re eager to learn and enhance their skill sets. In the “Maximizing Millenials” infographic, 80 percent of surveyed millennials said they preferred receiving feedback in real time rather than during a traditionally scheduled performance review. Giving feedback to millennial employees in real-time furthers professional development as it allows millennials to implement constructive advice immediately and improve their performance. If the feedback is wholly positive, it lets the employees know that they’re on the right track.

3. Encourage Open Communication

Millennials are considerably less rigid and formal than older generations, and they seek work environments that complement their more relaxed nature. This doesn’t mean that millennials want to do away with the dress code, but it does mean that they seek an environment that will provide them with the comfort they feel is necessary for them to excel at their job. A workplace that promotes open communication will lead to a more relaxed office environment, one in which millennials feel at ease.

4. Help Them Grow — and They’ll Stay

Millennials are perceived by many employers as flighty, and as the “Maximizing Millennials” infographic illustrates, it’s with good reason.

  • Seventy percent of surveyed millennials plan to leave their current job once the economy improves, so to minimize turnover at your office, provide millennial employees with opportunities for professional growth.

  • Sixty-five percent of surveyed millennials felt that the opportunity for personal development was the most influential factor in their current job. Provide training and development as possible within your organization, and millennials will be more likely to stay so they can further cultivate their skills.

5. Develop Opportunities for Collaboration

Group projects are quite appealing to millennials because they tend to be collaborative by nature, so creating opportunities for teamwork is a great way to actively engage millennials while bridging the generation gap between millennials and older employees. Team projects remove barriers between employees, contributing to a more informal environment that seemingly does away with the office hierarchy, to which millennials respond positively. Collaborative endeavors also help millennials learn and expand their skill sets as they learn new ideas and approaches through discussions with fellow employees.

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David Dean

Simple, insist they perform the duties they are paid to perform or fire them. At least 1000 will apply for the slot. Managers are not baby sitters. As a college instructor helicopter (mothers especially) parents hovered over Johnny and Sue and insisted I “share with the.” I referred them to USC Title 10 and the administration. There is not anything “special” about young new employees, they are paid to work.

Dannielle Blumenthal

I agree with Harry, Janina and David…what’s new here, we would all benefit from vague support like this, and why do we have to accept the concept of begging people to work/stay?

Also my observation of millennials is actually completely opposite some of these. For example –

1 – Millennials absolutely do want to be coddled, and this is not the opposite of needing leadership opportunities but rather a reflection of overprotective helicopter parents like myself having trained them to expect this. (Gen Xers tend to be overprotective I think b/c we were a relatively unsupervised generation)

2 – Yes they do like real-time feedback but then again I think most people appreciate this. It’s one of the most effective methods of behavior modification if done in a positive way.

3 – Open communication – most millennials I’ve met want to provide feedback but are not as direct as Xers. It can be difficult to get past the politeness.

4 – Help them grow and they’ll stay – well, yes and no – like with anybody else it has to be the right kind of growth – what the goal is, is not always clear either to boss or to employee.

5 – Collaboration – this one is totally true – it’s an area where Boomers and Yers get along famously vs. Xers need a little help as they tend to automatically work autonomously.

What do you all think?

Dannielle Blumenthal

Just wanted to add that I believe Millennials sometimes get a bad rap and very unfairly. They are an extremely hardworking generation but they are called lazy. They know how to follow rules but then get accused of needing handholding when there are none. They are blamed for job-hopping but the ratio of education to opportunity is balanced against them.

I do not blame Millennials for feeling like victims, if they do. As a group I observe that they work diligently toward the goal but don’t necessarily get rewarded for it. That seems to be true in the context of education, work, and also long-term committed relationships, where they invest effort but don’t experience loyalty.

On a positive note it seems to me that Millennials are incredibly optimistic and joyful versus us Xers, and they are able to bounce back from disappointment and reformulate their lives in pursuit of new goals. They also seem much more gender-balanced, where women expect to have equal opportunity and share household duties and men seem more willing to express themselves emotionally without feeling weak.

I have a lot of hope for the future with Millennials in charge. I think they will solve a lot of problems that pessimistic older generations gave up on a long time ago.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I agree with all of the previous comments. This list could very well apply to everyone, even us “Boomers.” I have a lot of sympathy for the newest, youngest Feds coming into the current environment. They see little prospect for pay increases, pay more for their retirement, have to survive with little or no training and travel funds, and to add insult to injury, many are not given the fulfilling, meaningful work that they aspire to. I see too many young employees who have decided to leave for greener pastures or adopt a “survivors” mentality.

David Dean

Each sub-group will get a bad rap occasionally. Many of the recent college graduates have an inflated view of themselves. Life is not “fair” (fairness is transitory, in the eye of the beholder, and means different things to different people) then you die. Roughly 80% of federal jobs can be accomplished without a college degree. There is absolutely nothing special about a recent college graduate. They may share household duties, but are expected to work 40 hours for 40 hours pay. While in grad school for my masters many of the young people that never worked talked about the great jobs they were going to get. They went in at entry level, some worked their way up some did not. The key phrase is “worked their way up.”

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

Dannielle made me laugh talking about Gen X being so unsupervised. My kids are Gen X and they are so over protective of their children. I bring it up with them and they point out that they had too much freedom. My parents had no curfews for us. We lived out in the desert and would leave in the morning to wander about and come home before dark. WE WERE UNSUPERVISED. We were expected to behave and we could stay out as late as we wanted, we only had to call and give them a phone number in case of emergency. Always be aware of what is going on where you are and leave if any trouble starts. My husband and I felt this was reasonable to carry on with our kids. I said something about my grandson getting to do something one day. My daughter told me ‘no way’. I brought up that she got to do that. She said, “I know and he won’t be.” They obsess over everything the kids eat and wear and play with, where they go. I tried so hard to make everything easy and carefree. I thought they were getting freedom that I loved when I was a kid, they viewed it as ‘unsupervised.’ They didn’t have near the freedom we had. We were out there with mountain lions, rattlesnakes, scorpions, hey! wait a minute. Maybe there was something else behind our being allowed to roam like that! May also explain why I have a certain survivalist tendancy.

Colleen Ayers

I think the “chance to lead” part is somewhat key – I cannot even begin to count how many leadership camps, trainings, workshops, etc. I was put through in the late 80s and through the 90s. Everything was about how to be a “leader”, and it can be a little jarring to suddenly enter a bureaucracy where it’s key to be a “follower” and know the chain of command. (Although in some ways it can be a relief, too!) So if you’re a supervisor that has someone jumping the gun all the time, try working with the person to be clear when he needs to be a follower, but try to find opportunities to let him lead on something, too – even if it’s just a small internal project like updating the office handbook or gathering requirements for an office move.

And for fellow millenials, if you’re not finding that kind of role in the office, don’t be afraid to look for it outside! I helped create a much-needed employee association in my first few years, which gave me a chance to not only fill a leadership role, but also do a lot of networking within my Department and meet some great people. I kept my supervisor in the loop on what I was doing (necessary because we had daytime council meetings), and he was very supportive of it all.

Andrew Krzmarzick

+1 on the comments regarding the fact that all of this is good management regardless of generation.

Six to seven years ago when I first started training on generational diversity, I made a bigger deal of some of these differences among the generations…but I am becoming increasingly convinced that we all want the same things.

The one BIG difference that I am noticing: speed of task completion. Millennials just knock stuff out extraordinarily fast. I have not seen this among members of other generations. So that would influence the management tip I’d be giving: you’ve got to stay several steps ahead and really plan your work to be sure that they are not left with nothing to do…or you have to become more nimble yourself and distribute new (meaningful) assignments on the fly.