Managing Millennials – 4 new challenges for managers

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Every generation has its challenges. Millennials may have grown up with the fastest evolving pace of change and technology but it’s not always having a positive impact. Today, more than half the workforce will be made up of Millennials and this will have a big impact on business and how they operate. As consumers, Millennials are demanding, expecting instant gratification and customisation. As employees, while they have incredible potential, some predict that they will prove to be one of the most challenging generations to manage yet.

Motivational speaker Simon Sinek identified four characteristics that make Millennials so different from generations that have gone before and why they are challenging to manage.

  1. Parenting – growing up, Millennials were told they’re special and as a result anything they wanted was theirs. So high were the expectations that often parents would use their influence to help their kids get ahead – whether it was a place in a class or a team, or even an award or recognition that they really hadn’t earned or deserved. The result of parent’s misguided efforts is that Millennials have a misplaced sense of entitlement.

In the real world, there’s no medal for participation, businesses want results not token efforts. And they really don’t care how special a person believes they are, they want to know how they’re going to contribute to the business bottom line. When faced with this reality Millennials don’t know what to do and as a result there’s a whole generation with a low self-esteem this is challenge #1 for managers.  

  1. Technology – despite all the benefits that technology has to offer, from a relationship building perspective social media is proving to be a hindrance. There’s pressure to have this perfect life where everything is just awesome all the time, but the reality is that most people don’t have it all together. Friendships are superficial and friends have become people to have fun with not people who can be relied upon. Classic example is that instead of having a conversation with someone while waiting, people are glued to their mobile phones.

Challenge #2 for managers is that people are losing the ability to connect and build genuine relationships. Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are on the rise because people don’t realise that building genuine friendships is necessary to cope with the stress of life. When faced with challenge they often withdraw and become disengaged and this is problem because relationship building is a critical element of business.  

  1. Impatience – We live in a world where just about everything is available almost instantaneously, from fast food to looking up information, it’s available at a click of a button. Millennials have never known anything else and as a result they expect instant gratification – challenge #3 for managers.

Millennials don’t realise that making an impact or earning that promotion takes time, and that the ideals they start out with in their career may take a lifetime to achieve. As a result they end up becoming disillusioned, demotivated and depressed. 

  1. Environment – The corporate world is not an ideological playground, for the most part it’s pretty ruthless. Competition is high and results are what count. This can be a shock for Millennials and is challenge #4 for managers.

So what can managers do?

Whilst managers have the responsibility to make sure their teams perform and meet targets they also have responsibility for developing their people and helping them reach their potential. If Millennials, have a sense of entitlement, want instant gratification and haven’t learnt how to build lasting genuine relationships this is going to be a much more difficult task.

With generations past it was a case of “toughen up and perform” or businesses would find someone else to fulfill the role. But how will that be effective once Millennials (and the following generations) make up the majority of the workforce?

Is it time to rethink our approach to leadership and management (and modern parenting)?

I wrote this article because I found Simon’s video interview on this topic fascinating and I am interested to gather the thoughts of the professional community (and as a parent) to build new strategies for learning and growing the next generation of talent.

My ideas include:

  1. Social and digital learning strategies – we need to make the best use of technology for learning and facilitate ways for millennials to share knowledge informally and learn from one another – thus building relationships in the process.
  2. Set clear learner pathways with time frames –spell out clearly where there are time-served elements to complete so that the instant gratification expectation for progression or promotion is not mis-managed.
  3. Be firm but fair – a culture of regular feedback and supportive coaching is necessary to keep the communication going about what is working well and what might not be. Avoiding giving feedback for fear of damaging self-esteem is not an option. Keep the feedback objective and make any faults seem easy to correct. Have the necessary training solutions ready.

Carolyn Blunt is renowned for identifying opportunities to improve customer experience and sales whilst creating efficiencies. Advocate clients include Bupa, Boots, Autoglass, IKEA, Halfords, Three and Co-op Insurance to name just a few.


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