As Baby Boomers rapidly transition into their retirement years, and Generation X-ers enter the ranks of management, these two generations of "old school" employees are clumsily crashing into the onslaught of Millennial workers. These twenty-something and early thirty-something employees just see the world-and the workplace-quite differently than older generations.
I'm a 38-year old Generation X-er, and I've been amazed at how different Millennials are from previous generations, and how coaching them to peak performance at my company requires more patience and new techniques. If you struggle as a manager to hold back your disdain and cynicism while creating meaningful relationships with Millennial employees, start recognizing these warning signs that you're muffing managing Millennials (say it 3x fast!):
1. You don't explain why they should change their behavior in a way that resonates.
Millennials are hungry for career advancement, so any advice you give that sets them up for career success will be heard. For example, let's say you're tired of seeing your Millennia's phone light up with ANOTHER Facebook notification. You can't just say, "Facebook is for home." Instead, say something like, "People who advance quickly here avoid unnecessary distractions at work, and all those phone notifications could easily distract you from your goal of being successful at this company." If you can keep a dialogue of "If you want to be successful...do this...", Millennials are more apt to listen.
2. You embrace Millennial stereotypes instead of using them to motivate.
Millennials learn very quickly that the workplace is a little cynical about their lifestyle and attitude, which in turn breeds a little cynicism in them. They know being labeled as a Millennial has more negative connotations at work than good. If you come alongside them and say, "Listen to me, and I'm going to help you avoid these Millennial stereotypes and get ahead here", they'll be more likely to take your advice.
3. You get offended because they speak up with "ignorant arrogance".
Yes, I cringe every time I hear someone with 1 year of experience say, "In my experience..."-argh-You HAVE NO EXPERIENCE. But that's an emotion best kept inside, and that's hard to do. Ambitious Millennials will often speak confidently about subjects where they have little knowledge or experience, or they may ask for promotions or responsibilities that have not been earned. Instead of reminding them of their inexperience and place on the pecking order, engage them in the discussion by asking questions like, "What data do you have to prove that?" to force them to think analytically, not anecdotally (a common Millennial employee issue).
4. You lead with your title, not your teachings.
Employees follow leaders who make them more successful at their careers. While is old fogies always respected the chain of command in how we spoke and acted, Millennials seem more willing to challenge authority. I submit that managers get frustrated more with Millennials because they're more likely to say what we Gen X-ers are already thinking. Good leadership in the face of challenges to that leadership earns trust. If you're open to being challenged by everyone-not just Millennials who don't realize it used to be career suicide to call out your boss-you'll appear stronger than someone who hides behind a title.
5. You need to improve your ability to manage employees.
Millennials are not aliens-they're just a special mix of management challenges baked into an individual. I think we can all agree that we've had challenging colleagues even back when Millennials were in elementary school. In some cases, poor managers may use "Millennial" as an excuse for their inability to work with employees that need extra coaching and development. Good managers don't really see Millennials as some homogeneous group-they see every direct report as an individual with their own strengths and weaknesses and manage accordingly. So before you critique a Millennial, make sure you're not the one that needs critiquing.
I get it-you want to just choke them. But you can't. It's still illegal. But like it or not, you hired a Millennial and it's now your job to make them a stellar employee. If you can remember these tips for managing our newest generation of workers, you can do your part to prepare the next generation of leaders-all of whom will be Millennials.
That's a scary thought