The Practices And Challenges Of Millennial Management

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Over the past few years, the word “millenials” has become a buzzword in society, usually paired with a negative connotation. Referred to at times as the Net Generation or Generation Y and populated with those born in the years 1982-2002, the Millennial Generation compares in size to the Baby Boomer generation at about 80 million people. These two massive generations are almost double the size of Generation X. Millennials have been targeted as having a personality that is self-centered, entitled, and even Pollyanna-ish. This new generation’s way of thinking and preferences pose quite a few challenge for today’s managers in the workplace, but research is finding that managers permitting these seemingly far-fetched requests can do more than simply appease the latest generation. Although there seems to be a sort of clash among all of these generations in the workplace, mainly Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials, meshing together and finding common ground is not as difficult as it may seem. Jeff Fromm stated in an article, “There are a few things you should know about the generation that will represent nearly 75 percent of the work force by 2030.” Fromm is essentially saying that whether managers like it or not, Millennials are joining the workforce in a rapid fashion and must learn to adapt if they wish to flourish. Following below, a framework will be laid out that details some best practices for managing the Millennial generation and how to successfully and profitably overcome the challenges that this new way of management will carry.

First, Millennials have been linked to high rates of turnover and have a stigma for a lack of loyalty due to their average time spent at a job being about two years. Because turnover is a major expense that all companies should avoid, the crucial question becomes why Millennials leave and how to keep them happy at your company for many years to come without causing detrimental change within the company. Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, so this is the generation that Millennials will be replacing in the office, which gives reason to another nickname of the generation, the “Echo Boomers”. The average length of stay as an employee for a Baby Boomer and a Millennial is night and day. The typical Baby Boomer began their first job with one firm and proceeded to climb that same company’s corporate ladder for the remainder of their career until retirement creating a distinctive sense of faithfulness to their firm. Today’s generation is eager for advancement and is not at all against changing companies in order to climb the ladder as quickly as possible. In an article published by the International Journal of Business Management, Gaye Ozcelik stated, “When the demands of a new generation entering business as a new workforce are not fully acknowledged, this can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunications and unproductivity…”. Any rational manager should be eager to learn how to meet employee demands in order to avoid costly effects, such as turnover.

Three best practices that companies can implement in order to satisfy Millennials while also benefiting the organization as a whole are: flexible schedules, a sense of purpose, and frequent rewards and feedback. For the longest time, a standard work day has been clocking in at 8 A.M. and clocking out at 5 P.M. five days a week no questions asked, but placing a member of this newfangled generation on such a rigid schedule as this is a sure way to send them running far away. Sometimes it is beneficial to have all employees in one place at one time in order to foster the necessary face-to-face communication, but allowing for a reasonablay flexible schedule can enhance employee morale and provide the opportunity for increased productivity.

Naturally, a happy employee works harder than an unhappy employee. Therefore, if an employee prefers, for example, to work in the office three days a week and from home two days a week, more work will be accomplished by allowing the employee to work their preferred schedule because it is more pleasing for them. Forcing the employee to work five days a week in the office could create burnout, which is linked with decreased productivity and, consequently, turnover. Technology has made tremendous improvements over the last few years that promotes flexible schedules. Of course, technology in areas such as telecommuting can only benefit a company if it is actually utilized. One researcher put this perfectly into perspective by writing, “…technology is a solution to some of your Millennial problems but only to the extent that you can get comfortable with the fact that people can get work done outside of the office that they do not need to be face to face to be effective…”. Managers must learn to trust their employees and have confidence that the job will be done correctly and in a timely fashion without the need of being present at the office. In addition, members of Generation Y are not “content with the mere fulfillment of their work sitting at their desks…”.

Managers can capitalize on Millennials’ stereotypical love for the planet by having spaces in which they can work outdoors. Having office space that is designed for the share of viewpoints, such as common areas in the office, can also take advantage of the generation’s infatuation with communication. Google is the epitome of having office spaces geared toward flexibility. Google employees can work together in common rooms or privately inside the moon. Yes, Google’s Brussels office has an enclosed moon-shaped work station. If Generation X managers are truly honest with themselves, they will most likely see that they would also appreciate this type of flexibility and the option to complete their tasks somewhere other than within the four walls of their office every day of the week. Millennials also “base their performance on output rather than time spent on a project,” and this leads into the next tool that managers can apply to Millennial management, a sense of purpose. When a Millennial college graduate begins their first job, they are not typically given large, important tasks that are crucial to the success of the company. This is understandable because of their lack of experience in the workplace, but today’s generation still wants to know that their seemingly small tasks are a necessity and make a difference. In essence, they do not want to be a part of the corporate “assembly line” and would like a job that allows them to go beyond their job description. Millennials are anything but a “cookie cutter” generation willing to stay within the boundaries of standard job duties.

One way to give Millennials a sense of purpose in their job is through reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring is pairing up a Millennial and an older employee that may not be very adept in technology and letting the Millennial mentor the older employee. They are given the name Net Generation for a reason, and managers should take advantage of their technological knowledge. A benefit of this tactic is not only getting older employees up to speed and more confident with using the new technology, but it also establishes a mutuality between the two generations whereas there might have been some contempt or hesitance for to interact. Many large companies, such as Proctor and Gamble, Siemens, and GE have begun to incorporate reverse mentoring. GE’s Jack Welch stated that, “…e-business knowledge is usually inversely proportional to age and rank.” When GE tested this theory with 1,000 executives and 1,000 young employees, they found that even though the executives had been with the company for a much longer time period, they did not understand the technology nearly as well as the younger associates.

Leadership does not have to be strictly based on chain of command, levels, or years of experience, so reverse mentoring helps Millennials become a contributor from day one. After all, the whole point of leadership is being able to leverage the company’s resources in a way that increases a sustainable competitive advantage and growth for the company. This leads to the next way that managers can give their young employees a sense of purpose. A manager’s goal should be to create and sustain an employee that is passionate about their work and their company. Doing so creates something more beneficial than simply having a happy employee; it can be leveraged as internal branding. Millennials could be called the “sticker generation”. They love representing products they are passionate about through decals on their cars, laptops, water bottles, or any other paraphernalia that they can put a sticker on. If a manager can create zeal in their employee for their product or service, they will have generated a kind of “free” advertising. Turning a Millennial into a brand pioneer will increase their engagement in their work. Internal branding can be defined as the “accumulation and application of functions and tools aimed at the formation and maintenance of a consistent, efficient, effective, and customer-oriented workforce”. Southwest Airlines’ management style fits this category. Their philosophy entails educating and creating a passionate employee, and through doing this, their employees’ job satisfaction then overflows to create exceptional customer satisfaction as well. This can be achieved by informing employees regularly on the strategic objectives of the company, and educating employees on the product and/or service of the company is also a crucial element to internal branding.

Education is paramount to the success of this tactic because a company does not want a person “advertising” their product in a false or misrepresented way. Reminding employees of the bigger picture and how the business is benefitting the community also generates a sense of passion, especially among the Millennial generation who strives to add to the greater good through their jobs. Southwest Airlines does this through producing videos aimed at their employees that tell of special occasions that Southwest employees have had their hand in, and these videos serve as a type of encouragement for all of their employees to follow in the same manner. Through reverse mentoring and the manifestation of internal branding, managers can give their new Millennial employees a sense of challenge and purpose.

The third and most important best practice that managers will need to implement in order to effectively manage the Millennial generation is frequent rewards and feedback. Although this cohort has been pegged as a Trophy Generation who has come to expect recognition for every smidge of their life, whether it be success or failure, research has found that these trophy kids are not necessarily seeking praise but only effective feedback and reinforcement. Many companies in today’s business world may conduct only one performance appraisal per year per employee, and in reality, performance appraisals are rare altogether. Mangers should become aware that this practice will no longer work in the upcoming years as this new group of people begins to infiltrate the workforce. This new generation coming into the workplace is motivated by receiving feedback, and in addition, knowing that they are being evaluated on a frequent basis fabricates an engaged attitude. This goes along with the concept of what is measured will also be managed. If performance is not frequently being measured, then improvement will be difficult to achieve because no one knows the root of the issue. If employees know that they will be evaluated on a regular basis, integrity will also be fostered. Having recurring responses from managers on their work signals to them that the organization is committed to helping them develop and advance in their careers.

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Since Millennials tend be a more emotional generation, this is also a way for managers to foster the need for emotional support whether it be through a reward for positive performance or constructive criticism. Managers should not just assume that these associates are only seeking this type of conversation from their immediate supervisor, but they want access to the “upper echelons”. They appreciate transparency and do not typically harmonize with the idea of traditional corporate pyramids. Some managers may see frequent feedback as a heavy burden and waste of time, but if they want their young employees being as productive as possible, then this is the avenue that they should take. The time spent on the feedback will be recaptured through the increased productivity that arises out of this practice.

Challenges

Based on the three previously mentioned best practices, flexible schedules, a sense of purpose, and frequent feedback, managers will most likely see these as being large barriers, and they are very correct in their thinking. Having to adapt to a whole new generation’s way of thinking is by no means an easy task. Incorporating these new ideas into everyday management creates challenges in areas such as hiring, organizing, and compensating. Luckily, there are some ways for managers to adapt and overcome the challenges in these areas. The first challenge is in the area of hiring. Because Millennials are so technologically savvy and have a different attitude towards work than ever before, recruiters are eager to integrate this young generational spirit into their companies. This is great, except these young job searchers know that they are in high demand and therefore, will not settle for just any job offer because they know that they have many opportunities within their grasp. What this new type of job candidate does, though, is force a new and improved recruiting process to emerge for those companies who want to capture the eye of a member of Generation Y. One easy way for recruiters to do this is to change the wording of the job description.

Making job titles clear and optimized changes the way a person looks at a job. Millennials are a fast-paced generation, and many use social media and search engines to pursue their dream jobs. So, titles that are clear, concise, and contain keywords are essential to catching their scrolling eye. As mentioned earlier, this new generation is looking to make a difference in the world, so including ways that the company contributes to society and how their particular position’s role plays a part in that will be encouraging. An article by ZipRecruiter indicated, “If your firm gets together outside the office for social events such as club soccer or softball teams, those are all great things to showcase about your company in your ad”. Lastly, job descriptions should focus less on years of experience and more on the competencies needed for the job. Millennials have not been in the workforce for more than a few years, so they have not had time to meet the standard “5-7 years of experience” requirement, and this immediately deters them from considering the position when they could, in fact, be completely qualified.

Focusing on aptitudes rather than requirements necessary for the job will reach a much greater number of qualified applicants. These best practices also cause organization challenges for companies. Traditional companies have bosses and subordinates, but this sense of hierarchy will not appeal to a Millennial employee. Therefore, companies must change how they organize their workers. They must train leaders instead of bosses. The Net Generation works better in an environment where their managers act more as a coach than a commander. The word boss brings along a forceful connotation, which is the complete opposite of what should be used for millennial management. Some might think that in order to portray power, they must use force, but political theorist Hannah Ardent’s definition of power was actually on the opposite side of the spectrum from force. This is where the coaching comes into play. Millennials want to work alongside, not for their superiors. A summary of this concept could be, “…hire great people, train them to fulfill a common vision, get out of the way, and finally, say thank you when the job is well done”. Members of this generation value autonomy and cringe at the thought of being micromanaged, so as long as superiors give their young colleagues the sufficient skills and tools necessary to achieve the task at hand, they should feel confident that the project will be completed effectively without the need for overbearing management.

The last area that will most likely incur challenges due to the implantation of these practices is compensation. Simply put, compensation is just a form of reinforcement. If employees perform their job duties, then they will receive a salary or wage in return. Along the way, merit pay or bonuses may make their way into an employee’s compensation. While these things are great to receive, managers should consider the timing of salary enhancements. The purpose of bonuses is usually to reward an employee for achieving a certain goal, and if reinforcement theory is properly implemented, then the reward, in this case the bonus, should be given immediately after the achievement. If employers want to pay out regular bonuses, then a performance reward every six months is more effective than paying out the typical annual bonus three to five months into the year after the goal is accomplished. The sooner the reward is given after the achievement increases the likelihood of the behavior occurring again. Waiting too long to reward a behavior wastes the value of the bonus because no one remembers what they did to earn it. Also, compensation does not have to be in the form of money.

An internet automotive marketing company, 9 Clouds, focuses on using the appropriate incentives to attract Millennials. When interviewing job candidates, they ask them what they most prefer in a compensation package, whether it be flexible hours, flexible location, healthcare benefits, etc. This style of compensation aligns perfectly with some of the best practices for millennial management. The goal of compensation should be to reward employees for their work in meaningful ways as well as encourage them to continue to complete their jobs at a high level In conclusion, the workforce will be undergoing major changes over the next few years as the Millennial generation approaches working age. This new cohort has monopolized much of the ever-recurring cultural conversation.

As they have begun to showcase their personalities, categories such as entitled, lazy, pampered, and self-absorbed have become a haze that follows them everywhere they go. While these categories are stereotypical and do not apply to every member of the generation, managers across the workforce have encountered the challenges that these characteristics can bring along, but many also tend to let these negatives outweigh the positive elements that these young workers bring to the table. Millennials are technologically intuitive, confident, forward-thinking, and eager. Businesses that employ Millennials can follow three basic practices that embrace these productive traits while also combating the undesirable parts of their personalities. Flexible work schedules, a sense of purpose and challenge, and frequent rewards and feedback are all items that management can implement to adapt to the new style of employee. Although these items can bring about challenges in hiring, organizing, and compensating, altering the wording of a position, being a leader as opposed to a boss, and compensating at the right time in the right way will be aids in overcoming many hurdles. Many members of previous generations often cringe at the thought of working with a Millennial because they believe they are the worst generation yet. A pastor stated, “The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything.” Many people would agree that this statement would be a perfect definition of a Millennial except that this was quoted in 1274 A.D.

Even though the ways of Generation Y may seem outrageous, it is essential for today’s managers to realize that nothing has actually changed very much and must be ready to train the future leaders of the business world.

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