Let’s say you’ve been promoted, finally. You’ve been appointed to run a new team, but when you show up on the first day a troupe of casually-dressed 20-somethings are gawking at you from across their lattes and vegetarian lunches. Oh no, you think. Millennials.
It can be intimidating learning how to perform as a manager across a generational gap, but there are a few trends in the millennial mindset that are helpful to know. Of course, this is all subject to Rule 0 of management, which is that ultimately you need to know your team of individuals. Their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences will all be unique, and just because they fit in a certain age bracket you shouldn’t expect all of them to have all of these traits. Still, you should consider this a primer for some of the things millennials working under you may value and how to motivate them.
A Bright Line to Purpose
One of the defining features of the millennial mindset is its purpose orientation. Millennials are typically very concerned with their place in the world and their effect on it. As a result, if you want to keep a team of millennials engage with the work they’re doing, you will likely want to provide clear links to how you are providing benefits to your community or industry. This doesn’t have to be extreme; don’t expect your workers to disengage just because you aren’t out building orphanages. Contrary to popular belief, millennials aren’t universally concerned with social issues and uninterested in your company’s goals; you should trust that the people in your team are in your industry because they want to be there. That said, they will appreciate the bigger picture, and you should find time, such as a daily or weekly meeting, to summarize it for them. Focus on how your team is benefiting other teams in your company or your clients.
The Money Question
You may have heard millennials aren’t motivated by money. That isn’t entirely accurate, but it is true that millennials, on balance, tend to be less motivated by amassing personal wealth. This is one of the realities of working with a team of millennials if you’re in a position to set compensation.
If you’ve been having the compensation conversation for a long time already, you will have to relearn the rules when having that discussion with millennials. Outside that role, however, it also means one of the traditional leverages to keep talent on staff isn’t as effective when it comes to the under-30s. In particular, for this group stock options and other long-term, wealth-building tools can be a hard sell. Rather than expecting a 401k to sell itself, it may fall to you to do some of the work building the value of these financial products. One trick used by experts like Eyal Gutentag is to focus on experiences, such as by talking about what an adequately funded retirement might allow someone to do or see rather than simply focusing on the amount of money it’s worth.
Culture and Community
Another facet of a millennial-heavy workplace is that they will expect a heavy focus on culture building. This is also related to the overall millennial mindset. The typical millennial is not at work solely for a paycheck, as mentioned earlier. Millennials also want their work to provide personal fulfillment and meaning, which means they want to feel welcomed and supported by their workplace. This can also be an adjustment depending on your managerial style and previous experience. Now, having said that investing time and energy in culture building can feel like a misuse of resources initially–but with great culture comes great loyalty, agility, and resilience. There is a reason so many startups with young staff are disrupting and reinventing old industries. Tech, as a sector, is most receptive to this effect, but there are takeaways from this focus on culture that are useful in any industry.
The Work-Life Balancing Act
One last thing you can expect to provide when managing millennials is flexibility. They like having options for when and how they work. So, if your workplace and industry are conducive to it, you should expect requests to work from home. The millennial love of experiences and travel also appears here; your employees in that age bracket will appreciate flexible scheduling around vacations and sick days. In general, they tend to be very cognizant of their work-life balance, and are more likely to request time off to, for example, help a partner take care of a sick child. This is one of the major generational differences you may have already heard about. In some cases, it may even be wrongly characterized as laziness, but it should really be thought of as a difference in value and priority, and it can work for you as a manager. Happy, engaged millennials are extraordinarily productive, because they’re working for more than the paycheck.
If there’s one thing to stress about managerial oversight of a millennial workforce, it’s the point about their motivations being found elsewhere than some previous generations. It bears restating that this point isn’t universal; you can find people in the millennial age group who are completely money-motivated. But in general, you should expect millennials working under you to be focused on the big-picture impact, to value their workplace culture highly, and to expect (and reward!) flexibility from you where it’s not too disruptive. Keep an open mind, listen closely to what your employees are saying, and be willing to bend away from how you may have done things in the past, and you will find a millennial workplace to be a fun and productive one.