by Sarah K. White

5 tips to better understand millennial managers

Sep 06, 2016
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

If you aren't already managed by a millennial, chances are you soon will be as these young workers quickly take on leadership roles in corporate America.rn

retaining millennials
Credit: Thinkstock

Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, which means they’re quickly infiltrating every rank in corporate America — especially middle management. While millennials want much of the same things as previous generations, they also have different values and expectations for their employers.

And chances are, if you haven’t been managed by a millennial yet, you will be soon. A survey from Future Workplace and Beyond found that 83 percent of respondents said they have seen millennials managing Gen-X and Baby Boomer employees in their workplace. But, 45 percent still think that these young managers have a negative impact on the company culture.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of RainmakerThinking, a management consulting firm, and author of multiple books on millennial workers and soft skills, points to a number of influences on millennial managers that past generations may not have experienced at the same point in their own careers.

For instance, Tulgan says businesses are experiencing rapid digital transformation, they’re under pressure to run leaner and to do more with less, employees face a lack of job security and the workplace has changed drastically in the past 10 years. But those challenges also serve to shape millennial leaders, and can give some insight into why their management styles may differ from others.

Brand-conscious managers

Millennials have grown up with social media and technology and it’s second nature to most of them. And that also means they’re accustomed to fine-tuning their personal brands, according to Kendall Wayland, vice president of operations at Uproar PR and head of the human resource department. Just like they fine tune their personal brands, millennial managers will personalize their management techniques as well.

“They do not take on the cookie cutter role of a traditional boss, but instead embrace their own unique working style, helping shape and mold a more positive corporate culture by encouraging people to be themselves and speak their mind,” she says.

[ Related story: How agile helps attract and retain millennial tech pros ]

Changing corporate culture

The future of work no longer rests in a 40 hour nine to five work week. Businesses have become more casual, allowing for more flexibility in schedules, especially now that most of us can work from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection.

Millennials are pushing the boundaries of what’s “appropriate” in the workplace, says Wayland. They’re challenging established norms, such as paternity leave, dress codes and corporate wellness programs. “They respect the importance of work-life balance, understanding that happy, healthy employees will produce the best results and increase retention rates,” says Wayland.

Ultimately, millennials aren’t concerned with how they will fit into a company. Rather they’re thinking “I wonder where you will fit into my life story,” says Tulgan. He says to consider your millennial managers — and other millennial employees — as laser-focused on creating the life they want and ensuring their career doesn’t encroach on that goal.

Work-life balance

Not only are millennials sensitive to flexible schedules and a maintaining a healthy personal life outside of work; as the modern workplace becomes less rigid, millennial managers are also well aware of how easy it is for personal lives to bleed into the workplace.

“Social media and the general news cycle is a 24/7 occurrence, meaning that it’s much easier for personal lives to creep into the workplace more often. This poses a challenge of making sure employees are staying on track, but also having the flexibility to use this constant feed of information to stay connected,” says Wayland.

Tulgan says, you may even find that millennial workers will turn down managerial or supervisory roles if offered. According to what Tulgan has seen in his research for his books, millennials often look to their own managers or slightly more senior peers, and quickly take note that many of them are often “given loads of additional responsibility with very little additional support.” Since they are so focused on work-life balance, they may be wary to commit to a role that doesn’t seem flexible enough.

They aren’t necessarily lax

Just because your millennial manager might be completely open to you leaving work early for regular appointments, fitness classes or to pick your kids up from school, don’t take flexibility as a sign of weakness.

Millennials graduated into a poor economic climate, which means they’ve had to find success through achieving “solid results, demonstrating agility and working hard every day,” says Wayland. “They don’t settle for less than the best in their own performance, so they won’t settle for less than the best from you either,” says Wayland.

And if you find millennial managers are, in fact, too lax, it might boil down to an issue with being seen as an authority figure by their peers-turned-subordinates. In talking to millennial managers, Tulgan says he has seen a trend where younger managers find it difficult to gain respect after they get promoted.

These workers sometimes find it difficult to gain credibility or establish their authority. Overnight they go from a coworker to a boss, and not everyone in the department might be on board. As a result, without the right guidance and mentorship in place, you might find that these managers do become more laid-back, even if only as a way to avoid conflict with employees who may be unhappy with the shift in management. Or, they might become too reliant on other employees to help them manage, which won’t portray a sense of authority in the department.

They won’t push radical change

You shouldn’t worry about millennials coming in and changing things over night — they will likely be sensitive to the established company culture and environment. Wayland says that, in most cases, management at a company founded by millennials will look different than at a company with a more traditional corporate structure.

Wayland says that while millennials will certainly influence change as they rise the corporate ladder, they also understand how to remain open to the differences between all employees — regardless of what generation they fall into. In fact, with millennial managers, you should expect more flexibility with remote work, better schedules for busy parents and a “company culture that encourages growth and collaboration,” says Wayland.

And if you’re curious how to identify your future millennial managers, Tulgan has some advice. “Look for those millennials who love the responsibility and the service. Look for those who consistently practice the basics of management with discipline. Look for those who spend the most time patiently teaching. Look for those who want to lift people up and make them better. They will likely be your future leaders.”

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