Leading Millennials: What Every Manager Needs to Know

Attracting, motivating, and retaining Millennials requires more than sprinkling employment ads with promises of fun and flexibility.

As Millennials increasingly populate the job market, global workplaces are changing dramatically. It’s not just about how Millennials spend their time—attached to their cellphones, checking friends’ Instagram photos, and chatting about what they’ve seen on YouTube. It’s also about their mindset. Millennials tend to have specific expectations, attitudes, and behavioral styles that are different from those of Baby Boomers and Generation X. And these characteristics can pose challenges for some of their managers. Workplace leaders need to understand what makes Millennials different and implement strategies to help them succeed.

Style and Substance

Millennials are not all the same, of course. But it’s interesting to see where they fall in the spectrum of behavioral styles that managers consider as they work to attract, train, and retain quality employees. Here’s a refresher on the DISC assessment of behavioral styles that many companies use to understand manage employees:

D style: Dominant, direct, results-oriented

I style: Influence-oriented, very social, collaborative, enjoy being the center of attention

S style: Stable, solid, dependable; want things to be predictable

C style: Conscientious, analytical, detail-oriented

Millennials are much more likely than those in other age groups to be social and spontaneous. More than 40 percent are I-style individuals compared with only 27 percent of Baby Boomers. That means they are more likely to have these characteristics:

  • They want a fast-paced, stimulating, flexible work environment.
  • Multi-tasking is a way of life for them.
  • They are less likely to maintain a wall between work and non-work activities and relationships. There’s fluidity between their work lives and personal lives.
  • They value a fun workplace. They enjoy being associated with optimistic people taking on challenges with enthusiasm.
  • They tend to get bored easily and may have trouble staying on track to meet deadlines.
  • There’s a tendency to bite off more than they can chew, not meeting their lofty plans and expectations for various tasks.

Implications for Managers

More than people of other generations, Millennials tend to change jobs frequently. This has particular significance for managers: As the saying goes, employees don’t quit their companies; they quit their bosses. To limit costly turnover—and help all employees succeed—managers need to understand people’s communication styles and interact with them accordingly.

For example, D styles relish the challenge of tough goals. As soon as managers lay out the expected results from a project, they’re thinking about how they’re going to tackle it. S styles appreciate step-by-step instructions. Assured of their vital role, they’re motivated to meet expectations. C styles need details … and more details. They want to understand the big picture and be sure they have all the tools they need to do the job right.

With I-style Millennials, managers can engage their interest by stressing the fun and exciting aspects of an assignment or project, when possible. When they can invite Millennials’ creative input, which might mean allowing some leeway when it comes to organization and follow-through, it generates a positive response. I styles also benefit from frequent recognition and affirmation, which means managers need to “check their temperature” regularly to make sure Millennials are still engaged and motivated.

4 Strategies for Success

Managers who work with Millennials will find these four strategies helpful in achieving success:

  1. Identify the organization’s style. Companies often have more information about financial resources than they do about employees—their most important asset. At times, they’re forced to make personnel decisions based merely on intuition. With more information on behavioral styles in their workforce, managers have better tools to communicate with, motivate, engage, and retain Millennials (and other employees, as well).
  2. Don’t jump to conclusions based on negative stereotypes of Millennials. Sure, they might seem to live from one selfie to the next. But that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of looking beyond themselves to an engrossing project or a good cause. Although they’re attached to their cellphones at work, keep in mind that they also might be doing work-related tasks after hours. (Remember the fluidity between their work and personal lives.) Millennials’ style might be different, but effective leadership can maximize their potential.
  3. Equip all managers to adjust their communication styles in order to deal more effectively with all employees. What’s rewarding for one employee might feel like punishment to another. When managers know how to motivate people according to their hard-wired behavioral styles, the result will be happier, healthier, more productive employees.
  4. Have Millennials partner with those in other age groups, such as Baby Boomers and Gen X colleagues. Generational differences can create an “us versus them” environment that is fraught with trouble and tension. Millennials have a lot to learn from, but also a lot to offer their more experienced colleagues. Mentoring programs, project teams, and social activities can promote learning, understanding, new ideas, and creativity.

Provide Managers with The Right Tools

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials were poised to become the largest generational group in the labor force in 2015. Surveys show that the impact of Millennials already is changing the workplace environment not only in the United States, but globally, especially as I-style employees become more prevalent.

Successful companies are aware of this trend and are adjusting their approach to management and leadership accordingly. Attracting, motivating, and retaining Millennials requires more than sprinkling employment ads with promises of fun and flexibility. A prudent and forward-thinking strategy includes equipping managers with information that helps them communicate more effectively with employees of all generations.

Markku Kauppinen, president and CEO of Extended DISC North America Inc., helps executives make better decisions about their employees, teams, and organization. For more information about behavioral assessments and their value in the workplace, contact Kauppinen at markku.kauppinen@extendeddisc.org.

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