Making Way for Millennials in the Workplace

How important is it to understand Millennials? Does the future of your job or your organization depend on it? If you ask those closely associated with the exit of George Zimmer, founder and executive chairman of Men’s Wearhouse, they’ll tell you, very much so! It was reported that his swift departure was due, in part, to his inability to connect with Millennials. Like it or not, Millennials are our future and the sooner we understand, accept, and shape what makes them who they are, the better off our workplace will be.

To begin, let’s look at what comprises Millennials. Various researchers describes this generation (born after 1980) as technologically savvy, confident, upbeat/optimistic and on track to being the most educated generation in U.S. history. With their affinity to social media, it’s easy to understand that they like social interaction and do well in team environments; they are creative, like challenges and solving problems. What’s also important to understand is that they have less patience, are less loyal, want to see immediate results and demand more feedback and recognition. Not to mention their innate need to debunk traditional management practices, including a need for rapid pay raises and promotions, flexible work hours, the option to work from home and a desirable work/life balance. For many of us from older generations, our response is, “Fat chance!”

It turns out that what Millennials are asking for is what the science of behavior tells us is the best way to manage performance—of any generation. According to research done by Jay Gilbert, Millennials want frequent and specific feedback, and they don’t mind negative feedback if it makes it clear how to improve. They want clear expectations and want to know where they stand relative to those expectations. This is exactly what the science of behavior tells us to do to produce optimum work environments: pinpoint what you want, provide frequent and specific feedback on performance and provide contingent positive reinforcement for progress and accomplishment (ideally linked to impact). Millennials are demanding good management whereas other generations did not. Now, isn’t this what we all want?

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Because of their impatience and desire for a work-life balance, today’s managers have to ensure that the hours that are worked are maximally productive. In doing so, managers need to be able to assess what employees are doing (behaviors) and what impact that work is having. This is possible, but it requires different measures of performance and more collaboration between workers and managers to identify and shape the most productive, impactful behaviors. This is not micromanaging, it is good coaching and mentoring that helps employees learn the most effective ways to do their work. Taking a scientific approach to figuring out high and low impact behaviors will allow all of us to focus on what really drives the business and still get home to our families for dinner.

It’s time to make way for Millennials and embrace what they have to offer the workplace. With their help, we will reshape the world of work in ways that will benefit us all. For those who adopt management strategies better suited to what Millennial’s have come to expect and respond positively to, the more these companies/managers will attract and retain the best of this generation, as well as bring out the best in other generations.

This guest post is courtesy of: Judy Agnew, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Aubrey Daniels International. For a related article on the topic of the science, you may want to read “The Science of Success: Creating Great Places to Work.”


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