Millennials are a new breed of worker that many managers don’t quite know how to handle. We are a generation that defies the tried and true blue-collar values that have governed the workforce for the last century. We leave those of past generations feeling at the very least perplexed and at the very most disrespected.
How are you labeling your millennials?
Countless publications, studies, and managers themselves have labeled millennial employees as narcissistic and lazy, and seem to be at a loss for how to lead them. Simon Sinek expressed this sentiment in his ultra-viral interview about millennials when he lamented to managers, “It’s the company’s responsibility, sucks to be you, we have no choice. This is what we got.”
While Sinek’s statement tends to make millennial employees sound like an feeble, toddler-adult hybrid that needs their chins wiped after taking lunch. There’s no denying there’s a much more positive side to millennials that tends to get overshadowed.
Millennials are a highly entrepreneurial and creative generation with a penchant for disruption and free-thinking. Our tech-savvy and globally-minded brains may not stay at one job for a long time, but we sure are likely to make a dent while we’re there.
Still, Sinek’s statement represents a prominent perception of millennials in the workplace: they need to be coddled. To be sure, there is research that show millennials do require a style of management different from their elder coworkers.
Research conducted by Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at the University of New Hampshire, shows that millennial employees are more praise-focused than older workers.
"Managers have reported a lot of problems associated with this - primarily that…younger employees are often very resistant to anything that doesn't involve praise and rewards," Harvey says.
Admittedly, this sounds like a prime example of the infamous millennial label of “entitlement” that has become the scarlet letter for our generation. But what many fail to realize is that the attributes of millennial employees are not necessarily worse than those of other generations, they are simply different.
The millennial's desire for acknowledgement on a job well done shouldn’t be a nail in the coffin for them. This penchant should simply be a positive tip for managers who are looking to get the best out of their gen-y employees.
Related: 12 Tips for Fostering Teamwork - Entrepreneur
Here are three other tips to consider on how to harness the power of millennials and make it work for you.
1. Allow us to create.
Chaining a young employee to their desk and burying them in humdrum routines is the fastest way to get a discontented and uninspired worker. Conversely, when the reigns are loosened and room for innovation is allowed, that’s when the magic of the millennial starts to manifest.
“I’ve worked for several companies over the past five years and the millennial culture at each has made a huge difference, for better and for worse,” says Kyson, 27. Kyson is the art director at a Silicon Valley-based company that makes electric powered longboards.
While Kyson’s current job includes a management team that understands millennials and provides a freedom from monotony that keeps him feeling inspired, Kyson has experienced the opposite end of the spectrum as well.
“Previously I had a job that most people would consider to be a very sweet gig as far as pay and the company’s reputation but there was such an old school mentality internally that new ideas on how to do things weren’t encouraged. After only a few months of working there, I knew it wasn’t worth staying.”
When ideas are heard, passion follows. When it comes to the workplace, autonomy kills monotony. Build it and millennials will come…but be sure to leave room for creativity or they will leave soon after.
2. Embrace the differences.
The millennial generation is among the most tolerant our world has ever seen. Our generation’s passionate activism for human rights and preserving our earth is unmatched. This altruistic attitude makes it easy to understand others, even if differences do exist. Where problems come in is when that spirit of tolerance is not reciprocated.
As a manager, understanding that millennials operate differently than your other employees is a must. This simple but crucial change in mindset will better help you identify problems before they happen and solve ones that have already arrived.
Those who work with millennials should internalize a piece of wisdom attributed to Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.”
3. Check your biases at the door.
With the amount of op-eds, thinkpieces, and straight up rants about millennials being narcissistic ne’er-do-wells who can’t see past their iPhones, it’s not hard to see why many managers come to work with preconceived notions of their millennial employees.
Anne Collier, founder of Arudia, an executive coaching and training firm in Washington, DC, addresses this generational bias and how to overcome it.
“Be aware that you perceive others through your own lenses and that you judge millennials for theirs,” Collier writes. “Ask yourself…’Am I happy with a particular millennial’s work product and results?’"
The mark of any good manager is one who sets aside his/her own biases and deals with each employee based on their own merits. Using a broad brush to paint something as highly detailed and complex as workplace culture is never going to be successful.
“Know that [millennials] value teamwork and the flexibility to create a life that works,” Collier continues. “So, again, focusing on results, ask yourself, ‘Assuming that the flexibility that millennials ask for is both appropriate and the norm, does allowing a millennial the flexibility to occasionally work at home compromise their work?’”