5 Tips for Managing Millennials

Five tips for working with the generation that will soon represent a majority of your workforce.

There’s a new viral video making its way around called Millennials in the Workplace Training Video. While tongue in cheek, the video obviously struck a chord as it’s rising up the YouTube charts with its depiction of the needy millennial always looking for praise and a promotion (and no meetings before 10 a.m.).

I wear dual hats because depending on the classification, I’m a millennial or Gen Xer, and now I am managing a team of more than 10 millennials.
So I thought I’d give my five tips for managing millennials.

1. Structure Works When I first started managing millennials, I purposely gave them a lot of freedom on tasks. Personally, I’ve found that it doesn’t work very well with most millennials. I’ve had much more success once I started providing clear directions, scope and deadlines. Maybe it’s the structured childhood of activities they grew up with, but I’ve seen great improvements when I increased my focus.

2. Share a Vision Many millennials have aspirations of making an improvement in the world. Public service is perfect for millennials — the missions are important and the work has great impacts. Make sure you share the vision with your millennials about how they are helping citizens (don’t just tell them the tasks to do).

3. How Do I Get an A? For most smart millennials, they’ve been trained their whole life to get an A. We all know work isn’t that clear-cut, but it is helpful to show them what an A on the project looks like. At GovLoop, we moved to clearly defined goals for every project and once folks knew what an A was, there was increased alignment.

4. Don’t Assume There’s an assumption from senior leaders that all millennials understand new technology, that since they are young, they get social media, blogging, smartphones and more. I’ve not found that to be true and find much variation within millennials, especially in using these tools in work environments. And I’ve seen that the variation goes both ways: I’ve had millennials be too serious and too informal in these new channels.

5. Remember Yourself at that Age Many of the discussions about millennials are less about how things are different now but really about what it is like to be young, in your first couple of jobs and not having a lot of experience. The little things we’ve learned over time, they are learning for the first time. They might want a promotion after one year because it’s 50 percent of their work career and feels like a long time. If you are in year 15, your conception of what a work year is has changed dramatically. You have fond memories about how you were so much different at their age, but really, what were you and your peers like right out of college? Ask your former bosses.

Millennials currently constitute 16 percent of the workplace, and by 2020 will represent 44 percent, so we have to pay attention to them. Take a chance and groom your next generation of government leaders — with baby boomers retiring, we need a new influx of talent in order to serve our citizens.

And don’t worry about complaining; it’s just part of human nature. The “greatest generation” complained about the baby boomers. Baby boomers complained about the slacker Gen Xers. And now Gen X is complaining about entitled millennials. In 15 years, millennials will be sitting around complaining about Generation Z. 

Miriam Jones is chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. She joined e.Republic in 2000 as an editor of Converge magazine.