How to Manage Millennials: Advice for Generation X

Advice for Generation XMillennials, Generation Y, Gen Y, Generation Me, Trophy Kids, Digital Natives.  Whatever you call them, they are a huge percentage of the workforce.  Born somewhere between 1980 and 2000 (opinions vary), Generation Y has the reputation in the workplace of being lazy, unprofessional, overly needy and entitled.

These are gross generalizations, of course (as are mine below as to how to deal with them) and these employees get a bad rap.  The plus-side of Generation Y is that they are creative, global-minded, curious, eager, connected and team & purpose oriented.  Harnessing those strengths is the key to a positive and productive working relationship.  That can be a particular challenge for Gen Xers.

Sandwiched between two huge generations (Boomers and Millennials), Gen X was the latch key kid generation.  They are independent, hardworking and matter of fact.  You can hand them a project and you won’t hear back till it’s done; they’ll figure it out.  So when faced with managing Millennials, who were raised with a lot of attention and answer-providing, Gen Xers are often at a loss for the how to connect and work effectively with them.

If you’re Generation X, try these tips for working with the next generation:

1. Have a clear on-boarding process.  It may seem crazy to you as a Gen X-er, but Millennials need to understand the difference in expectations between college and the workplace.  Make the expectations clear upfront about timeliness, when you’re “on” and “off” and what the difference is, how to communicate up and when to ask questions for clarity.  Make it clear that participation alone is not sufficient for promotion and that that is based on performance; remember, this is the generation where everyone got a trophy no matter how they performed.  Explicit onboarding will go a long way toward better working relations throughout their time with you.

2. Encourage courage.  Remember, unlike you who was told “go out and play and don’t come back till dinner,” Millennials have always had someone there beside them to answer their questions and talk them through the process of doing something new.  They had “playdates” with parents hovering in the background at all times.  They simply didn’t learn things by trying it out and failing a bunch; they always had someone to ask.  So when you give them a project and want them to take a stab at it and come back to you, they’re lost.  You actually need to train them in how to do that.

3. Give them new challenges.  Millennials have grown up with a lot of structure, changing afterschool sports or projects every quarter.  Working on the same type of thing over and over for years is not a way to inspire them.   Change their projects frequently and allow them to learn something new and they will be less likely to do it themselves by changing companies to look for that new learning opportunity.

4. Make yourself available.  Millennials may have more questions up front than you’re used to.  To establish rapport, make sure they know when they can come to you.  To keep a constant flux of Millennials out of your office, consider setting some guidelines or “office hours” so that you’re not constantly interrupted in your own work.

5. Have them work on teams.  Generation Y is all about connection.  Include them on teams and they’ll shine.  Have them work together on projects as well as join some inter-generational work groups.  Make sure they know their contribution is valued on these teams.  Encourage them to participate.

6. Explain the bigger purpose.  Remember that Gen Y has always been connected globally. They grew up with the internet and instant access everywhere.  They are interested in the larger impact of their work and the purpose that drives it.  Share with them the WHY behind things, including the departmental goals and how it fits the company’s mission and vision.    They will work hard for something they care about and they want to see how their cog fits in the whole wheel.

7. Use them as a resource.  Millennials are fast on research (again, the internet is second nature to them, even more than Gen X, that was the first to have computers in childhood.)  Like every generation in their 20’s, they think they know everything about the world; and perhaps more than any generation before them, in many ways they do.  They are faster with technology than most Gen Xers and have it more integrated into their lives.  Use them to gather information about how their part of the world operates, whether it’s market research or figuring out a better location for your office.

8. Discuss communication methods and styles.   Millennials do well with instruction, so make your expectations clear.  If texting is not a means of office communication, say so (though you’ll likely gain more rapport by adapting to their use of it.)  They will likely want more touches of communication than you will, so talk about that openly and come to a workable solution.  Generation Y will appreciate the openness and transparency about it.

9. Go digital.  Gen Y is not going to be the generation that has years of back files stacked up on the windowsill behind their desk.  If you have reference manuals or training guides, or other office paperwork, look to create a digital format.  They’ll be much more likely to use that than to dig through filing cabinets or even three ring binders to find out the process for something.

10. Be willing to adapt.  Just because Gen Y came along after you, doesn’t mean you have the lock on perfection.  Try out some of the Millennials’ style and methods.  If you’re asking them to adapt and you move some too, meeting in the middle will feel better for everyone.  Plus, you’ll learn something and gain an appreciation for their point of view!

Test out these techniques and contact us for more ways to integrate them into your work and your teams.