Millennials have been mystifying leadership for years. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers' inability to figure out this generation has spurred dozens of negative stereotypes about people born between 1980-1998. Millennials have been labeled as lazy, entitled, and narcissistic, with an innate distrust of bureaucracy and authority. This generation is also known for being difficult to manage in the workplace and prone to job-hopping.

For better or worse, Millennials now make up the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, which means it's time for employers to start adapting to an ever-changing workforce.

Fortunately, many Millennials refuse to let unfavorable stereotypes define them. It's also important to remember that Millennials are often unfairly labeled simply because the older generations don't understand them. This happens with every new generation: they're influenced by new technology and grow up under different parenting styles, rules, ideals, political climates, and economic conditions - all of which influence the way they act as employees in the job market.

Most Millennials are just looking for stable jobs that give them a sense of purpose and help them give something back to their communities or society in general. This generational group is well-known for being proficient in technology and able to adapt to new situations without a hitch. Most importantly, they're capable of working just as hard as any other employee.

Judging an entire generation based on a few stereotypes is one mistake that too many entrepreneurs make. It's not fair to the employee, and this mentality might make you pass over or lose a talented employee. The key to managing Millennials is understanding what drives them, what their expectations are, and what they want to get in return for their time - beyond a paycheck.

1. Use Reverse Mentoring to Engage

An experienced manager has a lot of expertise to share with younger employees, but Millennials also have plenty to offer their older colleagues, especially if their formal education and tech training included things that you never had the opportunity to study. Improve engagement in the workplace by giving Millennials more opportunities to share their knowledge, spirit, and energy. This could lead to a reciprocal relationship, in which they're more open to heeding advice and guidance from leadership, in exchange for being able to offer their input on projects and meetings.

2. Expand on Training

Millennials are more likely to be college-educated than any other generation, but like any young person just starting out in the workforce, they can benefit from on-the-job training as well as training in soft skills.

Expand formal training options in the workplace, which will not only benefit Millennials, but your entire employee base. Courses in communication, conflict resolution, time management, and productivity are just a few examples of training that can make everyone easier to manage. It's also a great way to groom Millennials for strong leadership roles.

3. Leverage Their Motivators

Don't rely solely on fun perks, like offering a wine bar, Taco Tuesdays, nap pods, or air hockey tables. Millennials are often motivated by more meaningful things, like social causes, a sense of purpose and belonging, and progressing with the company.

"Millennials have grown up in a 'maker-centric' age in which creating something is of utmost importance," says Chad Halvorson, CEO of When I Work. "They are used to having answers and information at their fingertips as well, and a simple online search can provide them with complex answers to just about any question. The speed at which they can find answers feeds into their need to be creative. Remember, they grew up in a fast-paced information age, and their attention span might be shorter (though it might also explain their adeptness at multitasking)."

Find ways to reward progress, and show your Millennial employees how their work not only benefits the vision of the company but also changes the industry. Leverage their creativity and drive for change, rather than shrugging them off as inexperienced.

4. Create a Flexible Environment

One thing that seems to be true for many Millennials is that they dislike rigid environments. They've been taught to question things, share their opinions, be outspoken, find solutions and make decisions on their own. Their upbringing simply doesn't mesh well with a rigidly-structured, strict corporate environment.

A Griffith Insurance Education Foundation report on Millennial research from 2011 found that Millennial workers are willing to sacrifice pay if it means that they have a better work/life balance.

"Millennials are used to cramming their lives with multiple activities," says HR expert Susan Heathfield. "They may play on sports teams, walk for multiple causes, spend time as fans at company sports leagues, and spend lots of time with family and friends. They work hard, but they are not into the sixty-hour work weeks defined by the Baby Boomers. Home, family, spending time with the children and families are priorities."

Millennials don't fit neatly into jobs that require 12-hour days, confined to a cubicle, and they prefer a work/life balance over slaving away for most of their waking hours. You'll find that Millennial workers are far easier to manage if they're given more flexibility when it comes to completing their work. This could range from seasonal work hours to telecommuting policies, flexible schedules, once-a-week late starts, and even more flexibility in expected office attire.

5. Embrace Autonomy and Ownership

Millennials are often accused of being narcissistic and entitled. In the off chance that you hire one who matches that personality type, then make the situation work in your favor. Create a work environment that they'll embrace by giving them more ownership over their work and results, along with some autonomy to strive toward their goals.

You don't have to assign an entire project to them, but defining aspects for them to tackle allows them to flex their knowledge and confidently complete their tasks. This will make them feel valued and respected, and they'll appreciate being part of the team on more collaborative projects like this.

6. Change the Feedback Model

Performance appraisals are old school and impersonal. They tend to draw comparisons to other employees, and Millennials don't want to be graded on a curve. They want direct, personal feedback on their projects in real time, not just blanket feedback every six months based on the team's performance.

"Doing performance evaluations well is like doing bloodletting well," says Bob Sutton, professor at Stanford University. "It is a bad practice that does more harm than good in all or nearly all cases."

Major companies like Adobe and GE are already doing away with performance appraisals, and about 6% of Fortune 500s overall have dumped this type of feedback model.

Millennials want in-the-moment feedback, occasional praise, and coaching. You'll get better results by taking that approach to feedback with your team of younger employees.

Do you have Millennial employees on your team? What have been the greatest challenges of managing the new generation of team members? Share your thoughts with me in the comments:

Published on: Dec 31, 2016