Everything You Need to Know About Managing Millennials

Imagine the future for a second. People talk about, “Oh my gosh, if we allow Millennials to take over the world, it’s going to be terrible, like the world is going to melt,” and I’m here to say, let’s imagine this environment.

10/11/2021 8 min read

The Millennials are coming.

Sure, you’ve probably heard it before. You might even be a little sick of hearing about it, and we know it’s easy to assume that all the hype around the impending Millennial invasion is… a bit overblown.

But the numbers tell a different story – the modern workplace is being reshaped by an influx of Millennial talent.

In just the last 5 years, 87% of Millennials took on management roles, and by 2020, Millennials will make up approximately half of the global workforce. By 2025, that number will be closer to 75%.

It’s a demographic shift that organizations can no longer afford to ignore, but the perception of Millennials is still fraught with stereotypes and misconceptions.

Millennials continue to cause confusion and frustration for CEOs, HR leaders, and middle managers alike.

Today we’re going to be talking about the Millennial divide and how we close the gap so that all of us perform better and experience more in our businesses and in life.

Who here has strong feelings towards Millennials? What words come to mind? Entitled? Delusional? Narcissistic?

Well, I’ve got a few – these are some quotes I found on the internet that shed light on how we think and talk about Millennials.

“When you get as much praise and attention on your birthday as an average Millennial feels entitled to every day.”

Here’s another one.

“Never before has a generation so diligently recorded themselves accomplishing so little.”

I’m getting some nods in here like, “That’s true. #truth.” (Actually the only people that are saying #truth are the Millennials.)

“I’m calling in sick because I have an eye problem. I can’t see myself coming into work today.”

I myself, believe it or not (and please do not think less of me), I’m a cusp Millennial. I was born in 1989, so I’m officially a Millennial, but I used to think I just had bipolar disorder.

I have a little bit of Gen X and Millennial combined. Hopefully not the two bad sides, hopefully more of the two good but that’s for you guys to judge.

It’s no longer about work life balance when you’re managing Millennials. It’s now about work life integration and blending everything together. What Millennials understand better than most is that this original work/life distinction is completely artificial. In our adult lives, we spend more time at work than anywhere else.

We see our co-workers more than our spouses or our kids. There’s no separate work life and home life. It’s all just life. That’s why work-life integration is so important to them.The average tenure of a Millennial worker is just two years versus five years for Gen X and seven years for Boomers – meaning that if we do not figure out how to change that, every time that occurs every two years will incur an average of $24,000 in costs.

But my goal is not to convince you of the importance of understanding Millennials. You guys know this. You’ve known that for a while.

What are my goals today if that’s not it? My goal is first to show you why, why Millennials are the way they are through sociological and biological lenses.

Some people think that Millennials just need to change and “grow up.” I’m telling you now – they will not change. In fact, what’s happening right now probably won’t change for another 30 to 40 years.

You cannot escape our demographics. That’s why I’m going to provide you with some how-to strategies to more effectively engage Millennials and maximize return. Why is all this important? I believe that if you understand the forces that influence the future, you’ll have the ability to shape the future. If you don’t understand those forces, you’ll just be shaped by it. Would you rather shape it or what’s more fun? Shaping the future, right? That’s a lot more fun.

Let’s take a look at some of the defining traits of the different generations.

The silent generation, there’s a high in the air. This is after World War II, institutions were strong, and trust in these institutions was strong. The individual was weak. There was a great deal of conformity. Career corporate jobs were the standard.

That’s what people did. People worked for 30, 40, 50 years at the same place. People love that institution and the stability it provided, but there wasn’t as much individualism.

Then you had the Boomer generation. They value Individual expression and want to express and define their culture. They want more than their conformist parents.

Notice the invention of monetary commissions during this generation. They gave more to their kids and at the end of the day, Boomers are defined, in their minds, by the work that they do and that they produce.

Then we have Gen X, the second consecutive “me” generation. Individualism is strong and flourishing, but social disorder is pervasive. Civic authority feels incredibly weak. Culture feels exhausted.

Everybody looks around and says, “Really, is this what the government’s doing? Really, this is what’s happening?” People have more faith in the individual than they do in institutions or in government.

Then came Gen Y, the Millennials. Civic and cultural expression are revived. They find community purpose and people locate within a larger group. The group becomes more important than the individual.What Millennials Crave in the Workplace

So why should you care about all this? Because again, it’s not going away anytime soon.

Today’s company will fail without significant change. You hear the stats. I don’t know them right offhand, but what is it? Of all the Fortune 500 companies today, by 2020 only 50% will exist.

Society is transitioning out of the old era, “me” to “we,” and the importance of new is only becoming more important. What is the new focus? What do Millennials care about at the end of the day?

Community and relationships, purpose and social responsibility, trust and enjoyment, work-life integration. It’s no longer about work life balance. People say, “I want to blend everything together. Everything’s the same to me. It’s not work and life, it’s all life.” Flexibility and autonomy and, believe it or not, selflessness.

What are the differences in “me” versus “we,” in Boomer and Gen X versus Millennial? Boomers, Gen X want money. Millennials want time.

Millennials want time more than anything. Money is a threshold for Millennials. They need it for a threshold but it’s not a scorecard. It’s not a scorecard.

Community and relationships trump money and material stuff. I as a Millennial would rather drive a 14-year-old Toyota pickup as long as I can go to dinner and hang out with my friends every night than I would buy a new Lexus.

Personal growth and development is a requirement for Millennials. If they’re not growing, if they’re not developing for the sake of what they want to do in life, and there’s a lot of different things within your organization that that can happen, their time with you is short-lived.

It’s a requirement, growth is. It used to be where as long as you were getting paid well, you’d stay maybe for 30 years, as long as you’re getting paid well and getting that paycheck. No longer the case.

Culture, environment and experience trump most. These people care more about experience and engagement.

If they are engaged and they are having a good experience, wow, what they will do is unbelievable. Then obviously purpose and “why” is a prerequisite to success.

Who’s seen this before? Most companies know what they do. If you don’t know what you do, you’re in big trouble. What do you do? I don’t know.

How you do it, that’s your value proposition, like how do you get customers, how do you go about it? A little bit more difficult. That requires some strategy, but why, which is really the bull’s-eye.

1. Know Your Why

Why is, “Why do you do it? What’s your purpose? Why do you get up and dedicate every single day to what you do? Why does it matter?” That’s what Millennials care about. What can you do to maximally engage Millennials?

You must connect what you do to a higher purpose. I don’t care what type of firm you have. I don’t care how tactical it is.

I don’t care how much of a commoditized industry it is, you have to connect to a higher purpose. You have to connect to a higher purpose. You’ve got to know what your core values and not just put them on the wall.

You’ve got to talk about them. You’ve got to hire by them. You have to have a vision statement that you believe in, and that you lead with and that you talk about every day. You have to have a purpose and figure it out.

2. Create a Culture of Recognition

Start simple. Instead of sending an email that says, “Great job,” you walk into their office. You say, “You know what? Great work on that phone call, on that conference call. You knocked it out of the park.” What else? No, that’s it. “Good work.”

3. Understand Their Personal Goals

What a concept, right? You actually know what they want in their professional and personal lives. It doesn’t mean you have to know everything about them, but you actually know and you care about a couple things that they care about personally.

Maybe personal cards, every single time that there’s a birthday that maybe that they had a kid, that it’s their wife’s birthday, it’s their anniversary, you write them a note.

4. Create a Flexible Environment Preceded by Accountability

People say that, “You know, we shouldn’t have to do this. Millennials are lazy.” I think we’re being lazy. The problem is that we love to measure time because it’s so easy. “Be there from 9 to 5.”

But what’s hard? That’s actually developing metrics and determining what behaviors produce success and then measuring and monitoring those behaviors. You can say, “Hey, as long as you hit your results, I don’t care about these other things.”

You may not be able to do it in one, two or three strategy sessions, but you’ve got to get there if you want to succeed tomorrow. Create individual development and growth plans.

These do not have to be crazy.

They can mean that in your quarterly reviews, in your direct report meetings, that the manager is just checking up with the individual on what their personal goals are. “Hey, you know what? I know that you really wanted to learn Tae Kwon Do. How’s that going?”

“Hey, you know what? I really want … I realize that you wanted to take flight lessons. Have you been able to check up on that?” Also, just regarding that too, don’t be scared.

There’s so many baby boomers and Gen X people that are scared of teaching their employees too much or giving them too many skills.

They’re scared to have them move laterally across the organization because once they’re picking up all these skills and developing and getting better and better, what’s the fear? They’re going to leave, take another job.

The exact opposite is true. If you provide them with growth and you give them that flexibility and that ability to expand themselves – remember, these people are not the ones that are always just leaving for the higher paying job -they’ll actually bond and they’ll produce more for you and they’ll stay a year or two, three years longer at your company.

Just remember culture, experience and relationships trump all. Nothing is more important than that.