Why Managers Need to Stop Worrying and Love Millennials

Millennials will challenge traditional managerial methods and question your every move. However, they will also bring energy, tech savvy and innovative ideas. Focus on hiring and retaining them as if your job depends on it -- because it will.

On an early Monday morning, a young business analyst walked into his manager's office and, without speaking a word, began scribbling feverishly on a whiteboard. He had worked eight hours on a Sunday, probably from his home, having been spurred by a novel idea.

He wrote: "a(slope)+b(w5)+c(?(avg(wl-4),w5)"

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It was a formula to determine the propensity for a customer to upgrade or churn out, essentially solving a problem that an entire team had spent months in vain trying to work out.

"No other generation blurs the lines between work and play like millennials do," writes Heidi Farris, vice president of community engagement and marketing at Bloomfire and the business analyst's manager, in a blog post. "They want to play when they feel like playing, and they want to work when they feel like working; you might be surprised at how often (and when) they feel like working given the choice."

Forget What You Know About Managing Tech Pros

Farris will be the first to tell you that managing millennials requires a break from traditional managerial methods. Millennials value freedom of choice, from working hours to technology tools. Their work and personal lives merge into a single shade of gray. Mobile tech tools, cloud computing and BYOD mock the days of punching a clock and toiling in an office cubicle the size of a bathroom stall.

Slideshow: 15 iPhone Apps Millennials Can't Live Without

Hiring millennials and keeping them happy will be critical to a company's future. Millennials bring energy, tech savvy and new ideas to companies that live and die on the threshold of innovation. Silicon Valley companies are fighting for them.

Earlier this summer, a Cisco executive said the company will hire 2,000 millennials this year. Four weeks later, Cisco said it will cut 4,000 workers mostly in middle management. By 2025, millennials will comprise nearly 75 percent of the world's workforce. Like it or not, the youth movement has begun.

How managers handle millennials will make all the difference. Google recently conducted a study of its workers and found that the top reason millennials (and, to be fair, everyone else) will quit is a bad relationship with a manager.

Here's the kicker: A recent survey by Millennial Branding and Beyond.com found a revolving door among millennials. Nearly 60 percent of millennials will leave their jobs within their first three years, an increased ratio of 2 to 1 compared to previous generations, the survey says. It costs a company anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 to replace a millennial worker.

Millennials: A Generation on the Move

"The Millennial Generation has learned to be two things during the recession: resilient and nomadic," says Beyond.com CEO Rich Milgram. "As the job market improves, the level of confidence will improve along with it and cause many in this age group to reevaluate their current situation, possibly seeing value in seeking greener pastures."

Farris, a 30-something GenX-er, has managed about a dozen millennials over the past 10 years. Currently, she has four millennials on her eight-person staff. Managing millennials can be an eye-opening experience. At first, some words coming out of millennials' mouths took her by surprise, she says.

In a meeting last year, Farris and her staff were weighing which analyst firm to partner with, when a 25-year-old staffer asked, "why?" Farris was taken aback; building analyst relationships is considered standard procedure. But the question led Farris into writing out all the reasons to partner with analysts, which ultimately resulted in finding the right analyst firm.

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Heidi Farris, Bloomfire

"Ask a millennial to do a task and nine times out of 10, the first question they will ask is, 'Why?' It's a shocking response for some of us who were raised in a world where you don't question authority figures, but the truth of the matter is that it's a good question—one we should ask more often," Farris says.

Related: 5 Millennials-in-the-Workplace Myths Busted

Older co-workers often shake their heads at the audacity of millennials further down the organizational chart who want to know what's happening at the higher levels and what's behind the decision-making process. Older co-workers will trot out work rules that they had to live by and throw them in the face of millennials, such as "pay your dues" or "none of your business."

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

For a manager, such responses are akin to lying to a friend. Like everyone else, millennials value trust in relationships in their personal lives. Unlike everyone else, they seek trust in their business relationships as well. It's another twist on millennial's signature character trait: blending personal and work life.

By not being forthcoming, managers undermine trust.

"I need the right balance of attention and trust," a millennial told Farris, while describing the kind of relationship they're looking for in a manager. "I do not want a manager that hovers and micromanages my every effort. However, I do want a manager that is accessible and open to discussing issues."

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

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