By 2025 millennials – the generation born between 1980 and 2000 – will make up 75% of the world’s working population. While it is important not to generalise too much, millennials as a whole do possess characteristics and motivations that differ significantly from earlier generations in relation to the workplace. To get the best from their millennial employees, managers must understand this, and adapt their management style accordingly, says Guido Stein, professor of managing people in organisations at IESE Business School
This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on Forbes.
Here are nine guidelines to help you adapt your organisation’s management policies to the particular traits of the millennial generation.
- Provide opportunities for learning and development
Millennials, especially ‘junior millennials’ (those born in the nineties), have grown up in a culture of immediacy, surrounded by stimuli. They are impatient, eager for new experiences, and they thrive on short-term goals with visible results.
Managers must help them identify opportunities to develop new skills. For example, managers can maintain millennials’ attention by frequently assigning them new and different projects, or temporary positions within the same company. Most importantly, millennials want to be able to ‘level up’; this is, after all, the videogame generation.
- Offer a balance between personal and professional life
Expert multi-taskers, today’s constantly connected young workers expect flexibility and autonomy in their work. They do not want to be tied to an eight-hour office schedule, and they do not share previous generations’ elevated view of in-person collaboration, or of marathon work sessions within the confines of an office. They just care about results.
- Money isn’t everything
It is not that millennials do not understand the value of money, it’s just not their primary motivation. What they value most is the attractiveness of the work itself, mobility (both geographical and between assignments), the opportunity to meet people and network and a relaxed atmosphere. They love being able to ‘customise’ their compensation packages with things like additional days off, flexible hours, telecommuting or discounts.
Although their professional motivations and objectives differ from those of their predecessors, millennials are still also ambitious. They may not aspire to have many direct reports, or a particular job title, but they are interested in reaching executive positions where they can have an impact on the world.
Millennials are especially motivated by dynamic, cross-functional positions. They also seek jobs that allow them to be in contact with, and learn from, interesting people, interacting with other professionals and teams. For this reason, their career paths should offer a wide range of experiences, not just vertical promotions up the greasy pole. Millennials greatly appreciate opportunities to demonstrate their potential and capabilities to their bosses — for example, invitations to join a management committee or to attend an informal event with top executives.
- Make way for more movement
Millennials make career decisions more autonomously than their predecessors did; generally speaking, they work today thinking about the position they will have tomorrow – they will not wait around indefinitely to achieve their goals. And they don’t fear change. If they cannot identify a clear purpose to their work, do not see development opportunities within the company, have a hard time balancing work and personal life, or don’t have a good relationship with their superiors, they will look for an exit.
To retain them it is, therefore, advisable to plan more frequent career conversations (once a year is no longer enough) and have personal exit interviews for leavers with the unit head. It is very important to understand what failed.
- Be mentors, not bosses
Millennials infamously lack respect for traditional structures of authority. Their upbringing has been much more lax and permissive, so they do not respond well to rigid protocols or displays of power. Rather, they need their leaders to be approachable, and to encourage and guide them.
Managers should take care to avoid setting themselves up as role models, or flexing their authority. They should earn the respect of millennials through their professional prestige and the consistency of their actions, not through some innate sense of respect for the established hierarchy, or obedience of authority.
- Create a strong company culture
Millennial employees are attracted to companies with a strong culture and values that are in line with their own ideals and lifestyle. They need to feel that what they do is worthwhile, and has a meaning beyond making money. They are motivated by being part of something important that positively affects their environment. If the company culture is not consistent, they will quickly notice and seriously reconsider whether they will stay with the organisation.
- Recognise their need for recognition.
One of this generation’s most distinctive features is their need for the approval of others. They are one step short of being ‘addicted’ to recognition – which they not only expect from their superiors, but also (and especially) from their peers. Their work is an important part of the daily life that they so brazenly share on social media; it’s another tool to convey the image they want to project of themselves.
- Take the good with the bad
Their inclination to publicly promote themselves, and their natural ability to build images and stories from their own personal and professional life experiences, has made them a powerful vehicle for marketing and communication – for better and for worse, of course.
It can be very effective to identify social leaders among millennial employees and turn them into brand ambassadors. This can be done, for example, by including them in employer branding activities or internal focus groups, taking them to job fairs, or making them spokespersons for the company on social media.
- Don’t disconnect the digital natives
Junior millennials are very adept at technology. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a daily part of their lives — and work, as well. They simply cannot conceive of an unconnected life, so much so that up to 56% of millennials would turn down a job that denied them access to social networks.
Companies should not hinder their use of technology and social media – in fact, they should take advantage of it to help build competencies across the entire organisation. For example, inverse mentoring programmes could help older employees learn from millennials’ technological skills. The evaluation of new purchases and technological developments could also benefit from this tech-savvy generation.
The millennials’ arrival in the workforce is a challenge, but also an opportunity. Managers from previous generations stand to learn more about the world we live in and to make better decisions accordingly. Millennials are here to stay; let’s make the most of them.