Why do we (some of us) refer to millennials as magnificent? Actually, every new generation is magnificent as we place our confidence in them to propel civilization to the next stage. We will count on them as the dominance of our own generation takes the back seat and we rely on those we formerly led for our continuing wellbeing. In some ways, when we say “magnificent”, it is viewing an earlier generation in our own image – as younger, budding versions of ourselves. To want them to grow up to be people like ourselves is natural and gives value to what we represent and have achieved. But, is it realistic, particularly with the millennials? How should we manage them, in the workplace?
One obvious (not so novel) way to manage millennials is to tell them what to do and remind them that you have far more experience than they have (possibly can ever hope to have). This works quite well if your main interest is to keep everything the way it is, the way that has worked so well for you for many years. You can also subtly remind them that new people are expected to “pay their dues” before they are taken seriously. At the same time, you can add a few nice things to promote engagement!
There is a serious problem with such an approach. Millennials, when appropriate, are likely to recognize that their boss is smart, but not a role model and in many cases part of an outdated business style. The boss may have been great in his/her own time, but the way of thinking is outdated. Millennials are part of an evolving world irrevocably affected by internationalism and technical change. It has influenced their beliefs and at the same time limited their expectations for the future. For example:
- Millennials are likely to be thinkers that are more independent and less dependent on parents and bosses as thought leaders. They have access to instant, very current online views on any subject – quite different from outdated encyclopaedias (at best) available to earlier generations
- Millennials can be better business visionaries than many older managers and although the potential technological advances of business are exciting, they can also be demoralizing
- Millennials are likely to recognize that under the present social system there are already less jobs and likely to be even fewer in the future. Some will find steady, permanent work, but most will not
- Diminished confidence in employment can open the minds of many millennials to other ways, to achieve personal fulfillment in life – through family and friends, through recreational activity, to non-material enjoyment. Buying a house may be difficult, but living for today can be fun!
What is the best way to manage millennials if they have so little vested interest in the average (often fleeting) job and so little confidence in the current economic/social system? For the elite millennials, that employers compete to have on board, it is not so complicated. For most millennials who are not particularly engaged, but need to work, if and when work is available, here are some thoughts:
- Develop adult working relationships which combined with effective onboarding and training (online when appropriate) allow the new person to be productive and self-motivated as much as possible
- Establish clear work expectations and a precise feedback process (not traditional performance management) including, if a contract assignment, a final review that could make the person eligible for future work assignments
- If the millennial has specific skills and assists the boss with a specific project, recognize the contribution of the employee including temporary job upgrading if appropriate
- The millennial may, when accepting a job, have pre-existing personal commitments or even have a second job (of necessity). Accommodating by allowing a form of flexible time is likely to offset any slight inconvenience and contribute more through employee commitment.
What do you think? Is special treatment necessary because millennial people are really different? Has the technology that they have been immersed in since childhood changed their perspectives and allegiances? Has lack of confidence in our current economic/social system created a gulf and initiated change that millennials will steer in the coming years? Could it be a better world?
Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.