Managing Millennials: Key Tips


Since my coaching career started six years ago, I have focused primarily on understanding what it feels like to be a 20 to 30-something (a generation known as Millennials) living in the UK today. Having regularly read about, and even researched the Quarter-Life Crisis, it’s clear that transitioning from education in to early adulthood is no easy feat these days. Trust me, as someone of this age, I know first hand how difficult it can be finding your feet in the adult world.

Not that we can expect much empathy or sympathy along the way. This generation doesn’t appear to have a great reputation, with many negative stereotypes prevalent in the media, and in the organisations I speak to about their experiences of this age group in the workplace. Often labelled as demanding, lazy, unrealistic in their expectations, needy, and dis-loyal, it’s hard to understand why anyone would take the time to better understand, or even seek to meet this generation’s needs and expectations.

However, there are currently 95 million individuals globally that make up this generation. It has been said that by 2025, those born between 1980 and the year 2000 will make up 70% of the workforce, creating an environment where five generations are working alongside each other in the office. That’s a lot of people to ignore and fail to really to understand. With 57% of Millennials planning to leave their job in the next two years, 40% in a year, something is definitely not working if all this talent wants to move on from their current employer so quickly.

It’s paramount that we seek to better understand what this generation want from their employers, and how, as their manager, you could approach the management of your Millennial team members in a way that encourages them to bring their full potential, enthusiasm, and best performance to work each day.

Having coached hundreds and hundreds of Millennials over the years, I have a pretty clear sense of what frustrates this generation about their jobs, so much so that they’re considering leaving, or even completely changing career, as a result. As the saying goes, “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers” and I completely agree. Nine times out of ten, it’s the relationship with their manager that’s creating such a detrimental impact on that person’s experience of their job, which is sad to witness when it can be so easily fixed.

Over the years I have become aware of what I think are the main points that managers need to consider and implement if they want to get the best from their Millennial employees. There are, of course, no quick fixes, and each person remains a unique individual, with different needs to the next person. Therefore, although the below provides a strong guide, we must still remember to manage each person with a bespoke approach.

7 Key Tips for Managing Millennials

1. Adopt a coaching management style: Millennials are not keen on being micro-managed. Rather than simply telling them what to do, ask them what they think the solution or way forward is. Encourage their development by having regular, consultative conversations between two equals. Two diverse perspectives are always better than just the one.

2. Be clear on your expectations: Millennials like to please and get things right but sometimes lack the confidence to clarify they’ve understood you correctly for fear of looking stupid. If you’re looking for a task to be done in a specific way, be clear about what you’re expecting from them. Check that they’ve understood you correctly. At the same time, remain open-minded to some tasks being done a different way to yours and the result being just as effective.

3. Discuss and know their career plan: Millennials like certainty and clear goals to work towards. Many Millennials complain that they feel stuck in a rut or lost because they can’t see what next step they should be aiming for. Although their career path is ultimately their responsibility, discuss their aspirations with them and offer advice where you can. Be clear on what structured progression looks like in your organisation, and be very upfront with them about what is required of them for promotion.

4. Be open-minded to the how and when of progression: The world, and the workplace, is a different place these days. Choices and opportunities are plentiful. When it comes to promotion or less formal progression, remain aware of how things have changed over time. Just because you had to go through certain steps to get where you are now doesn’t mean that future generations have to too. Things can be different. “I had to so you have to too” or “We’ve always done it this way” or “You need to be here X number of years before that happens” all suggest a narrow minded approach to what’s possible when it comes to managing this generation and their potential. If they’re ready, they’re ready.

5. Take an interest: More so than ever, the lines between work and the personal lives of Millennials are becoming finer and finer. Rather than have work/life balance, there’s a shift towards flexible working and integration of work and home. It can therefore help to take more of an interest in your team members – What are their values? What motivates them? What purpose do they draw from their work? What are their interests and hobbies? Millennials want to feel valued, appreciated, and recognised. Taking a personal interest can really help boost their morale and self-worth. It can also help managers lead from within a team, rather than simply dictating dispassionately from the front.

6. Provide regular constructive feedback, positive and negative: One paradox I’ve noticed with Millennials is that they crave developmental feedback, spurred on by a continuous desire to be challenged and to improve. Only ever receiving positive feedback doesn’t appear to always go down well – they want to know what they can do even better. However, at the same, they don’t tend to take criticism well. Many complain of feeling told off, shouted out, or put down in front of others. To get this right, the key is for mangers to learn how to deliver negative messages considerately and effectively – read up on the subject or attend formal training, if needs be. Organisations can also help develop resilience in Millennials, making it easier for them to accept and work on their weaknesses.

7. Follow through on your promises: In an uncertain economy and employment market, where redundancies are rife, the trust Millennials have in their employers has been dented slightly. They’re aware that there is little love lost if they underperform or they are suddenly considered no longer essential to profit margins. Millennials therefore put a lot of faith in what their managers promise, especially when it comes to pay increases, bonuses, or promotion. Don’t promise anything you can’t guarantee. If there are milestones for them to reach before certain promises are delivered, make sure these are clear, specific, and measurable so that there are no misunderstandings along the way.

As with most management theory, the above would of course be desirable to those belonging to any generation. However, for Millennials it would seem that the above is considered essential in the workplace. With many organisations now pushing boundaries and managing their employees in new, innovative, and creative ways, if their current workplace isn’t offering the above, it’s more than likely that Millennials will go on the hunt for an employer who will. It would be a shame to lose that talent you’ve so heavily invested in (time and money wise) simply because your management style hasn’t caught up with the Millennial generation. After all, they’re the leaders of the future. Let’s hope it’s your organisation they’re taking from strength to strength in the future, not your competitor’s.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.