How to Manage Gen Y Employees Like People, Not Just “Millennials”By Lisa Skapinker on May 29, 2012 in Thought Leadership
Like every generation that came before them, Millennial employees have been defined by a series of generalizations and stereotypes: that they’re natural-born multitaskers, native social media users, early tech adopters, and that they’re so entitled that if they aren’t given raises or promotions on demand they’ll promptly quit.
But, as a recent TLNT article points out, broad stereotypes about the younger generation’s work ethic are not exactly new. Boomers were considered ruthless, competitive micromanagers who were primarily driven by material success, while Gen Xers were labelled as cynical, depressed pessimists with no loyalty to their organizations.
But so much of the rhetoric around Millennials focuses on how to manage them, it ignores issues that are common among all employees entering the workforce, regardless of their generation. Focusing too much on generational issues — and treating Millennials as “special cases” — can lead managers to overlook the needs of individual employees, which often transcend traditional generational boundaries.
So how can managers and HR tend to the individual needs of Gen Y employees while still being mindful of generational issues?
1. Don’t get caught up in the Millennial multitasking hype
As Neil Howe points out on TLNT, multitasking is pretty much an impossible task regardless of generation. Millennials, who’ve grown up playing Xbox, reading, watching TV, texting and doing their homework all at once, may be better equipped to multitask in the workplace, but that doesn’t refute the fact that multitasking is still generally detrimental to overall performance.
Workplace rhetoric, on the contrary, tends to tout ability to multitask as a huge bonus of hiring Millennials. Then, when Millennials are hired, they are expected to complete a ton of high-quality work all at once because they’re “great multitaskers.” But not all Millennials are great at multitasking. And those who declare themselves amazing multitaskers more often than not find their work suffering as a result. So instead of expecting your Gen Y employees to multitask, manage their tendency to do a ton of things at once. Have them focus instead of their most important goals and most pressing work, and concentrate on one or two things at a time.
Treat Millennials’ workplace problems the same way you’d treat any workplace issue.
Many Millennials experience common workplace problems, not just “Millennial issues” like not being given free access to social media or not getting enough feedback. Millennials are still likely to experience general work issues like butting heads with their managers, lack of clear goals in the workplace, pay issues, and unclear expectation.
Where managers and HR often get tripped up here is in treating all of the issues a Millennial employee faces as symptomatic of their generational stereotypes. Issues with pay? They’re entitled! Not meeting expectations? They’re lazy and spoiled! And so forth. But remember that these generalizations do not represent all Millennials: in fact, it’s rare that a Millennial fit all the stereotypes imparted upon them. Be cognizant of “Millennial issues,” but concentrate on an individual employees’ strengths and weaknesses as an employee, rather than just as a Millennial employee. And don’t forget that many of these issues arise because Millennials tend to be younger and many are new to the workplace. There’s bound to be a period of adjustment for any entry-level employee.
3. Trust your own logic, not just the latest management rhetoric.
Great leadership is trans-generational. Setting clear and attainable goals, coaching employees as a mentor as well as a manager, being present and accountable, and giving useful and timely feedback are principles of management that make for a great workplace and happy, productive employees, regardless of generation. Indeed, failed leadership is at the root of many of the generational issues.
But good leadership also means being aware of the more universal intergenerational gaps and making an effort to create a workplace environment conducive to Millennial employees. That means allowing Gen Ys to communicate using the technology they’ve grown up with and helping them be more productive and engaged, whether that’s through more feedback and a more collaborative team or simply by listening to their complaints.