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Managing the Millennial: Collaboration or Chasm?

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By Vijay Khatnani, Managing Partner, J2 Solutions

As we were planning for 2017, I started to think about how our workforce has evolved over the past several decades—and the new trends that are emerging. I’m talking about the generational groups that make up that workforce: from Baby Boomers to Millennials.

The fact of the matter is, as Baby Boomers begin to retire and Gen Xers take on more managerial roles, Millennials are joining the workforce—in droves. The fundamental differences across each demographic group forces us to take a good, hard look at how we manage and integrate this newer breed of employee to ensure a healthy, collaborative workplace culture and, ultimately, a successful business.

Before we dive into what that looks like, I’d like to take a moment to highlight some key psychographic features of each group.

First up: Baby Boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964, this group has a strong work ethic, isn’t afraid to put in the hard work to climb the corporate ladder and values employee longevity. They are self-starters, collaborative and confident. And while they don’t need a lot of direction, they have a healthy respect for authority.

Next came the more independent-minded Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980. Like the Boomers, this group also believes in paying their dues to work their way up. But the similarities end there. While career-oriented and committed to their job, they work to live, not live to work; they value a healthy work-life balance. Gen Xers have an entrepreneurial spirit, a can-do attitude, but also value feedback—both positive and constructive. Unlike the loyalty-driven Boomers, this group tends to move around more often, averaging a new company every 3-5 years or so. They’re more flexible and embrace change in the workplace and in the market.

Millennials, our focus for today, were born between 1981 and 2000 and, in many cases, are just starting their careers. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y, this group was raised with technology and social media at their fingertips. As such, they’re accustomed to instantaneous non-verbal connection and immediate response. Strong minded and full of ideas, they want to be heard, they want to be themselves and they don’t want to conform.

They, too, feel strongly about workplace flexibility, even more so than the generation before them, and value feedback—but more of the positive kind and less of the constructive.

In stark contrast to the Boomers, Millennials are less driven by money and more driven by deriving meaning in the workplace. They want to feel good about what they’re doing, be praised for a job well done and advance their careers quickly.

I recently read a quote from Dan Schawbel, Gen Y career expert and the founder of Millennial Branding, that I found interesting: “Growing up, Millennials all received trophies in sports leagues regardless if they won or lost.” He goes on to explain that Millennials don’t believe in hierarchy—that “everyone should be heard from and the best ideas win out, regardless of who has been on the job longer, or who has a corner office.” This group is less patient and more prone to look for that next opportunity that awaits them, thereby making retention more challenging.

Now that you know each group a little more and where our workforce is headed, it’s time to talk about how to manage your organization in the face of this continued evolution.

Managing your Millennials

This all starts with realizing that what works for one will not work for another. The Millennial, while drastically different in mindset than that of Baby Boomer or Gen Xer, has many favorable qualities to offer an organization. They’re full of fresh ideas and are more technologically savvy than their predecessors—but require a vastly different style of management than the Boomers and the Gen Xers.

This group is harder to retain. They’re energetic and eager—and a bit more impatient in their quest to get ahead. If they don’t see a path forward in their current situation, they’ll be on the lookout for the next opportunity.

Here are 5 Tips to Managing the Millennial:

  1. Take the time to mentor your Millennial employee: provide frequent positive feedback and listen to their ideas.
  2. Set achievable goals and map out how those goals will help to advance his or her career—but don’t micromanage. Provide structure with flexibility.
  3. Always communicate openly and honestly; transparency is key with this group.
  4. When it comes to forms of communication, keep in mind they may be more responsive to tech-based dialogues rather than in-person meetings that can fill up the day.
  5. Give them the big picture. They want to know why something is being done.

This age group also comes to the table with strong ideas and passions around social and philanthropic issues. You can use this to your advantage in the hiring process: look to bring in talent whose social values map to the social values of your company. This will go a long way in giving your Millennial employee a sense of fulfillment in his or her job.

Millennials are also driven by flexibility and alternate work arrangements. Think Google and Apple who offer unconventional workplace perks such as nap pods, ping pong tables and wellness centers, as well as more conventional perks like flexible time and competitive benefits packages.

If you take the time to acknowledge these differences, you’ll create an environment of open collaboration across the generations that translates to success for your business.

Have you had experience with managing millennials? What have you found are some best practices?