How To Manage Millennials

Effectively leading millennials requires understanding the collective experiences, values and motivators that make this group “tick.” Millennials, generally defined as the demographic cohort born between 1982 and the early 2000s, will account for half of the American workforce by 2020. Here’s a look at why and how managers should adjust their style to effectively lead the new generation of workers.

Be transparent.

As pointed out in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School white paper Maximizing Millennials in the Workplace, millennials have grown up in a highly supervised, orchestrated environment as parents carefully strategized their exposure and involvement in various sports, activities and educational pursuits. They’ve been reared in a society that values participation and collaboration; sharing and exchanging ideas by way of blogs and social media is their norm. They are accustomed to forming connections and having conversations (albeit virtual) with anyone, anywhere. Regardless of their “level” in an organization, they expect the same level of inclusion in the workplace.

Prioritize constant communication with millennials — even when the message isn’t what they want to hear. Share the “big picture” behind workplace happenings so that they have a sense of their place in the overall system, and understand how their success or failure will be determined and measured. Millennials are accustomed to being supervised, but expect that leaders they trust will be equally honest, ethical and respectful.

Make work feel like play.

Because the millennial demographic spans more than two decades, there is a sliding scale of sorts as to the millennial belief system when it comes to work and money. Older millennials graduated college in the midst of the recession and struggled to find jobs and financial independence. By contrast, younger millennials entered a more forgiving workforce. (They also tend to be confident and not saddled by the financial constraints of older millennials.)

Regardless of the contrast in experiences, millennials as a group value meaningful work, and see a job as an extension of their passions, not simply a means to collect a paycheck. As a result, millennials are increasingly opting away from traditional careers, including those in financial services. Managing millennials must include recognizing the high value they place on their ability to make an impact in their career. As research by Virtuali suggests, millennials want to feel involved in the workplace, even if those achievements don’t result in a powerful title. They also prefer creative freedom and the power to be accountable for their choices, without the constraints of processes, hierarchy or finite job descriptions. Managers can nurture millennials’ motivational instincts by inviting their participation on issues that reach outside of the scope of their job duties and offering them the ability to take part in networking opportunities, seminars, workshops and continuing education programs.

Honor their need for work-life balance.

Despite that nearly half of millennials were not raised in a “traditional” family with two parents, they value parenthood and marriage above career and financial goals, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center. Managers who can give millennials work-life balance, including the freedom to work flexible hours and exercise remote workplace options will likely find more success retaining them and nurturing their productivity and loyalty.

Be willing to teach and learn.

Millennials generally have positive relationships with their parents, along with their elders. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that more than half of millennials believe it is a family responsibility to help care for an elder parent when needed. Though millennials view their elders as people they can learn from, they expect the relationship will be a two-way street. To effectively manage and grow millennial employees, develop a symbiotic mentor-mentee relationship: Teach them what you know, but in turn, acknowledge that they have fresh knowledge to contribute as well. Invite them to share new ideas that you can learn from and potentially implement to better the organization.

Millennials may have come of age in an era marked by significant advances in technology, but they embody a rare combination of “old school” and “new school” ideologies. By recognizing that they have knowledge you can learn from, along with a strong desire to perform work they perceive as meaningful, you can coach millennials to embody the proverbial “dream employee” — provided you motivate them in way that inspires their strengths, values and interests.


Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry dealing with the small business industry regarding management, payments, etc.

Written by Kristen Gramigna