How Can We Best Manage the Magnificent Millennials!

9 Aug

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when appropriate, are likely to recognize that their boss is smart, but not a role model and in many cases part of an outdated business style. The boss may have been great in his/her own time, but the way of thinking is outdated.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 They have access to instant, very current online views on any subject – quite different from outdated encyclopaedias (at best) available to earlier generations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.





4 Responses to “How Can We Best Manage the Magnificent Millennials!”

  1. Sooze August 11, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    I agree with your points on how to manage millennials, but these points should be addressed to all workers, not just one generation. We all would like adult relationships in the workplace, see our skills matched to tasks, receive kudos for a job well done and have the flexibility to have a life outside of work. Feedback throughout the job tenure is important (as I just learned recently, or maybe my supervisor did). It pays to let employees know when they are doing good and when something didn’t go quite the right way. Providing notice of unsatisfactory performance allows the employee to either improve or continue to just sail along. Adult relationships do not mean there can’t be fun in the office, but it does mean that pettiness should be stripped at the door and discussions among the team members allows for open and honest communication. Assigning tasks that play to an particular employee’s talents helps them become engaged in the product/service and provides a possible opportunity to expand those talents in other areas. Always, always compliment the work done and do it in front of team members and others who should be aware of the contribution (like managers).

    By the way, we boomers aren’t locked away in a time capsule. Many of us keep up to date with the changing technology, adapting new ways of working, keeping in the loop of changes that impact their product/service. We shouldn’t group everyone into one generation or another when the economy and social structure affect us all. While we boomers may have more work experience, the ever changing landscape of the workforce implies explicitly that every worker needs to be open minded and willing to work with change, regardless of what generation they fall.

    Good article, Ian, as always.

    • ianclive August 12, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

      Hi Susan,

      So nice to hear from you and I agree absolutely. The points I make are appropriate for a great working environment for all employees (and managers!). Managing by stereotype does not make sense. Possibly the thought that millennials will stand up for what they think is right is encouraging. It is also easier to maintain (be enthusiastic) at the beginning of a career before some of the sad realities of the way business really works and the inherent “doublespeak” is better understood.

      We are, nevertheless, products of our environment and earlier generations may have compromised more for the sake of a steady job. Millennials and subsequent generations have less hope of finding a permanent, full time job and that may give them more confidence to speak up and explore their values more expansively than just employment or a career.

      Your last paragraph is so true. The generations should not be separated, labelled and locked away in time capsules. Many earlier people may be discouraged and seem passive to their environment, but in most cases, all it needs is some authentic and genuine leadership and we are all ready to spring into action, inspired and revitalized.

      Thanks, Susan. I always appreciate your great insight and perceptiveness on these sensitive subjects.

      Very best wishes,


  2. Roberta August 13, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Great article Ian – as usual! You make some very good points, and I agree with Susan that all employees, no matter the generation, appreciate being treated with respect and appreciation at work. However, Millenials are different and do not respond well to many of the traditional practices of management. From my experience most are impatient to move up the ladder, and expect immediate rewards for a job well-done. It can be difficult to confine them to the Company’s process for promotion, but with some modification it can be done! As you stated, recognize each success they acheive, keep them energized by offering them an opportunity to work on challenging projects, listen to their ideas and join them in thinking outside the box. Let them know they have potential but don’t forget to acknowledge their current contributions.

    I’ve also found that many are truly not motivated by monetary rewards – instead offer flex time, or some extra time off. Find out their interests and reward them with tickets to a concert or coupons for other types of entertainment.

    Dress codes – a whole new topic!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject Ian.

    Best regards,

    • ianclive August 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

      Hi Roberta,

      Thank you for your insight and great comments. You explain very well and it all makes sense for the particularly impatient millennials. I am sure there are also a large number of millennials who are not career driven and take a job because they need money. They probably do a good job, but more to meet work obligations than any deep interest. The positive reinforcement you outline could help engage them more, depending on how alienated they are from the work process. In all cases, I agree that flextime and time-off are great motivators.

      It is interesting reflecting why earlier management approaches to engagement do not work with millennials. Actually, the surveys suggest that the engagement strategies were not particularly effective even with earlier generations – maybe the millennials are more ready to speak up!

      Your dress code comment is interesting. My impression is that millennials dress very nicely, compared with earlier generations when “office casual” was a common standard. With female employees, there were always issues about whether clothing was too revealing, but, as you say, that is another topic!

      Thank you for your kind words, Roberta, and great input.

      Very best wishes,


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