Managing Millennial Workers

Lucas Deal

December 27, 2012

Taking a new approach with these young employees will strengthen your relationship

By Lucas Deal, Associate Editor

Every generation that enters the workforce permanently changes it. From the Baby Boomers 50 years ago to Generation X a few decades later, change is around the corner.

The generation that is currently spurring revolution and change to the modern workforce is the Millennial Generation, also known as Generation Y or the Echo Boomer Generation, says Kathryn Carlson, product director at KPA Online.

While this new generation is entering the full-time workforce for the first time, Carlson says it is a group that is capable of working, and looking at work, differently than any generation that came beforehand.

Because of this, she says it is important for dealers to understand the social and motivational differences between this new group and your veteran employees.

The Millennial Generation is incredibly talented, but how much of that talent you can pull into your business will depend on how you manage them.

These kids don’t operate the way their predecessors do, says Carlson.

“You want to manage to your individuals,” she says, “but as a group, millennials look at work differently than [past generations].”

Carlson says one of the most obvious differences between millennial workers and other employees is how fluent and acclimated they are with technology, and how they rely on it for social, personal and professional interaction. Millennial workers’ personal and professional lives are woven together through their online presence. They are constantly connected to their friends, family and interests, but also to you and your employees.

This can be a major advantage for your business if you can discover how to harness it, Carlson says.

“Technology is a toy to them. They use it all the time,” she says. “If you give them technology to use, they will play with it and learn the best way to use it. They can find a way to use it that other [employees] may not.”

If you pair that willingness to learn with creative freedom, millennials will leap into their work with unbridled enthusiasm. Schedules won’t even matter.

“If you give them something they are interested in they will work long hours,” Carlson says. “But you have to keep them engaged. They have to feel like it’s worth it.”

Another important step in managing millennial workers is understanding their connection to each other. Because their personal lives are intertwined together, they like for their work to be the same.

“This is a group that really understands teamwork,” Carlson says, adding that millennials feel comfortable and enjoy teaming up with others to complete a task. She says that mindset is different from past generations where individualism was more common.

“What worked for your Baby Boomers may be counterproductive for your millennials,” Carlson says.

But just because millennials like working together doesn’t mean they oppose management structure. Carlson says millennials actually welcome promotions and rising through a business — they just have a different view of how that should be done.

Millennials believe talent and skill leads to success, and they expect promotions and career growth to go the same way. To them, experience and seniority should take a back seat to ability.

“This group is all about the meritocracy,” says Carlson. Promoting someone who’s been a steady, consistent employee for 15 years over a new but talented employee can confuse them.

“They don’t really understand seniority and experience,” she adds. “When they do things well, they expect validation for their ability.”

That’s a situation where Carlson says it is important to sit down with a millennial and talk to them about your process. Millennials are used to having access to as much information as possible, so any information you can give them about your business and their role in it will help make them comfortable.

The way you present that information also can help strengthen your relationship with these young employees.

Carlson says millennials prefer discussing their work and career in an informal setting. “They don’t want to be lectured,” she says. If you need to discuss a millennial’s performance, take them out for coffee or ask them how they feel things are going. Be engaging with them in a personal sense.

“They are much more likely to listen in an informal setting,” says Carlson.

If you can do this well you are in luck. Since the millennial generation is 27 or younger, their entire career is ahead of them. Learning how to manage them can provide you a hard-working group of employees for years to come.

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