How to get the best from millennials

Karen Gately


written on July 26, 2017

Many leaders lack cross-generational management skills, particularly when it comes to millennials. What can they do to better understand and engage younger employees?

Reflect for a moment on how often you observe leaders struggling to understand, let alone engage and leverage the talents of the youngest members of the workforce. Many of the leaders I work with find millennials particularly frustrating to manage and are perplexed as how to get the best from them.

Like any other age group, generalisations have been made about how millennials behave at work – some helpful, some unhelpful. While it’s important to look beyond stereotypes, understanding these unique characteristics can be extremely useful in helping younger staff feel motivated and involved so that they give their best.

Begin by understanding these six common characteristics. Millennials tend to:

1. Ask why.

Millennials ask a lot of questions; they are driven to understand why decisions are made or beliefs are held. Having generally come-of-age in an environment where old hierarchies hold less sway, they are unafraid to ask: “What you are thinking and why”, and will think critically before they buy-in or sign up for a project. Once they are on-board, millennials crave information and transparency. They value being kept abreast of progress or change.

2. Want to make a meaningful contribution.

Having an impact on the world through their work is particularly important to this generation. Millennials want to know they are making a worthwhile difference and are therefore more likely to choose to work for an organisation that does something they believe has value.

3. Value freedom and autonomy.

Millennials need to be empowered in order to thrive. Allow them the freedom to make decisions and autonomy to determine the best way of going about their work, and millennials are more likely to be engaged in their work. However, it is still important  to establish clear boundaries in order to provide the supervision and coaching they need.

4. Be optimistic.

Positivity is among the most valuable characteristics we can harness from the millennial generation. Having grown up in times of dramatic change, advancement and disruption, millennials tend to have a philosophy that practically anything is possible.

5. Embrace change.

Millennials are more open to change than any generation that has come before. Not only are they comfortable with change, they expect and typically want it. It’s common for millennials to become restless and move on quickly if new opportunities fail to present themselves In the workplace. They tend to be early adopters of new technology, and can be valuable cheerleaders when launching new systems and processes.

6. Expect appreciation for good work.

Feedback and acknowledgement are both key to keeping millennials engaged and productive. Many studies have shown that millennials tend to value opportunities for career progression and personal development over financial reward. Bring an attitude of give and take to your relationship with millennials. If you can clearly show them their future potential at an organisation, they will be more likely to work hard to demonstrate their value to you.

Managing millennials is a challenge that demands an open-minded, respectful, committed and engaged approach from leaders. Understanding how they think and what they want is essential to leveraging their potential at work.

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