What Do Millennials Want In A Boss? Conversation and Coaching Top the List


When it comes to bosses, millennials aren’t looking for a top-down manager. According to a recent study by Gallup, they are looking for coaches, somebody who will help develop their skills, and be a mentor.

Social media has contributed to the culture of NOW, and this also extends to how millennials want to hear about how they are doing at their job. They are used to getting immediate feedback on every aspect of their life – obsessively watching every post on their accounts – and why should hearing from the boss be any different?

Those were two clear themes in a continuation of my conversation with six female millennials where I work. A traditional, top-down hierarchical organizational structure just doesn’t cut it for them. Gallup dove a little deeper into this question of performance management and feedback. They found that 44 percent of millennials are more likely to be engaged at their job when their manager holds regular meetings with them while only 20 percent who do not meet regularly with their manager said they were engaged. This isn’t much different than other generations, however. Communication is key to any manager and employee relationship. But there does seem to be a difference in the frequency and immediacy of feedback that millennials say they want – and need – to be productive.

The group agreed they expected instantaneous feedback and want their boss to provide daily responses on how they’re doing. And, they said they aren’t afraid to ask for that feedback.

And another thing – that annual performance review has got to go. The group didn’t find much value in this ritual most organizations go through to assess employee performance. And, they certainly didn’t want to be assigned a numerical rating that summed up their performance.

“If a boss is not good at communicating to you whether you are doing a good job or not, and you do the same thing for 364 days of the year, and then on the 365th day you get this paper telling you you’ve been doing it wrong?”

Like most employees, the group did not want to be micromanaged, but they do want a boss who knows what’s happening. “We want somebody who stays connected, who knows what’s happening on the ground.”

The group also said they don’t want bosses who make decisions based on fear – of change, doing things differently or being blamed for making a mistake. “I want somebody who will let me do new things and be the absolute opposite of a bureaucratic government-like person who has been here 30 years and doesn’t want change.”

Flexibility is also key in terms of recognizing work/life balance and understanding how their job fits into their life. “A mentoring approach is what we’re looking for. As we grow and progress in the organization, we want feedback and perspective from somebody else who has already gone down that path, done that work, dealt with that issue. We spend so much time at work, if we don’t have faith in the people around us, then there is really no point in being here.”

Is there any difference between male and female bosses?  The group said that it depends, but that it’s more personality than gender driven. “Having a boss that allows for forgiveness, that if things don’t work out 100 percent, says that’s ok, lets us learn from our mistake and helps get you back on track.”

How is an organization to assess their strengths – and weaknesses? First, the group didn’t view this in black and white terms.  They expressed they were self-aware of what their own individual “weaknesses” were, but also didn’t see them as obstacles never to be conquered.  “Maybe it’s too soon to know what our weaknesses are, we haven’t been in the work world long enough.  Give me a chance to figure it out.  For me, there are things that I haven’t done.”  Several of the women identified being self-confident and speaking up more as something they wanted to improve.  And here, there were major gender differences.

“Women take a more conservative approach, doubt they are ready for that promotion, more responsibility. Guys overestimate what they can or cannot do. I have to convince myself of being worthy enough, being accepted, eligible for the next step. I see that in a lot of women.”

With all of this in mind, organizations would be smart to reassess how they are adapting for the workforce of today – and tomorrow.

Claudia Keith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Don’t Millennials want to be treated like every other human? To know how they are doing, develop IDPs, mid year reviews, ways to improve on performance? I don’t call that millennials, I call that human beings who want what every other human being wants. To know where they stand, where they can improve, and how to do it. This isn’t limited to one generation. We all want respect for our work, feedback on it, and how we can improve. We separate out young people like they aren’t people. They are humans and want the same things other humans want.

richard regan

True. However, all 5 generations including Millennials want those things delivered to them in different ways like feedback, appreciation, work-life balance, coaching and recognition. Where we get in trouble is assuming that all generations want those things through identical vehicles.