The Millennial Managers Are Here: Four Ways Millennials Are Reshaping The Workplace (Again)

Post written by

Aram Lulla

Aram Lulla is General Manager, Human Resources Practice at Lucas Group

“Millennials are entitled.”

“Millennials are addicted to social media.”

“Millennials are going broke eating avocado toast.”

A new week, a new headline about the generation that makes up more than a third of the country’s workforce. While there’s plenty of ink spilled on how to manage millennials, what about the impact millennials are having as managers themselves?

Millennials, typically defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, have been the largest generation in the workforce since 2016. With the oldest millennials on the cusp of 40, this generation is increasingly occupying middle management positions, with some high performers moving into senior-level roles. At many companies, including in my Chicago branch office, millennials are managing Gen Xers and even some baby boomers — and reshaping professional dynamics in the process.

Like with previous generations, it’s tempting to paint millennials with broad brushstrokes, making generalizations about a generation with more than 73 million people. That said, millennials, on average, approach management very differently than previous generations. As managers, these value-driven digital natives are changing the rules for communication, feedback and team building in the workplace. Here are what they’re doing differently — and possible pitfalls along the way.

1. Consistent Feedback: Back in 2015, an article in SHRM declared the annual performance review dead, and experts noted that this approach is not only time consuming but also has “zero correlation with actual business results.” Five years later, millennial managers are putting the final nail in the annual review coffin, turning their preference for regular, consistent feedback into frequent check-ins and project-based assessments.

Millennials favor weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings that make it easier to course correct before employees miss performance targets. In my workplace, we have several Gen Xers reporting to a millennial, and they have all told me how much they appreciate their manager’s willingness to provide immediate feedback and coaching. In a sales environment where salary is tied to performance, this approach is a win for everyone.

The Challenge: Feedback Quality. A consistent challenge that managers face, regardless of their age, is providing specific, actionable feedback to their employees. This is especially true for millennials who are managing Gen Xers. Gen Xers often expect authority figures to earn their respect and have limited tolerance for generic platitudes or unproductive chitchat. Successful feedback ties an employee’s work to the company’s vision, identifies specific opportunities for process improvement and includes an accountability checklist for tracking change and assessing future performance.

2. Virtual Management: In a world where we can work from any place at any time, the ability to build and manage virtual teams is a critical skill. As digital natives, millennials are comfortable with instant communication across a variety of platforms. They embrace these virtual channels for feedback, coaching and project management, and are at ease building teams across geographies and time zones. Compared with managers from previous generations, millennial managers are more likely to hire remote workers and more likely to let current employees work outside the office, according to a 2019 Upwork survey.

The Challenge: Communication Overload. It’s easy to drown in the never-ending barrage of emails, Slack notifications, instant messages and automated status updates. Millennial managers, along with their employees, must balance consistent contact with uninterrupted focus time dedicated to big-picture tasks.

3. Collaboration Over Competition: The so-called “me generation” is also the team generation: Millennials prefer a collaborative workplace to a competitive one. Growing up in a world with infinite information at their fingertips, millennials know that no single person has all the answers, and they embrace diversity — gender, race and yes, even age — within teams. That’s great news for companies. Diverse teams consistently outperform homogenous groups on everything from innovation and productivity to decision making quality and organizational performance.

The Challenge: Managing Conflict. Constructively addressing conflict is tricky, no matter your age. But for a generation with a reputation for ghosting, millennial managers need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Millennial managers who are conflict-avoidant risk being perceived as passive-aggressive or weak by their employees — two outcomes that harm the collaborative team atmosphere they’re working so hard to build.

4. Values-First Leadership: Millennials, more so than any previous generation, want to work for a company that reflects their values. As the boundaries between work and life continue to blur, millennials need the work they do to matter. For millennial managers, this can manifest in several ways, including a desire to connect assignments or mundane tasks back to big-picture goals and mission-driven work. When a millennial manager’s values align with their work, this can result in energizing, passionate leadership that inspires the entire team to achieve new levels of success. This can also be risky, depending on the role. Millennials managers in sales, for example, may find that putting personal fulfillment before team profit or target revenue won’t be a popular decision.

The Challenge: Regulating Enthusiasm Levels. The flip side to energetic leadership is apathetic management. When a manager is disengaged, this has a ripple effect on the team, diminishing enthusiasm and hurting productivity. For Gen Xers, who typically care more about completing their assigned project than worrying if the project “sparks joy,” apathetic management creates unnecessary friction that hurts morale and increases turnover.

From the rise of remote teams to instant performance feedback, millennial managers are reshaping the workplace. Like many first-time managers, millennials won’t hit a home run every day. But their willingness to embrace an agile workforce and technology trends is key to preparing companies for tomorrow’s challenges — and ensuring a steady pipeline of innovative, engaged talent.

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Aram Lulla is General Manager, Human Resources Practice at Lucas Group