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Managing Millennials – a ‘Must Have’ Capability

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

‘Lazy’, ‘selfish’, ‘demanding’ – all labels attributed to Millennials.

Millennials will form 75% of our workforce in just 8 years’ time, accordingly to Deloitte.  ‘Managing Millennials’ was rated the number 1 ‘Must Have’ capability for business leaders in 2017, in a survey conducted by Mindshop. However, many managers feel at a loss to understand how to get the best from them without constant attention, and to truly engage them in their organisations.

Millennials (aka Generation Y and Gen ‘Me’) were born between 1980 and 1994 – which makes them 21-36 years old.

They are preceded by Gen X (aged 37 – 52), and the Baby Boomers (aged 53 – 70).

Each generation is influenced by the parental, social and technological environment they grew up in.

Managing Millennials – the number 1 ‘Must Have’ capability for business leaders in 2017 (Mindshop).

Millennials have grown up to be tech-savvy, open-minded, creative and flexible with a strong sense of social responsibility.  This is a generation who are told you can be and have anything you want, who get instant dopamine highs through social media, downloadable films, online gaming and next day delivery. Information, entertainment and even friends are just a few clicks away.  By contrast – school league tables, counting ‘likes’ on social media and airbrushed/ cosmetically perfected celebrities have, perhaps, created our most pressured generation.  This is a generation which has a marked increase in anxiety, depression and suicides.  It’s a generation who are still finding their feet, trying to look and feel successful, whilst being unable to get on the housing ladder.

When they enter the workplace, Millennials tend to look for instant achievement, visible and regular approval and rewards, to work with friends and move on when they’re bored or something better comes along.  But our workplaces are usually operated by Gen X and Baby Boomers.  Gen X are recognised as the most self-reliant generation, whereas Millennials are seen as the most demanding (Cascade HR Study).  As a result, delivering our day jobs is expected as standard by employers, and there are no 100% attendance awards. This contrast can leave Millennials, and their employers, frustrated and demotivated.

As employers it’s worth remembering that people join organisations and leave managers.

Employee engagement, coaching and mentoring have made a real difference in understanding how to get the best from Millennials at work.  For example, many employers have already learned to give feedback more regularly, to ensure each employee understands how their work contributes to their organisations’ success and to shape job roles around individual talents.  They’ve learned to provide more mentoring to teach life and work skills, such as creating trust, building relationships, patience, perseverance and to consider matters from others’ points of view.  They’ve also learned to create more work/ life balance, part-time work and job sharing and to integrate technology and working from home.

An ongoing challenge is employee retention, particularly for Baby Boomer employers.  Their generation believed in a job (and a relationship) for life. Therefore job development was often limited to specific roles and opportunities within their organisation.  By contrast, Millennials are used to change personally and professionally.  They look for development and jobs that will further them and their careers generally – emphasised through portable qualifications, personal pensions and online CVs (such as LinkedIn).  Millennials expect to enjoy their jobs and their personal lives.  Long-service with high performance will result from employees being engaged with – and not committed to – their work, on an ongoing basis.

As employers, if we are to truly engage Millennials, we need to:

  • balance our short-term focus on the numbers with long-term nurture and development of them as individuals (and not just as our employees)

  • teach them how to balance the use of technology and working from home, with the deep satisfaction of achieving as a team – of co-operating, trusting and working through problems together

  • provide clarity, focus and support

  • communicate our values and demonstrate our integrity by matching our actions and, perhaps most challenging of all

  • believe that this generation holds the answers to our organisations’ continued success – not by following in our footsteps, but in creating their own in a digital, global and fast changing landscape that we haven’t encountered before.

As employers it’s worth remembering that people join organisations and leave managers.

Management is no longer focused primarily on the management of tasks and processes, of maintaining efficiency and getting things done.  It now includes the engagement of employees – of all generations, and managing change.  Managing processes AND people successfully can be a tricky combination, and one we help our clients with every day.


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