Effective Management Consulting

Managing Millennials: Myths and Opportunities

By Jeffrey Harris, MFT, CEAP

You would think that based upon grumblings heard from managers about Millennials, nothing is getting done in the workplace. How many of these myths have you heard from managers? “Millennials have been coddled all their lives, and they expect that from me.” “Their noses are always in their phones, but they don’t have real relationships.” “They’re not really invested in staying with our company… they seem disloyal.”

Myths like these are quickly uttered by managers who feel that Millennials are disrespectful because their work style and preferences are not the same as the managers and directors of today, many of which are Baby Boomers. As an EA consultant, you are in a position to help managers overcome stereotypes and adopt a new appreciation and respect for Millennial employees.

How Generational Work Styles Are Formed
The cause of most friction or distrust between generations in the workplace is due to a specific population’s work style, which includes nuances like use of technology, where a given work project gets done, employer loyalty, and whether spare time goes into completing work or stepping away to play.
Attitudes about work differ between generations because of the cultural forces that shaped views about work during the formative years of each generation’s youth and young adulthood. Some of those cultural forces have included:

* Parental values and role-modeling. Was the employee raised by dual-income parents, or a single parent? Did the parents emphasize higher education or learning a trade? Did the parents effectively role-model work-life balance?
* The economy of the time. Was the national economy expansive or austere? What was the job market like, and what type of industries were thriving at the time?
* Current events in the news. Did larger events promote a sense of safety or dread? 
* Emerging technology. The constant evolution of technology shaped the creation of new industries (macro) and changed the way people got work done (micro).

Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were raised in a post-war era of prosperity and the rapid expansion of the middle class and “the American Dream.” They are so-named because of the literal explosion of birth rates after World War II. 
Their generation experienced the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Women’s Rights Movement. Boomers tend to be individualistic and goal oriented. The empowerment of social movements has led them to believe that they can change everything they touch. The technological breakthrough of their time was the advent of the personal computer.

Generation X
Generation X (or Gen-Xers) were born between 1965 and 1980. Key events included Watergate, Three Mile Island, the Iran-Contra scandal, and an economic decline. Their era is marked by disappointment in leaders, “latchkey kids” and more blended and single-parent families. 
As workers, they prefer more autonomy and hold less respect for authority, which resulted in a boom of entrepreneurial spirit. They are outspoken, adaptable, and more willing to take risks.

Millennials (sometimes called Generation Y) are considered those born between 1981 and 1993. Events shaping their generation include the Columbine shootings and September 11th. The world economy in which they work is increasingly defined as knowledge-based. 
As a generation, they have been nurtured, protected, and praised for minimal effort. They have high expectations for reward and recognition, often seeking constant feedback. They prefer to work in businesses that act like startups, with steep learning curves and quick advancement. Millennials tend to have more loyalty to their own career path than to any single employer, but are willing to stay if there’s a clear promotion pathway. 
They prefer to connect with the meaning and purpose of their work, rather than just accepting job assignments. It is believed that self-expression is more important than self-control. Millennials are used to teams and in school they grew accustomed to group-style projects.

Common Causes of Generational Conflict
Generational conflict usually centers around four essential team activities, as generational work styles differ in the approach to each activity. These causes, and suggestions for dealing with each potential problem include:

* Choosing where and when to work. Help managers create clear policies about benefits and accountability for remote work, shift flexibility, work-life balance, and a focus upon productivity rather than clock-watching.
* How communication should occur among team members. Younger staff are accustomed to rapid responses and may feel frustrated if they haven’t heard from older colleagues quickly. Older staff may feel offended by the lack of face-to-face interaction. Help the manager create a culture where the “receiver” responds with the same technology as the “sender.”
* How, when, and why the team comes together for meetings. Boomers and Gen Xers like meetings that are scheduled on a routine basis. Millennials prefer “huddles” or “on demand meetings.” Suggest that the manager find a blend, and ensure that the invitees are an essential fit for the meeting.
* How the team finds essential information or learns new things. While Boomers are linear learners like to attend classes, Millennials are largely “on demand” learners. Managers can help the team understand multiple points of view and promote diverse perspectives as the team learns or explores.

Let’s Keep the Discussion Going
For more consulting tips on managing Millennials, contact me through my LinkedIn profile (linkedin.com/in/jeffharrisceap) and Twitter (@jeffharrisceap).

Jeffrey Harris, MFT, PCC, CEAP has provided management consulting to a wide variety of organizations throughout his 23-year career in employee assistance, including corporate, educational, government and union organizations. The author also has extensive experience as a manager and executive coach, from which he draws insight for his consulting. Jeff currently serves as Program Manager of EAP & WorkLife at the University of Southern California.