Managing Millennials: Three Tips to Working with Emerging Employees

Millennials, Millennials, Millennials. You can’t go anywhere these days without someone talking about this group of young people. I am frequently asked how to engage, reach, and sell to this massive demographic group. Often, I’m also asked how to work with Millennials.

Here I use the term “Millennials” to describe people born between 1980 and 2000. The generation is also regularly referred Generation Y, as it follows Generation X. 140818_How to marnage millennials

And the reason why Millennials are all the rage is because (1) they are different, especially when it comes to their use of technology and (2) the size of the cohort. In Canada Millennials makes up just over a quarter of the total population, representing about eight million citizens. By 2020, Millennials will make up over 40% of the working age population in Canada.

The Millennials are also referred as the net generation, screenagers and digital natives because they are  first generation to transition from childhood to adulthood during the internet age that has fundamentally changed the way they communicate, shop, work, engage, and think about life.

For example, whether at home or at work, Millennials are often the Chief Information Officers, sought out for advice and their expertise on all matters related to technology.

Although Millennials can add a lot to a team, many are conflicted when working with them. In a survey we conducted in 2011 with Canadians who regularly work with Millennials, we found that  87% think Millennials have a different attitude or view of workplace responsibilities. Compared to workers of other age groups most Canadians think that Millennials are less motivated to take on responsibility and produce quality work.

As Tina Wells explains in her book, Chasing Youth Culture and Getting it Right, “young people are more often working for themselves or in small collectives…technology has given this generation an opportunity to start businesses with little or no up-front investment, and at a very young age.” Based on Wells’ findings she concludes that “Millennials would simply rather work for themselves than anyone else.”

Does this ring a bell?

So what can you do to improve the morale of Millennials who you manage?

Here are three tips:

1. Provide feedback and recognition regularly

Millennials grew up in an environment that provided them constant feedback. Whether it was their parents, teachers, coaches, or instructors, Millenniales were always told how they were doing and what they could do to improve. If Millennials aren’t receiving constructive feedback and recognition, they can lose focus, feel unappreciated, and become less productive

2. Show them the path ahead and empower their entrepreneurial nature

For most of their lives, Millennials have lived in a structured environment where the rules of engagement were always known.  Millennials need to know there are opportunities to move up in your organization and need to understand the metrics by which they will be judged. Design task-based projects with clear metrics of success. Empower them to make some decisions on their own.

Obscure or unclear expectations will demotivate Millennials and cause them to look for opportunities outside your organization. Show them how they can grow in your organization, give them some authority, and they will rise up to the challenge.

3. Fairness matters

Apart from recognition, Millennials demand fairness in their workplace. They will not tolerate what they perceive to be unfairness directed at them or their colleagues. Hierarchies and “traditions” mean nothing to us and it is not sufficient to explain a rule or directive as “that’s how it has always been done.”

Millennials will question authority and rules so be ready with a clear and logical explanation. Telling them that “I’m the boss” may shut them up, but odds are they will look for new opportunities elsewhere as soon as they pull out their smart phones.

140818_David Coletto David Coletto is CEO of market research firm Abacus Data.  He has been conducting research and advising some of Canada’s leading companies on the Millennial generation since 2011.  Abacus runs, Canada’s leading online resource for Generation Y in Canada.  For more information on Abacus Data, visit

David also holds a doctorate in Political Science from the University of Calgary.

Categories: Business, Human Resources

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