Managing Millennials

Matt Zwartz
Managing Millennials

According to Statistics New Zealand, millennials – the generation born between 1980 and 1997 – are now the single largest age group in the labour force. As employees, what are they like to manage? And what are the rules for success?

Millennials: notoriously entitled, a vastly inflated sense of self worth, and a famous lack of work ethic outside of updating their social media presence. Are the stereotypes reflective of the reality?

Wendy Thompson, CEO and Founder of Socialites, a Deloitte Fast Fifty social media agency, employs 9 millennials on her staff, doesn’t think so.

“Just like all humans, not all millennials are created equal. But I love their flexibility and understanding that it’s about getting the work done, rather than punching a time card.

“As an entrepreneur in an ever evolving digital industry, this way of thinking suits me and my clients.”

“Millennials are pretty focussed on getting the most out of their careers and their lives,” says Claudia McDonald, Managing Director of Mango Communications, an employer of 11 millennials.

“They really live and breathe the concept of work/life balance. They also know their value. When I was in my twenties, while focussed on doing well, I rarely got regular feedback and I certainly never asked for a pay increase. Silly me.”

A PwC report titled ‘Recruiting and Managing the Millennial Generation’ listed its top 5 findings as:

  •     Understand Them,
  •     Get the Deal Right,
  •     Help Them Grow,
  •     Know How They’re Doing, and
  •     Set Them Free.

Both Thompson and McDonald have learned the importance of these principles on the job.

Thompson says, “Most of my millennials value flexibility over security, so I’ve found myself moving to a fixed term contract model rather than traditional employment contracts.

“I found giving the team the freedom to work remotely when suits them was an easy win for my companies.”

McDonald agrees, saying “We have summer hours from December to February, where you can leave early on a Friday if your work is done, as long as you are contactable.

“Our annual survey of work satisfaction says it’s the number one benefit they appreciate and want to keep.”

Research by IBM found that millennials’ preferred method of learning new works skills was face to face. This might sound surprising, but not to McDonald.

“Consultation and collaboration are important in managing them. Involving the team in discussion is much more effective, and by being flexible with our working style, we have happy staff who will stay.”

Both leaders feel that millennials have lots to offer.

“The really good ones want to learn and improve,” McDonald says. "They are ambitious but not without knowing they need training, mentoring, and experience to get ahead. Naturally they know their way around social media and technology, which is helpful to our clients,”

Thomson says they are great problem solvers, and comfortable with uncertainty and change. But there are downsides, too.

“Their confidence can come across as arrogance sometimes,” she says.

McDonald also has found issues: “The tendency to move on to better their circumstances is probably their biggest weakness.

“After a few years of chasing the extra dollar or the bigger title, they may find they’re not as far ahead as they thought. Their CV looks patchy and they’re a bit burned out.”

They also seem to lack a simple worldliness.

“Their general knowledge is pretty poor and their awareness of issues, politics, and trends is fairly limited. This is important in our business so we instil in them the need to read, watch, and listen to more than just social media.”

Are there any quick keys to managing them for business success?

“Don’t be authoritarian, don’t dictate,” McDonalds says. “But also try not to be their mum.

“Give them lots of feedback and direction, make them feel valued, paint the big picture of where you’re going and why.”

Thompson agrees, and takes a wider view.

“Not only are millennials in our workplace, they’re our customers and clients. Understanding the relationship between companies, brands, and millennials will be the key to your business success in this time of rapid disruption and globalisation.” 

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