The ‘Y’ Factor: Managing the Millennial Generation

Depending on the source you’re looking at, the exact definition of Generation Y, or the “millennial generation” might be a little tough to nail down. But they’re generally considered to be those born between 1980 and 2000 (though some sources put it as far back as 1977).

It’s a little easier to pin down a consensus from the experts on best practices for managing this new generation. Structure, consistency, guidance, and positive encouragement are all seen as being necessary to get the most out of the millennial workforce.

In addition, the millennials are seen as being extraordinarily tech savvy, and will be frustrated if that aspect of their talent isn’t fully utilized. (They’re not called the “always connected” crowd for nothin’.)

Structure & Rewards looks to University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann for insight into managing millennials. “The key with the millennials is to provide structure for them in the workplace and at the same time find ways to channel their energy, engagement, and desire to help solve problems,” she writes.

“The millennials want to be out in the field with clients, where they can work in teams and solve problems collaboratively, not just sit at desks. And they expect to be rewarded for their creativity and productivity.”

“They tend to be strong achievers if they are properly motivated, optimistic about all things, sociable, highly moral, and street smart,” adds the Shepard Communications Group in a highly thorough analysis of the generational situation. “Finally, and interestingly, they are absolutely oblivious to authority.”

Discipline & Engagement

“[The millennials] do not take well to orders and resent being handed busywork with no explanation as to its purpose; to bring out the best in them, teach them about the company and explain how their work will lead to specific results,” suggest Terri Klass and Judith Lindenberger at

“Millennials can lack the perspective and discipline to commit to a lengthy task,” warns Terry Starbucker, “they may begin it and then inexplicably start a new task, and then another and another, never completing a project but constantly starting new ones.”

“Set up regular meetings between managers and employees so that Millennials feel listened to,” advises Steve Strauss.”If Millennials feel that there is a give-and-take relationship with the company, they are often willing to work longer hours. They will thus be more loyal, committed employees.”

The Harvard Business School takes an even longer view, exploring how the Millennials will themselves perform as managers. “The next generation of managers, comprising many ‘millennials,’ will be more adept at managing in a changing, global, and networked environment. They will do it with a greater emphasis on teamwork, facility for the use of technology, and sensitivity to needs for work/life balance.”

Perhaps, though, as the HBS article hints, this advice should be taken with a grain of salt. “Take the label away, and you won’t find the trend,” commented one of the HBS, while another said, “I find such broad generalizations hard to believe.”
Originally published: Nov 6, 2011

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