The Millennial workforce–that nebulous population group that celebrate a birthday anywhere from 1980 to the late 90s–are now 80 million strong (and counting). The most connected generation in history (hello, Snapchat and Periscope!), they are also fickle when it comes to jobs. In fact, the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that 44% of the Millennials surveyed were already itching to leave their current positions.
Those who do feel loyal to their workplaces often cite a good boss as a primary reason. So, how do you cultivate loyalty and inspire your Millennial staff members to do their best work? Meet Sam, Charlotte, Alex, Jenny, and Adrian. They work in different industries, but they’re all Millennials and were willing to sit down with us to share their thoughts on the higher ups.
Be a leader, not a manager
“I want to have a friendly relationship where I can come to my manager with any problem without feeling like I’m going to get into trouble,” says Jenny, a 33-year-old production assistant. “A manager should be patient, but also decisive. I should be able to trust that if I do what my manager says, things will work out.” Her perspective echoes that of many Millennials. They crave a coaching and mentoring relationship rather than something more authoritarian.
Despite living through a time of economic instability, Millennials are by and large an optimistic and positive group. If they’re not high earners now, they feel assured they will be soon. This also explains the high rates of entrepreneurship among this population: they seek work that inspires them, and if they can’t find it in a workplace setting, they will create it (more than 25% are self-employed).
Millennial workers connect on a personal level to their managers. This helps them trust their decisions more and feel pushed to do their best. Alex, a 19-year-old customer service sales clerk highly values “mutual respect with employees” and “an understanding firm hand” in his boss. This description of the right leader might sounds a bit like a unicorn: lofty yet collegial, folksy yet firm. Just remember that it comes down to being transparent with your staff. Because of all the persona-building they do online, Millennials are well-trained to sniff out a phony.
Move away from old-fashioned hierarchy
Unlike prior generations that experienced a firm break between childhood and adulthood pretty much immediately upon leaving the family home, Millennials remain close to their parents. They were encouraged to dabble in (but not necessarily master) many activities as youngsters, and praised often.
They are a self-confident bunch, all-told, which also makes them motivated employees who love to learn new things and be challenged on the job. No repetitive cubicle drudgery for this lot.
Twenty-two-year-old Charlotte, a marketing manager, recalls a dissatisfying job. “The manager did not spend enough time considering how the job could evolve as I became more efficient at the responsibilities I had at the time,” she says. “I have always appreciated managers who have my next career step in mind, and try to connect me with as many networks as possible.”
Boredom is anathema to the Millennial worker; they will be quick to move on if they do not feel valued or stimulated. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Survey finds that when it comes to advancement, “A Millennial wants an employer that offers a ‘democratized’ nontenured workplace…Ideas matter more than experience, and work output is valued more than the time put in.”
Rather than subscribing to the same old corporate ladder, the PWC blog recommends mixing your staff generationally. For example by rotating Millennial hires through many different assignments. That way they feel like they’re growing at work and not just stuck at the front desk. Because this group is impatient for advancement opportunities, consider shaking up your promotion strategies to reward your most promising workers. Or create incentives and achievement benchmarks that all staff can aspire to.
Keep your lines of communication open
Across the board, Millennials crave feedback. They are used to it from parents, coaches, and teachers. Without it, they feel lost and less tied to their work’s purpose. Sam, a 31-year-old former paraprofessional liked when his “supervisor provided positive feedback on specific actions…Open communication and collaboration is extremely important in the work environment.”
Because they prefer more egalitarian and casual workplaces with less delineation between senior and junior staff, Millennials are eager to be in frequent conversation with their supervisors. In order to meet this need, consider offering feedback less formally. It could be on projects piece-by-piece, rather than only responding at the end or in formal reviews. And if your employee forwards you a draft and asks for your opinion, invest 10 minutes to reply. It will pay its dividend in the trust and confidence you’ll build.
Provide lots of structure…and then stand back
The structuring of tasks provoked a strong response from the Millennials we spoke to. Mainly because of an emphasis on being well-rounded while growing up, they don’t like unstructured time. 28-year-old Adrian’s favorite managers “acted as mentors in the field and helped to guide my understanding of the processes required to do the job.” More than just being told to do something, he preferred being told why the task was important and the importance of each step.
Millennials ask “Why?” They’re a generation with an inquisitive streak, and they want the ultimate goals of even small tasks to be clear. On the other hand, they value freedom and autonomy–they don’t consider themselves cogs in a wheel, and neither should you. Alex was “discouraged” when personnel micromanaged and excessively monitored his work; it made him feel his skills were underappreciated.
Jenny also preferred her managers to get out of the way once she had a handle on things. But also to be empathetic and provide resources when they were needed. “If an employee is struggling and is not able to solve his/her problem, the ‘boss’ can provide another tool without taking away the project.” She seeks a manager that enables all employees to succeed by being hands-off but not checked out.
Foster teamwork and collaboration
Connection–4G or otherwise–is a big selling point for Millennials. They’ve grown up working productively in teams, and they like collaborating in the workplace, too. “Instead of having unexplained expectations for an employee, the manager and employee should collaboratively make agreements,” Sam says. Swap out, “I’m going to have to redesign the closing process because this place is a mess” for “I’d like input on how we can redesign the closing process–I know we’ve all noticed it’s a mess.”
Our Millennials also stressed that a good manager should have integrity. That means the manager should not just delegate to his/her team, but be a member of the team. “The manager should be the leader and share responsibility for both successes and failures,” Adrian says. Blaming individuals for team shortcomings undercuts the social connection Millennial workers work hard to build. You’re much more likely to earn their loyalty with your own.
Despite persistent myths regarding their maturity and work ethic, the Millennials we spoke to actively sought engagement with their work and colleagues. They’re ambitious and seeking jobs that align with their values. Encouraging an open workplace where respectful communication is the norm, creativity and collaboration are welcomed, and some of the old advancement protocols are reexamined will earn you accolades (and probably a few “likes”) from your Millennial staff.