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How to Work Well with Millennials

“I am a millennial champion!” proclaimed Lee Caraher, author of Millennials and Management: The Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work, during today’s Next Generation of Government Summit.

In a room filled with hundreds of millennials, this assertion got a big cheer. However, Caraher admitted that there are many people in the workforce who are less enthusiastic about millennials, especially as they relate to the workplace. For those people, the M word represents a dangerous and distressing force that is infiltrating the traditions of work and government.

Caraher wants to change that conception of the generation through education. At today’s summit, she answered a number of questions about millennials. Her answers highlighted how millennials can be a true asset as the next generation of government.

What are they like?

Due to the circumstances of their upbringing (think technology, working parents, globalization), millennials have certain unique characteristics. According to Caraher, these attributes are real advantages. They include:

  • Digitally native. Millennials grew up with technology. Now, they probably know your workplace tech better and, if they don’t, they can learn it quicker than pervious generations.
  • The world is flat. Because millennials grew up with the Internet, they’re used to having the world at their fingertips. They are a click away from any information and a tweet or email away from the CEO of any major corporation. Because of this, possibilities seem limitless to many millennials.
  • Diverse. Today, 45% of millennial adults are non-white and by 2014, the majority of all Americans will be non-white. Couple that with having more women in the workforce, and millennials are by far the most diverse generation we have witnessed.
  • Group-oriented. Millennials get a bad reputation for being the “generation of me.” But Caraher said the quickest way to upset a millennial is to tell them they let down their team. Those words are much more impactful than saying a person didn’t do their personal job well, because millennials are focused on collaboration.

What do they want at work?

Caraher explained that millennials are less likely to strictly separate their work and personal life. For that reason, they have unique desires for their work environment, since it is so tied to the rest of their life. Millennials want: 

  • Meaningful work. Millennials want work that matters and contributes to both their personal and professional lives in a meaningful way.
  • Work-life balance. Yet while they want work that they can truly dedicate themselves to, millennials also want to balance that with a healthy personal life. This doesn’t necessarily mean working fewer hours, but millennials are more likely to seek alternative work schedules or telework arrangements. Technology enables this in many scenarios
  • Millennials like to talk and collaborate. Again, technology is a key enabler, allowing communication to be constant and diverse.
  • “Millennials don’t want a job that matters today; they want a job that matters tomorrow,” said Caraher. In other words, they want to know they have a path to grow in their job and, more importantly, in their skills and value.

What you might notice in this list is that that things millennials expect are really things anyone would want from a job. “No one doesn’t want a full life and to do well at work,” said Caraher. However, millennials are more likely than previous generations to push for these improvements.

How do millennials excel?

As a millennial ready to make change, it’s tempting to jump into a job and start innovating. You want people, processes, and tools to be the best that they can be. Fair enough. However, Caraher warned that this impulse to immediately start changing things is what gets millennials in trouble with other generations at work. Instead, Caraher said to take the following steps to incrementally enhance the workplace:

  1. Do it their way first. Learn the processes that are already in place, focusing on how they developed and what value they bring.
  1. Make sure you understand dependencies. Doing it their way will help you see how processes are connected which, in turn, will help you better understand why current processes exist.
  2. Learn who’s invested in the way it is. Understanding the people who rely on the processes and tools you hope to change is just as important to understanding why things are the way they are. It will also let you know who to win over in your effort to change.
  3. Ask to co-create a more impactful method. When you decide to make a change, don’t try to do it alone. Other generations and employees with more experience can help you make more informed decisions about what to change and how to do it. Plus, having them work with you is a perfect way to ensure they don’t work against you.
  4. Demonstrate the extra value in a new way. “If you do it a new way and get the same outcome, don’t bother,” said Caraher. In other words, don’t do something new just to be new. If it isn’t adding value to your organization, the effort to change is not worth the cost. Make sure you are generating something – more time, more data, or more impact.
  5. Ask for feedback. Don’t shy away from input on your changes. After implementing something new, ask how it went and what could be better next time. That feedback will ensure your processes constantly improve and encourage collaborative support from your teammates.

Despite many negative stereotypes, millennials are prepped to be an innovative force in the workplace. However, to reach that potential will require that all generations understand the unique attributes of this new cohort, as well as how to make the most of those characteristics.

From July 20th – 21st we’ll be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Follow along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

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Phill Thompson

I can identify with this 99.9%. This is a very good reflection of my own experience and many others I know. However, it is less of an article about “how to work with millenials” and more about “how millenials work, and what they should do.” Either way, it is timely and relevant, and a good read!


Phill, I agree with you. The 2nd half of the article is really a “Dos & Don’ts” list/guide for millenials. It would make a nice employee on-bording quickstart guide:)


I’m a millennial and I don’t require hand holding or special care and feeding. Read the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, she explicitly addresses how adapting the workplace to entitled millennials only stands to perpetuate the erroneous upbringing. It is they who must adapt to the workplace, not the other way around. Changing your workplace and means of doing business only stands to make you less efficient and more gun shy, if they can’t adapt to your operations tempo and culture, New York City is offering $15/hour minimum wage to cook french fries.


I understand where you are coming from but disagree with your comment on a couple points. I am a Gen-X’er/Millenial (I border both generations). Your quote, “adapting the workplace to entitled millennials only stands to perpetuate the erroneous upbringing” is a bit fouled in that there are two focal generalities that malign an entire generation. That is a VERY bold statement. If you ran a company and held fast to that mentality, sure, you are going to turn away all the “entitled millenials,” however, as the previous generation continues to retire, few people are going to come work for you as you hold stubbornly and fail to adapt your organization to the needs of your employees. A wonderful example is Walmart. Walmart chose to focus their workplace in an “employees are our family” and have continued to win over hearts and minds of a majority of their workforce (disclaimer: I moonlighted at Walmart for a few years while I was an active duty Marine Corps grunt). It was a pleasure to work there as they put emphasis on the team environment while KMart and other competitors continued to hold fast to the old ways of “being just a job” and felt the pain in loss of revenue and stock prices due to under performance.
Any good employer is going to evolve to the needs of their workforce…or they will eventually have no workforce. Like the current generation or not, they are the future workforce. As with all things in life, there is a balance that must be found. Both sides need to give a little or they will fail. Walmart gave a little in that they began to focus on employee well-being while expecting employees to take ownership of their part in that work family. If either side fails to do their part, it does not work. The mentality of your comment is framed such that the future workforce would be filled with non-professional opportunities and with the professional positions disappearing as employers would rather go under and close down rather than evolve for the future. With all due respect, that is a failed mindset with very little potential for personal or professional growth. The second (and more important) point, generalities are nearly always fouled and incorrect. It is easy to assume “all Mellinials are entitled and lazy” but the same can be said of any generation or group of people…and all are wrong. There are always exemplary individuals and individuals that would rather stay home and get paid unemployment until retirement. In fact, I believe it is the Baby-Boomers and prior who are responsible for implementing nearly all existing social entitlement programs. It is a chicken and egg argument that goes nowhere. We need to focus on improving the environments for which we have influence. Otherwise, we will continue to devolve and become stale. As said before, like it or not, the Millenials are our future. People who stubbornly hold fast to unwavering ideals and life will pass along without them (I do not mean principles…I mean ideals. Your principles should never be bent).

James Bill Ochamgiu

I am the founder of AFORDA-AFORDI both with good program mes for youths in employment but we want operates in countries which uphold rule of law and respects human rights and promotes good governance. Without it we feel the shall be in security which is bad for ourselves and resources.