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How to mentor and manage Millennials

One of the prerogatives of the older generation is being able to talk disparagingly of the younger generation.

Plato was said to have complained that young people “disrespect their elders” and “ignore the law”. Peter the Hermit complained that the younger generation “think of nothing but themselves” and “are impatient of all restraint” (1)

Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, also known as Generation Y, are stereotypically described as ‘entitled, lazy and materialistic’. As opposed to relying on common stereotypes; Jennifer Deal of the Centre for Creative Leadership and Alec Levenson of the University of Southern California, gathered data from 25 000 Millennials and from 29 000 older employees from 22 countries, concluded in their book “What Millennials Want From Work” (2), that most generalisations about Millennials as employees are “inconsistent at best and destructive at worst”. Their findings can be summarised as follows: “Fundamentally, Millennials want to do interesting work with people they enjoy, for which they are well paid, and still have enough time to live their lives as well as work”.

Nothing is more important for an organisation’s survival than recruiting and retaining the next wave of talent. To get the most out of workers, it may be wiser to put more emphasis on rewarding individual performance and providing clear paths to career progress. Most employees, regardless of when they were born, want to be given interesting work to do, to be rewarded on the basis of their contributions and to be given the chance to work hard and to get ahead. So too with Millennials.

The question then becomes; ‘What do Millennials want from work and how do organisations give it to them’?

Most organisations have three primary goals for their talent management strategies:
1. Attraction;
2. Engagement; and
3. Retention.

The three dimensions for consideration, which could help organisations achieve the above goals with regard to Millennials, are:

The People: (Friends, Mentors, Team, Bosses)

Friends: Structure the workplace environment so Millennials can develop friendships with co-workers and have positive relationships with mentors, team members and bosses.

Mentors: Set up mentoring programmes and educate managers on taking on mentees who are different from themselves. This promotes diversity.

Teams: The teams that Millennials work with are the ones that can make or break Millennials’ ability to get their jobs done right. Therefore team leaders need training and support to lead effectively.

Bosses: It is common cause that people don’t leave bad organisations; they leave bad bosses. Managers at all levels need to listen and observe; trust and be trustworthy; set goals and hold Millennials accountable; provide mentoring, coaching and support; and be authentic.

The Work: (Interesting, Meaningful and Balanced)

Interesting: If the work is interesting, it doesn’t require a lot of convincing by management to make it palatable. Also make sure Millennials are clear on the business reasons for the tasks that they find boring, and show how what they do contributes to the organisation’s objectives. Encourage Millennials to provide ideas to improve work processes, and provide opportunities for Millennials to engage with customers and stakeholders.

Balanced: If Millennials feel that they have no time to live their lives, they will leave. Set up systems so working off site is productive. Allow for flexible careers and smooth out spikes in workload.

Opportunities: (Feedback and Communication, Development, and Pay)

Feedback and Communication: Millennials want to know what they need to do to be successful. At the same time, they don’t want to be micromanaged. Approach them with guidance and coaching, not command-control dictates. Provide feedback as a normal part of the workflow, not as an annual event.

Career Development: Provide good development opportunities, or they will go elsewhere to find them. Help Millennials realise that they will learn most, on the job. Make it clear that development is about growing in the position as much as it is about moving on to the next promotion.

Pay: The more transparent you can be about your organisation’s pay practices, the better. Understand that whilst compensation pays the bills, it is also a measure of value and self-worth. Pay transparency is increased by what’s online, but the quality of information can be very poor.     

Sundra Naidoo is a Partner at Change Partners.

1 “Myths About Millennials”, The Economist, 1 August 2015
2 “What Millennials Want From Work”, Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson, 2016.

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