How managers should handle Millennials

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Prabhat Singh's picture

Each generation is shaped by the prevailing social and cultural zeitgeist of its era. If at all the Millennial generation is different from all previous ones, it is because of the most omnipresent catchphrase of its era- “Follow your dreams”- as well as the dawn of the internet age. Such influence on young minds has instilled a unique go-getter attitude in this generation.

Besides such influences, the rapid expansion of private sector, especially in the Eastern part of the world, has presented Millennials with a novel opportunity to pick their goals and pursue them unapologetically. Pursuit of goals and competition among firms to retain best talent also means that the younger generation treats each employer as only another step in a rather long journey. This means that loyalty, arguably the most desirable trait sought by employers, is thoroughly missing in the younger generation. Thus, how employers should treat Millennials essentially boils down to one question-how to get Millennials to feel loyal to their firm?

The managers must realise that ‘loyalty’ for most Millennials is a symbiotic relationship, where as long as they obtain from the workplace the benefits they desire, they will continue to contribute wholeheartedly to it. Whilst money, perks and lure of big brands are significant attractions even for Millennials, they’re most desirous of seeing two things- ‘significance in their work’ and ‘direction in their lives’. Whilst the two phrases are much bandied about, it is essential to break them down to what they really mean.

The first phrase conveys the desire of an employee to precisely understand how her individual contribution makes an impact, even the tiniest, in the larger scheme of things. To take the example of Indian IT industry, a workplace swarming with immensely dissatisfied Millennials, young employees often work on tiny snippets of code, while having no clue how their contribution shapes up the final product, usually some large software. Such dissatisfaction naturally results in high rates of turnover. If only she could be demonstrated how the ‘if-else’ statement she wrote while sipping coffee one fine afternoon is now being used by Amazon to recommend products to shoppers, her life would acquire a much greater sense of purpose.

Further, Millennials are hungry for immediate results, and most firms find it difficult to keep pace with this hunger. In such a scenario, lack of effective communication between the employee and the manager turns out to be the surest deal breaker. Such hunger for results can also make Millennials seem “difficult to work with”, as cited by eminent surveys. Managers must make sure that they communicate effectively to not let this feeling sour the relationship between herself and the employee. If things are crawling, it is imperative for the manager to explain the reasons behind the slow pace to her employee. It is also helpful to weave in the larger goal, or the vision, that the manager sees behind the current project. Leaving the young employee all to herself, often without much to do, is sure to make her mind wander towards greener pastures. Here is where the usefulness of activities outside office also comes into play. Even if work is slow, corporate association with NGOs helps Millennials keep busy with social work, which, besides lending a feel-good touch, also presents young employees with a great way to expand their network and strengthen their resume. Encouraging team sports is another great way to keep young Millennials busy. At one of my employers, I was part of the cricket team, which was a great attraction to me.

Effective communication is not to be used only when things are slow. Managers should adopt it as the most potent tool to keep Millennials happy. Young employees are usually bustling with ideas, and even though many of those might be shots in the dark, it is imperative that the ideas be acknowledged. Most Millennials don’t mind negative feedback, but they do strongly mind an absence of it. The feedback must not be a mere Yes or No, it has to be wrapped in the proper context. The ideas from Millennials need not be restricted to their job. To take a personal example, I came up with an idea for a campaign to reduce the usage of tissue paper in the office. The idea was gladly accepted by senior management and I was given full freedom and support to proceed with its implementation. I have to say that’s been my most satisfying workplace experience so far.

From my personal experience, I have found that on-the-job training is another huge pull for young employees. It makes them feel that they’ve been taken on board to tackle a meaningful challenge, and that the managers have high stakes in the young employees’ success. It also helps employees pick up skills that they might utilise later. For example, at one of my employers, where I was expected to perform data analysis, I was trained in statistical software such as Python. It is unarguably the most essential professional experience I’ve gathered so far. Had I been simply asked to figure things out on my own, I would have been deeply discouraged.

Besides seeking satisfaction from work, Millennials like to see their work giving them a certain ‘direction in life’. This essentially means that every job they take up should be a building block towards how they want to shape their lives, which is precisely why they’re ready to move on to another firm in case they feel that’s not happening. Of course, the umpteen employers ready to absorb fresh talent makes their job easier. In my view, a large majority of Millennials, especially those who’re fresh out of undergrad, seek higher education within 1-3 years of finishing college. Keeping this in mind, it is imperative that firms have an open policy encouraging young employees to seek higher education after serving for a satisfactory time period. Millennials are greatly encouraged to work in places where managers are willing to provide them letters of recommendation while applying for admissions to universities. Granting study scholarships to bright employees in lieu of work agreements post completion of study is a sure shot way to attract and retain the best talent. Again, effective communication initiated by the manager makes a massive impact. Since the mind of a young employee is continuously distracted by the sometimes troublesome number of options available, it is the prerogative of managers to talk individually with young employees to provide them guidance as well as to allay their concerns. I am very fortunate that my first ever manager was such a gem.

Besides their own ambitions, the work culture of the firm matters hugely to Millennials. The mind set of younger generation has been influenced greatly by buzzwords such as “multiculturalism”, “team work” and “leadership”. Most Millennials are strongly desirous of working as a team. Being part of a team gives one the chance of developing much needed interpersonal skills, as well as a chance to lead the team in due course of time. This progress from being a cog in the wheel to the prime mover acts as a barometer for Millennials to measure their progress.

The labelling of recruitment programmes can also make a big difference. Using terms such as “Leader” in a programme can make it hugely attractive to young job seekers. Many firms, especially financial, have successfully used this strategy to attract and retain the best talent. Though it might sound petty, guarantee of foreign tours, especially to people working in the Eastern part of the world, could well be the deal clincher when it comes to choosing between two otherwise equally matched employers. Employers can add a multicultural dimension to work by recruiting people from different countries under the same programme, who are allowed to meet and interact with each other from time to time, helping everyone build a global network.

Lastly, structuring of incentives and leave policy are also important things to be kept in mind. Since most Millennials are burdened with loans when starting work, it is always a good idea to offer them a healthy joining bonus. As regards leave policy, the most serious complaints from employees arise not when they’re made to work long hours, but when they’re granted much fewer leaves than what is promised by the contract. Also, sometimes MNCs fail to keep in mind the importance of local holidays. For example, in India, keeping an employee away from home on festive occasions such as Holi and Diwali could be equated with a sin. Sadly, this often happens, and turns out to be a pet peeve of Millennials.

Ultimately, different generations must realise that it is the ambience and age gap that counts most for whatever differences that might exist between them. As Millennials age, they’re likely to acquire character and behaviour of people of the previous generation, when they were the same age. By keeping in mind each other’s sensibilities, the exuberance of youth and wisdom of the experienced can make for the ideal combination.