You Can’t Manage a Staff of Millennials (But You Can Lead Them)

Old women listening to young woman

At team-development sessions, I spend a little time beforehand with the leaders of the organization.

“What about your business keeps you up at night?” I ask them. “And what’s the one issue you seem to be dealing with over and over again?”

What they say about workers is very telling.

“Employees below the age of 35 keep me up at night,” is the usual answer, followed by complaints about that age group: “They are impossible to manage. They get bored so easily. They don’t care the way we used to. Work and people aren’t important. They want things done their way.”

If that sounds familiar, I have good news … and even better news. The good news is that your younger employees aren’t all that different from other generations. The even better news is that they are completely different from other generations, and you can capitalize on these differences.

Millennials at Work: Managing a Staff of Millennials

If that sounds contradictory, welcome to the millennial generation. People born between 1977 and 1992 are walking contradictions. Here’s how that plays out in the workforce:

Millennials love working in teams. They will deliver as a team when you set your expectations high and provide individual, daily feedback on how they’re doing.

Millennials want to be plugged into the informational loop. Figure out what makes each millennial “tick.” Then tailor your message to their individual interests and motivations. 

Millennials want to learn, and grow. They crave involvement and detest boredom, so ask them to lend their expertise to a project. Keep in mind, though, that millennials desire balance between work and home life. They may be unlikely to put in the kind of long hours you do.

Millennials love technology. Most millennials have tech skills you can put to great use. Not every millennial is a tech genius, of course. But virtually all of them want to be “best utilized.” It’s all about figuring out what fits them and you.

Millennials want to plan for the future. Millennials, like all generations, want to know where they stand with their boss and what advancement opportunities are available. Where they differ is that they need to know right now. Be up front with career possibilities and provide a road map to get from here to there. The day a millennial starts work is the day he or she wants to know “what’s next.”

Explanation and Guidance

Another issue foodservice leaders battle daily is cell phones. It seems impossible to separate a millennial from his or her smartphone.

Understand that a cellphone is a life tool for a millennial. Staying connected electronically is what millennials do—so a simple rule of “no phones” won’t work. You need to explain, in detail, why a cell phone can’t be used or set rules on when one can be used.

Management is all about “where we are”—so lead millennials where you want them to go. Help them build their skills, monitor their progress, and continuously finesse their performance based on a desired destination.

When millennials see you as their mentor, the team as their vehicle, and their role as essential and advancing—then you will have employees who are improving your business.