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Keys to Managing Your Millennial Employees

By Brad Karsh

"What's up with the kids these days?" Let's face it: this expression is as old as time itself. You can imagine caveman dad saying to caveman son, "We didn't have the wheel when I was growing up! You have it easy!" Yet now, more than ever, this timeless expression is infiltrating the workplace in response to millennial employees.

For the first time in history, four generations are present in the workplace. Each has their own skill set, communication styles, work habits, and values which inevitably clash and create a challenging dynamic for traditionalists, boomers, generation X-ers, and millennials alike.

Perhaps the biggest clash is that of millennials and other generations. Employees struggle in dealing with this group calling them, "tech-savvy, entitled, high maintenance, silver spoon-fed brats." The fact is, millennials are not better or worse than any other generation - they are just different. They have an enormous skill set, and they will shape the landscape of business in years to come - if we learn to work with them.

Here are five tips for managing and engaging your millennial employees:

  1. Provide feedback - early, and often. Millennials may give the air that they are confident, but this doesn't mean they don't want to improve. Millennials want to learn, grow, and develop. Unlike boomers, they will not benefit from only an annual review. They expect to be given constructive feedback on a daily basis. Be open, honest and direct and meet face-to-face. Share your management philosophy and style.
  2. Give them structure. Unlike boomers and Xers, millennials want to be told exactly what to do. Their entire lives, their days have been structured while parents, teachers, tutors, nannies, and coaches have told them exactly what to do. In the workplace, they struggle with taking initiative and prioritizing. Now, don't give them a step-by-step action plan for each of their tasks, but do schedule "check points" for their assignments, and make time to answer their questions.
  3. Tell them why. Millennials have been taught to ask why. Growing up, when they asked their parents and teachers "why?, they got answers other than "because I said so." As a result, they genuinely want to know the reasoning behind why things are the way they are at work. When they ask why, they expect an answer. Never give them a project without explaining the big picture. Tell them why it's important, even if it seems obvious to you. Give definitive reasons for policies and procedures.
  4. Offer career advice. Not all millennials are job hoppers. It is important that you offer opportunities for growth and development according to their individual needs. Show them a way that will allow them to change paths within the same company. Encourage them to join industry and professional organizations.
  5. Offer flexibility. Millennials value a parallel life, and work-life balance is incredibly important. They are digital natives who believe that technology allows work to be done anytime, anywhere. Consider flexible work hours and trust them to work from home on a case-by-case basis.

Remember: millennials are not better or worse, they are just different. Take advantage of their positive attitude, ability to multitask, technical skills, and multicultural awareness. Don't be afraid to defy the golden rule and treat them the way they want to be treated, as opposed to the way you want to be treated.