GENERATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE: The Manager to Millennial Challenge – Key Initiatives to Start a Healthy, Productive Workplace Relationship

Originally posted on NDInsights in June of 2012

This is part of our “Designed To Win” series on the millennial workforce.  Full disclosure: I am a millennial.

This past week I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at the Northern New England Center for Financial Training’s annual banquet.  While sitting at the table waiting to give a 20 minute talk on social learning through new social technologies, I asked the guests at the table how the influx of new workers (mainly millennials) was turning out for them.  Some were excited about the talent and passion the young generation brought to their businesses, some had struggles and challenges, but could see the light at the end of the tunnel, while others were just exasperated by the attitude and demand of the young professionals.  It was a good litmus test on where we are in the millennial influx.

Last time, in our Designed To Win series on the millennial worker, we discussed the bell shape curve of ‘disconnector millennial’s (the ones we struggle with) vs. ‘connector millennial’s (the ones we like to work with).  We also discussed that the ‘connector’ millennial brought as much EQ skill, or interpersonal skill to the table as IQ and job skill which made them a very mature, valuable asset to an organization.  Hearing from our readers and from in-the-field conversations there is a general consensus that the ‘connector’ millennials may be far and few, while the ‘in between’ and ‘disconnector’ millennials make up a vast majority of what organizations are experiencing and therefore, are struggling with.

So how do we deal with this?  In Great By Choice, Jim Collins talks about coming to terms with the fact that the world, specifically the business world, will always and forever be chaotic.  That if you’re looking for ease and a placid environment (be it financially, or based on regulations, or based on competitors, or based on the emerging workforce), you are going to be waiting a long time.  Instead, he suggests, great companies choose to deal with their environment and come to terms with what they can control and what they cannot.  I would suggest the same for all of us as we manage the millennial influx.  This is the hand managers, supervisors and organizations have been given.  These are the new recruits that we have to deal with.  These workers will be 50% of our workforce in the next 5 years.  What can we do now to work the seemingly chaotic nature of the manager to millennial challenge?

At the end of the last post, I asked for some of your suggested remedies on what was working or not working in terms of engaging the millennial worker.  We’ve put together some of our own thoughts on how organizations might be able to bend the bell the curve in their favor and begin to have a healthy, productive relationship with this new millennial worker.  Here were some of our thoughts:

Continuing their education: Become a learning facility that fosters education and gives the skill set that the millennials require to grow.  As we know from Herzberg’s theory on motivation, competency is one of the four main areas that builds greater motivation and retention. Build the millennials competency, be the reason they are more competent.  Another area is to focus on social learning which looks not only at classic classroom, lecture-based learning, but social interactions and experiences that carry education throw the “white space,” or that time between classroom trainings.

Building the Belief: Behavior Connection:  Great leaders communicate, communicate, and communicate and then do it 100 times more.  And yet, I see this as being the #1 reason there is a social acceptance gap between millennials and managers.  We’re not talking enough!  We’re not having difficult, awkward discussions that build the fundamental trust and collaboration among the two groups.  The Belief: Behavior Connection, I believe, is a start in the right direction. It is the idea that many employees, including millennials, have many “beliefs” about the way things should work.  For millennials, the authors of Managing Millennials called this, “perceived orientation.”  The job of a manager is to build discrepancy, where necessary, between what these millennials expect (vacations, tardiness, free time, ability to disagree, advancement, autonomy, raises, etc.) and what the realistic timeline or expectation should be.  These are not always fun conversations, but they are necessary to build in guidelines, boundaries and expectations. These are also discussions that help articulate what behaviors the manager expects to see from the millennial in their daily interactions and work processes. Perhaps surprisingly, millennials are statistically proven to do better with this “all the cards laid out” scenario than most other generations.  Download our B:BC paper to learn more about how to have this conversation.

Designing a roadmap for their progress:  A manager should help the millennial see their position in the company and where they can add value to its mission.  Show them what it takes to get to each new position, and help them pick up ancillary leadership and team working projects that will build upon their skills (i.e. join the local young professionals group, design a work team for a charity, get on a work group that’s exploring some new angle to your business).  I have a friend who has repeatedly gone back to his manager, asked for a chance to sit down and go over his “leadership ladder for growth” within the company. The manager still hasn’t sat down with him and to no surprise the millennial worker is becoming more and more disengaged with his work and his organization. How have you helped to build the leadership ladder for your millennial employee?

Creating an effective feedback protocol:  Millennials crave feedback.  They don’t want to get to the end of the year and then be slammed for poor performance that they could have tweaked along the way.  However, a manager doesn’t want to fill his or her day with giving feedback to all of their millennial employees all the time.  Build an expectation with each of your millennial employees about when you will give feedback.  However, meet them halfway.  If you’re used to giving one review a year, try four (each quarter).  A “good job” email never hurts either.  In fact, I’ve heard from many millennials that a “good job” email reinvigorates their commitment and dedication to the team or organization.  Another way to feed the millennial’s need for feedback is to try peer-to-peer performance feedback with some of these social tools: Rypple and

Embracing Mentoring Programs:  There are two very good ways millennials will learn to conform to some of the workplace standards.  One is through mentorship both from you, but also through other people within your organization.  The second is mentioned below.  Millennials have many, many questions (retirement, health care, skill set, leadership, history of company, etc.).  Help be that voice of experience where they can ask questions.  Provide guidance, wisdom and a gentle slap on the hand if necessary.  This is also a great time to practice some of that Belief: Behavior Connection and see “why they do what they do.” In a study of 5,000 professionals, this generation was more likely than boomers and Gen Xers to agree with statements such as, “Employees should do what their manager tells them, even when they can’t see the reason for it.”  One explanation for this is the coaching and mentoring they’ve received their whole lives – they’ve learned at a young age that doing what an authority figure tells them is more likely to result in success.

Encouraging Peer Social Pressure: “A rising tide lifts all boats,” goes the saying.  Put enough ‘connector millennials’ in the mix and let peer pressure go to work.  Make excellence the standard within your workplace.  Do not walk by shotty work without saying something.  Build a culture with your millennials where each one demands excellence from the one another. Encourage after-hours collaborations.  Being the most social generation, individuals will work hard to fit in and conform to social norms.  Be diligent in setting those social norms, communicating those social norms.  You will quickly rise the tide on both the IQ and EQ sides of your “in between” millennials because the microcosm of your organization or department won’t tolerate anything else.

I hope these have provided some added direction as we continue to dig into the mentality of this new workforce.  In our next post we will explore what millennials can do to re-engage the older generation and see the value that the Boomer and X still bring to the table.  Ideas welcome!