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The keys to managing a new generation of workers

They’re not like you—and that can be a good thing. This is how you motivate a young team and lead them to success.

The keys to managing a new generation of workers

If you’ve been in the workplace for a decent number of years, you’re probably managing people by now. Many of them are likely younger and have a slightly different approach to their jobs than you’re used to seeing.

That’s because the new generation of workers came of age during a different time than you did, and they are a little different from you. That’s good in many ways since a diverse workforce offers a range of strengths and talents. One thing you don't want to do with this younger generation: hold them back. According to a recent report from Maryland-based market research and analysis firm EurekaFacts, millennials feel that Baby Boomer and Gen X managers are keeping them from advancing at work. The key, here, is knowing how to harness it all.

Your management skills will benefit from understanding what motivates this particular group and giving them the guidance they’re looking for. These tips can help you lead the charge.

Make a personal connection

This generation of workers grew up when it was possible to personalize every experience—from ordering takeout to finding their soul mate.

They want a personal connection, and that includes with their job duties as well as the people they work with. As a team leader, it’s up to you to create that personal bond.

That might mean spending a little one-on-one time with them to show that you’re interested in their lives. Ask them about their weekend or upcoming vacation plans. Make them a partner in their own work development—the more you know about them, the more likely you’ll get the best out of them.

“Be a human being, not just a boss,” says Nancy Halpern, an executive coach with KNH Associates in New York City. “Most people work harder for people they like.” That right there not only bumps up your value in the eyes of your boss, but can also attract plenty of attention from future employers.

Show you care

Many younger employees watched their dual-earner parents work maddening hours and are determined to have more work-life balance for themselves. As a result, they prioritize their lives outside of the office, and they want to be able to work in a way that makes that possible.

“It doesn’t mean millennials don’t want to work or they’re lazy,” says Foram Sheth, co-founder of coaching company Ama La Vida Coaching in Chicago. “They want the flexibility to work from home or have control over their schedules. What leaders can do is tune in to the employee’s needs.”

That could mean letting an employee work from home one day a week if they have a long commute, or come in early and leave early so they can run an errand. But one thing is clear—this generation doesn’t value face time the way that older workers might. It matters more to these younger employees that their work gets done, regardless of where and when they perform their duties.

Point out the meaning in their work

This group seeks significance from what they’re doing every day—they aren’t just there to punch a clock.

“I talk to millennials all the time who feel like they’re bored and frustrated and they’re doing routine work, and they don’t feel like what they do is making an impact,” says Adunola Adeshola, a career strategist and founder of career site employeeREDEFINED.com.

For the best buy-in, it’s worthwhile to help younger employees understand how their work fits into the bigger company picture. Explain how the presentation they’ve been putting together will impact the company. What does their contribution make possible? “For millennials, that’s really important,” Adeshola says.

Give feedback

Many employees don’t do well in a vacuum, and today’s younger workers thrive on a steady stream of performance feedback to help them feel noticed and valued. 

“They don’t need to be patronized; it needs to be authentic,” says Mark McMillion, principal of McMillion Leadership Associates in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

It could be as simple as a passing comment in the hall, an email after a great presentation, or a shout-out in a meeting.

Doing this helps workers feel connected and appreciated. That’s crucial, since many of them believe that if this job isn’t for them, they can just go out and get another one.

“Loyalty isn’t a given as it often seemed to be in years past,” McMillion says.

Explain the “why”

Not only do these employees look for bigger picture meaning—they’re also interested in why they need to do the small things. You need that report by 3:00? Why?

“When you give them instructions, they don’t internalize like the mid-level folks,” says Evan Pellett, a recruiter and author of Cracking the Code to a Successful Interview. “Millennials often look for more of an explanation. They want the purpose behind it, the reasoning. They feel they deserve it, or it’s how they process information.”

If you’re asking for a report at 3:00 because someone else needs to turn it around by 5:00, say so. Take the extra two minutes to explain why they should do something a certain way. The payback will be greater motivation and productivity overall.


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