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  • Justin Dovenmuehle

How to Manage Millennials

The number one question I am asked as a workforce management consultant is how to manage millennials. Millennials, those born between 1981-1995, recently displaced Generation-X as the largest generation in the workforce, and they have a reputation for being difficult to manage. Words I've heard managers use to describe their millennial workforce include lazy, needy, self-absorbed, and entitled. Unfortunately for managers, complaining about perceived employee traits doesn't do anything to help manage them. The following blog will hopefully provide some information that will help those in leadership roles better manage their millennial employees.

The primary function of a manager is to improve both the task performance and organizational commitment of their direct reports. Task performance can be broken down into routine, adaptive, and creative tasks. Think about your direct reports. What types of tasks are they completing each day? If you work in manufacturing, most tasks are routine, with some adaptive tasks. Also, what about organizational commitment? Why do people stay at one job versus leaving for another? There are three main reasons; the first is that they have an emotional attachment to the organization, the second is that the cost of leaving would be too high, and the third is that they feel obligated to stay.

When a leader asks me how to manage millennial, I ask them what they are doing to improve task performance and to foster a robust organizational commitment. This frequently results in being greeted with a blank stare. Unfortunately, many managers are guilty of passive management by exception, which is a fancy way of saying "wait until something bad happens, and then punish someone for it". Fortunately, there is a better way.

The best way to manage millennials is to adopt a transformational leadership style, which means behaving in ways that earn trust and respect, fostering enthusiasm for the company's vision, and challenging employees to be innovative and creative. One final point around transformational leadership is that it requires more individual meetings with employees. If you are sitting down with your direct reports just once every six months, you are not doing enough. Millennials need more personalized feedback to stay engaged, and they want to know that you are helping them to do their best.

Finally, all employees, not just millennials, experience high job satisfaction when they believe the work that they do is meaningful, that they are responsible for both positive and negative outcomes, and that they will be given feedback about their work. If managers can do these simple things, they should be able to manage employees better, no matter what generation they are from.

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