The Key to Managing Millennials in the Workplace

November 29, 2017 John Barrows

For those of you who have been following me, you know I recently hired someone to help scale my training business. His name is Morgan Ingram and he’s 25 years old. I hired him for a lot of different reasons, but one of them is to help me stay connected and relevant to the younger generation. You can read about my interest in learning from him in the press release here.

In conversations I have with other GenXers, the challenge of managing the millennials comes up frequently. This is why I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it, especially with Morgan now on board. Effective management is challenging regardless of the variables but there seems to be a unique challenge with this generational divide. The good news is I think I found something that can help – structure. I know it sounds simple but let me explain.

When I was growing up and was sitting around the house bored, my parents would tell me to get out of the house and go find something to do. They really didn’t care what I did as long as I was back by dinner. So I would ride my bike down to my friend’s house, play in the woods, break stuff, build stuff, light stuff on fire, whatever. I had to figure it out.

The younger generations do not have that luxury. Parents have become much more involved in every hour of their child’s life. Now everything is scheduled out to the highest degree. Kids go to school from 8am-3pm, then they play soccer from 3-5, then they come home and have dinner and then spend 2 hours doing homework and then they get 30 minutes on their iPad before they go to bed. Every minute of their lives is structured. There is no more “figuring it out” time.

When kids whose lives are fully structured get into the workforce and now report to kids who grew up with limited structure there becomes an issue that, if not recognized and dealt with appropriately, can lead to frustrations on both ends.

In general, GenXers don’t like being forced into someone else’s structure. We like building and putting structure in place, but not following it. On the other hand, millennials don’t necessarily like creating the structure, but they thrive within it. This is why I think structure is the answer to bridge the gap and get the most out of working together.

I’ll use a recent example, which is actually what prompted this post. I hired Morgan 2 months ago and for the first month it was a whirlwind of activity. In his first week, he came up to Boston for a 3-day ‘boot camp.’ The next 2 weeks he traveled with me while I did onsite training sessions in different locations around the country. Then we hit Dreamforce for a week and went directly to Seattle that Friday for an all-day training and took the redeye home on Saturday. Since then, I’ve been slammed with trainings and running the business, so Morgan has been down in Atlanta on his own for a few weeks. We set weekly goals and have calls throughout the week where we I give some direction but not a ton.

We recently had a call to catch up and one of the challenges he said he was having was that he felt like he was a little all over the place and didn’t have his routine down due to his ramp schedule and the inconsistency of his days. Before he worked for me I remember him explaining in detail how he structured his day. It was down to the minute. I realized while we were talking that I hadn’t given him enough structure or direction. So, we talked it through and came up with some ideas to put more structure in place for his daily work and it seemed to resonate. This isn’t about telling him what to do, it’s about working together and leveraging each other’s strengths.

The frustration from the older generations generally stems from their perception that the younger generation needs to earn it and ‘figure it out.’ The frustration from the younger generation is generally based on the older generation either giving them no guidance or micromanaging their every move. By focusing on structure, I think we can bridge the gap and work together to make a real difference.

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