Five Things You Need to Know About Managing Millennials

November 20, 2013 Heidi Farris

Do you have Millennials on your team? Then consider whether your management practices and company culture align with what they want in a job.

Millennials, according to a recent Pew Research study, will make up 36% of the workforce in the United States by 2014. The same study indicates that “nearly 60% of employed Millennials will leave their job within three years of being hired, an increased ratio of 2 to 1 compared to previous generations.”

Managing Millennials can be an eye-opening experience. I’m a Gen X-er in my 30s, and I have managed about a dozen Millennials over the past 10 years. In fact, there are four Millennials on my eight-person staff.

If you want to retain the Millennials on your team, consider whether your management practices and company culture align with what this group wants in a job.

Here are five things that Millennials value and will not only keep them happy but also retain them as productive, value-adding members of your team.

1. They value their freedom

Millennials like to work hard, but they prefer to do so when they feel like they can be most productive. They are good at focusing their energy when their creative juices are flowing—and this may or may not happen during normal working hours. A young employee of mine burst into my office early one Monday morning and immediately whiteboarded an equation that he had worked on for eight hours the day before. Our team had struggled with the problem for weeks, and he buckled down and found a solution in one day—and on a weekend at that.

At my company, we offer a free time off (FTO) policy, which means we ask employees to be responsible with their time off and don’t limit them to a specific number of days. I’ve observed that Millennials tend to take off a day here and there, and leave early sometimes rather than taking a whole week off. The results are that projects led by Millennials are rarely delayed, and the time they spend in the office is spent working, instead of surfing the Internet or daydreaming about where they would rather be.

2. They want a sense of purpose

Millennials want to know why they are doing something, and they are not afraid to ask. Being part of a generation that was mostly socialized not to question authority, I found this surprising at first. However, on more than one occasion, a Millennial’s “why” has made me stop and re-evaluate an approach to a project, which ultimately led to a better decision.

Moreover, Millennials are genuinely curious and really care about what happens to all the hard work they do. They will feel rewarded and motivated to know that the data they spent hours putting together influenced a business decision—so make sure to tell them when it does.

3. They want transparency

Millennials expect to be informed about what is going on in the rest of the organization. They want to understand the reasoning and the influences behind decisions that are made. Confidential information aside, managers need to figure out how to efficiently and accurately share knowledge across teams.

One way to do this is to hold regular “all-hands” or companywide meetings to share what is working, what is not, and why the company is focusing on a certain area. Having such regular meetings not only communicates trust but also creates an opportunity for feedback, which drives innovation.

4. They appreciate social interactions

Millennials like to play when they feel like it, but they’re not big fans of goofing off in the office. Hosting regular team off-sites is one way to get your team socializing, and it can be as simple as a regular happy hour. Your team will not only build better relationships, but you will also create a relaxed atmosphere for everyone to contribute to a project or brainstorming session.

5. They need positive reinforcement

Millennials were raised during a time when parents generally believed that there was no such thing as too much praise. Consequently, regular positive reinforcement is the norm in their minds, and they expect to be recognized when they go above and beyond. In addition, you will find Millennials enjoy being involved in your company’s social media activities, where they can see all the “likes,” “followers,” and positive comments.

While Millennials’ professional style may be different from that of other generations, and they can be more comfortable blending the hours they work and the hours they play, Millennials aren’t really that different than earlier generations. After all, what professional doesn’t value freedom, purpose, transparency, social connections and positive reinforcement?

Remember that no matter what year we were born or what kind of technology (or lack of technology) we are familiar with, we all want to create value and be valued at work.

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