How To Manage Millennials At Work


I attended the MRS (Market Research Society) B2B Conference in June and I have to admit that it was so inspiring that I decided to publish my first article after reflecting on various topics that were discussed at the conference.

The key focus of the conference was understanding more about the B2B audience, and the message that stood out clearly was the importance of the brand’s purpose. This was backed up by every expert presenter, and the advice given to us – the audience, as well as the business experts – was to ensure that all the players of the employment life-cycle – from clients to suppliers to employees – understood the real purpose of our brand.
Interestingly, one of the topics discussed during a round table was about millennials in the workforce and the key features characterising millennials in the workplace.

The idea of writing this article came about when I connected the two topics: millennials and purpose, which are strongly linked to each other.
Being a millennial myself, I am very thrilled about the great deal of interest that has been created recently about this category of people, especially when it pertains to us as employees. The reason for this is quite easy to understand: in 2017, UK millennials became the largest generation in the workforce (about 35% of employed people), which is also linked to the fact that a record number of Baby Boomers are heading towards retirement.

But this interest is not just UK related; it seems to be a worldwide topic. By 2020, it is estimated that millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce, and 75% by 2025. That’s just 7 years away. But before talking further about millennials, perhaps I should clarify who we are.

‘Millennials’ are broadly classified as individuals born between the early or mid-1980s to mid-1990 or even early 2000s, depending on different definitions quoting slightly different time spans. We are also commonly called ‘Generation Y’, following our predecessors ‘Generation X’.

As the name indicates, millennials grew up during the Millennium period, a time of rapid change. Naturally, events that took place during this period shaped us, giving us a unique set of priorities and expectations that differ from previous generations.
The interest in millennials is strictly related to the economical and sociological era we are currently living in, which is characterised by a shift from a society focused on the individual to a society focused on the group. As it often happens when one is faced with the unknown, prejudices can begin to emerge. Indeed, some adjectives attributed on the internet to millennials are: lazy, delusional, narcissistic and volatile.

People often look down on the millennial generation for their apparent tendency to look down on others. However, we are not Aristocrats… we are just normal people. (And so are they below.)

Generations should be kept separate and only be characterised by their circumstances and not those of previous generations. The millennial generation has been exposed to far more cultures, people and information compared to previous generations and the direct consequence is that, on the whole, we are not only more accepting and tolerant of diversity, but also that we appreciate diversity, like to share with others and be sociable. Our role in society is oftentimes to disrupt broken and outdated social norms and re-create them with a greater focus on social responsibility. We aim to contribute to social causes and to be socially active as we have a social consciousness that is pretty unique to our generation.

Millennials yearn for a sense of community, social responsibility, relationships and for a purpose, as noted by Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy:

As you look at the workplace all the changes we’re trying to make in the workplace, the things Google’s doing, the things top companies are doing, they’re all because, especially the millennial generation is demanding purpose in their work at a level never seen before. And that’s why I believe we’re in the early days of our fourth economy, a purpose economy.

Purpose is important to millennials and the changes that are happening in the workplace are influenced by the fact that the number of millennials in the workforce is growing rapidly. It is extremely wrong to ignore the need to change behaviour in the working environment and adapt to understand more of the millennials’ needs.
Being a millennial and a manager at the same time, it is even more so expected from me to understand and create a working environment that can retain employees and engage them on a longer term. To be able to do that, I have had to think about what I value in the workplace and the main cornerstones characterising my generation.
Community, relationships, purpose, trust, enjoyment, challenges, culture, engagement, personal growth and development are some of the things we appreciate the most and we look for in a work environment, as well as, of course, time and balance.

That is not just work-life balance, as previous generations were aiming for, but rather balance in our work and in our everyday life in a blending mixture that aims to bring part of our private life to work, making friends at work, and connecting with our colleagues both inside and outside of the office. There is not necessarily a clear and defined line between work and life, but it’s all life, and it’s about being part of a community bound by strong relations akin to a “work family” living a “work life”.

Recently, the topic of engaging employees has been of great interest for a lot of managers who aim to become coaches rather than merely being bosses, as stated in a very interesting article about Performance Management written by Ben Wigert, PhD and Jim Harter, PhD from Gallup.

According to the article, “engagement-focused coaching teaches managers to understand employees’ performance needs and barriers to success. Only through an appreciation of both; who employees are as people and what they need to be engaged can a manager effectively coach them to be their best.”
Of course, if employees are engaged and live a great working experience, they will go above and beyond their assigned tasks and reach even the most unpredictable paths of success. In order to engage people, it is necessary that managers share the ‘why’, the purpose of the company, the value proposition, the overall picture.

So, to recap, here you find my 3 golden rules that I use in my daily life at CIF Research and that I would recommend to anyone when managing their employees:
1. Share the purpose, understand the ‘why’ behind millennials’ desire to know about the bigger picture, why they want to understand the core values of the company to be really engaged in what they do. They need to know there is a vision and a purposeful reason that managers believe in to play their part in the bigger picture in order to reach a “common goal” and contribute to the success of their organisation.

2. Be a mentor, not just a boss
Even if millennial employees have firm views on their direction in life, they still might feel a need to refine their ideas, improve and grow in the workplace and focus on further developing their strengths. That is why I find the Gallup approach absolutely spot-on, as they understand that millennials, and employees in general, nowadays demand more from their bosses and their companies. Employees want meaningful work and managers who care for them as people, not just as employees. They appreciate when managers know a few things that they care about personally. Of course, this does not mean that managers have to become close friends with their employees or have to know everything about their personal lives. But being a coach also means being able to communicate clearly in an honest and open dialogue providing an ongoing communication and clear work expectations through more frequent feedback, which can encourage and empower employees.

3. Create a culture of celebration and recognition
Millennials really hope for gratitude and recognition, not only for the big projects or goals reached but also for smaller-scale successes that can be linked to daily efforts. Managers who appreciate the team for a result reached, senior members of the team thanking junior members, small celebrations of the common goals achieved can create a culture of celebration in the working environment. “Great job with that conference call!” or “The client was very satisfied with you, well done!” are just simple sentences that can make all the difference. As simple as that. At a higher level, recognition also means the possibility of growth within the company and further development of personal and professional skills. Let’s not forget that millennials like challenges and often contribute towards the overall purpose. Sometimes there are managers who are scared of teaching their employees too much or developing their skills to further levels, as they think that once they have the skills, they will move elsewhere and look for other jobs.

But this is actually not true! Millennials love to develop and grow and the more they feel they are learning, the more they are empowered and engaged, the more likely it is that they will bond, be more productive and stay in the company longer. On the contrary, if millennials don’t see opportunities to learn and grow and to finally move up, they will end up moving out.

Considering the three aspects of culture, purpose, enjoyment, engagement, recognition and development – in addition to the ‘must-have’ balance between work and personal life – is the right way to be or become not only a successful manager, but more specifically a successful leader in the eyes of the millennials.

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