Engaging Millennials in the Workplace

Kate Lobel
By Kate Lobel

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, millennials (people who were born between 1980 and 2000) make up approximately ⅓ of the U.S. workforce today. That is 53.5 million people – to put things into perspective. As a result, it is highly likely that, as a manager, you will have a millennial or two answering to you over the next few years.

Before you get all worked up thinking that all millennials are entitled youngsters who think they should get a medal just for coming into work everyday, hear me out. As a successful manager who also happens to be a millennial, I want to clear up a few things:

  1. Millennials aren’t lazy, we are just a little bit misunderstood.
  2. Yes, millennials like to have fun at work. But we work even harder because of it.
  3. We want to be led not managed.

As both a manager and a millennial, I have a unique understanding of how to successfully manage millennials in the workplace. Below are a few things about managing millennials that I have learned over the years that may prove useful for fellow managers, directors, and business owners.

Millennials Want Structure At Work

The fact that millennials prefer more structure over less may come as a surprise to some. However, if you really think about it, it begins to make sense. After all, millennials grew up with their lives highlystructured and planned out. Our parents ensured that our time was accounted for wisely – carefully planning playdates around school activities, sports, and family time.

Related: How to Develop Leaders in a Small Business

Over time, having structure in our lives was necessary in order for us to feel comfortable. Therefore, it makes complete sense that millennials prefer to have structure in their workplace. This means that all projects and reports have consistent due dates, that every meeting has an agenda, and that goals are clearly defined and that progress is evaluated.

Most millennials will take the initiative to ensure that all of these expectations are met. However, being aware of these expectations and adjusting your routines to complement them will make your life and your employees’ lives run much more smoothly.

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Millennials Crave Feedback

It is widely known by many employers that millennials want more feedback from their superiors compared to earlier generations. However, some companies are still getting this wrong.

Millennials have received constant feedback from teachers, parents, and coaches their entire lives. It is almost like we have grown up in a constant feedback loop with the ability to immediately ask questions and provide commentary. Therefore, the transition from school to the professional world can be dramatic for millennials.

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As a manager, you can help make this transition a little less jarring (and make your life a little bit easier while you’re at it). Recognize when your employees do something excellent and show them that you noticed. And don’t be afraid to let your employees know when they did something not-so-excellent.

If you don’t tell them that they’ve done something well or, in contrast, completely botched something, they won’t know how to handle that project the next time around. If they botched it and you don’t tell them, it’s your fault (not theirs) when the project is completed incorrectly next time.

What I’m getting at is that managers of millennials need to work on providing more input! And not just in formal meetings. Give daily feedback to ensure that everyone’s expectations are being met.

Millennials Like Working In Teams

Unlike the previous cohort who preferred to be more of a lone wolf in the workplace, millennials work well with other people. After all, we’ve participated in our fair share of group projects in school and pretty much have the whole “teamwork” thing nailed down.

Create an office space that fosters collaboration. Don’t stick the millennial in a dark office in the corner and expect them to enjoy coming into work everyday. If possible, organize your department’s desks into pods so that people can easily ask each other questions and provide commentary to keep projects moving along smoothly.

Millennials Look For Fun, High-Energy Workspaces

Unlike older generations who may have regarded going to work as a chore, millennials genuinely want to enjoy their work and workplace. We spend 40+ hours a week in the office with our coworkers. Therefore, it is important that we not only enjoy our work, but enjoy who we’re working with.

Related: Making the Switch From Entrepreneur to Boss

Create a collaborative environment with desk pods instead of cubicles, conducting exciting quarterly kickoff meetings, and treating your employees to fun surprises, such as yoga in the office once a month or weekly happy hour.

Millennials Have A Different Perspective On “Productivity”

Rather than determine how productive someone was in a given week by counting up how many hours they spent in the office, millennials focus more on what was actually accomplished.

An individual can sit in the office for 11 hours and not get a single productive thing done while someone who decided to work from home one day finished all tasks and even got ahead on next month’s workflow. Millennials interpret the word “work” a little bit differently from earlier generations. In our minds, it doesn’t matter where or when you work. The only thing that matters is that you get the work done and that it is done well.

Millennials Want Work-Life Balance

This observation ties into my previous point and is perhaps one of the most well-known and least understood phenomenons regarding millennials in the workplace. When it comes to future job opportunities, millennials far and wide consider work-life balance to be the most important factor to consider.

Related: 4 Easy Steps to Team Building –  Turn Your Office Into a Community

Whereas previous generations placed great importance on income or the reputation of the company and it’s leaders, millennials are concerned with integrating their career with their lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that we want to work less – it just means we want more control over where we work, when we work, and how we work. This can mean anything from more flexibility with work hours (goodbye nine to five!) or occasionally working from home.

Closing Thoughts

Millennials oftentimes get a bad rap for being “lazy” or “entitled”. And maybe I’m biased for being a millennial myself, but after managing a team of millennials for a few years now, I’d say that we are some of the hardest working, creative, and innovative people in the workforce nowadays.

So, if you are managing a team of millennials, my advice would be to try listening rather than resisting. I have a feeling that you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the result!

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Kate is the director of Public Relations at Power Digital Marketing with an extenisve background in traditional media relations and digital marketing with the goal of bridging the gap between brand awareness and ROI.