Managing Millennials isn’t as hard as you think

They might even teach you a thing or two

You’ve heard the rumors. Millennials are entitled or too focused on their social media sites to contribute in the workplace. They just want to get famous on the next reality TV show. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Millennials are proving themselves to be a force to be reckoned with. Their experience and knowledge when it comes to technology is invaluable to businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Many managers don’t want to cater to the desires of Millennials. Old-school managers might even think of Millennials as needy or immature. The fact of the matter is that businesses need to make adjustments for young people as they enter the workforce. A 2013 study shows that 87 percent of companies spend between $15,000 and $25,000 replacing each Millennial they lose.

Given how much money companies stand to lose (or gain), it makes sense for businesses to adjust their management styles so young employees can succeed. Millennials bring more to the table than some may even realize. Their youth can translate to a unique perspective an older worker might not think of or know to try. Millennials are often more tech-savvy than many of their older co-workers.

These five tips can help companies effectively manage Millennials, so their unique potential is successfully harnessed and appreciated.

Define expectations clearly

Many Millennials don’t do well with vague instructions. They were educated in environments that relied on standardized tests to evaluate results, so they may need managers to define expectations as clearly as possible. That said, a lot of Millennials have a strong do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic. Once they know what you expect, they’re good at finding creative ways to meet those expectations. Give them the room they need to find solutions on their own. They might surprise you.

Offer constant feedback and consistent praise

Some people criticize Millennials by calling them the “Participation Trophy Generation.” Although this is a somewhat unfair portrayal, a lot of younger people do believe that participation trophies are more important than trophies specifically for winners. This perspective varies a lot depending on the person’s background and income. (Those with higher incomes prefer rewarding the winners, according to this Washington Post article.)

The point here is that Millennials were raised from an early age to understand that their participation and hard work should be rewarded. But when they enter the workplace and learn that this sometimes is not the case, they might become discouraged, frustrated, or even leave their current job because they feel unsatisfied and underappreciated.

highfiveMost Millennials perform better when they are given constant feedback and regular praise. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell them when they make mistakes. It just means you should mix praise with constructive criticism. If you find they are struggling in a particular area, then point out to them how they could do better while also highlighting another area you noticed they have been excelling in.

This also means that you shouldn’t rely on annual performance reviews. If you wait a full year before offering feedback, you probably have a lot of Millennials who feel confused and frustrated by their jobs. That will almost certainly have a negative effect on performance. Whereas if you offer constructive, positive feedback in smaller, more frequent groupings, then the Millennials can clearly see how they are positively contributing to the team and understand the areas that need more work. This can help boost morale and involvement throughout the office or team.

Offer flexible schedules

Baby Boomers often see a connection between time and performance. To them, spending more time in the workplace means getting more things done. That is not the case with Millennials. In fact, flexible scheduling is one of the most important things that they look for when choosing jobs.

Millennials don’t see work as something that happens in a certain place. They often prefer working outside of the office, and they don’t understand why they should spend more time sitting at their desks when they get more done in the coffee shop down the street.

In fact, practically all employees prefer flexible schedules, regardless of how old they are. Millennials might expect more flexibility than non-Millennials, but you can make your whole workforce happier by letting them shift hours. As long as they hit performance marks, don’t worry too much about how much time employees spend in the office.

Use technology to communicate

textingMillennials grew up using technology that older generations might still think of as new. Things like the Internet, smartphones, apps, tablets and social media platforms were developed and enhanced during Millennials’ formative years, giving them the advantage of becoming familiar with these new technologies sooner and earlier than many of their older co-workers. Given the tech-infused environment of their adolescence, perhaps it’s not surprising that 24 percent consider “technology use” the most defining characteristic of their generation.

Managers who want to stay in close contact with young employees need to prioritize social media and texting. Millennials often feel more comfortable communicating via text than speech. Don’t call them when you need a quick reply; instead, send a text or send a message through Facebook.

Managers and fellow co-workers can also learn from their tech-savvy, Millennial colleagues. Millennials are familiar with more complex uses of technology. Many have coding skills that can be helpful to a company creating its own website. The vast majority of Millennials have social media accounts across several platforms, giving them an advantage as to what marketing technique would work best on which social media site. So don’t be afraid to use technology to communicate and encourage creativity from your Millennials. You might be surprised what you can learn from them.

Millennials are people, too

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that Millennials have certain traits. It’s true that they might seem similar from an outsider’s perspective, but they’re individuals just like members of every other generation. Some of them will excel or fall short in ways that seem out of character for their generation. As a manager, it’s up to you to recognize their individuality. Get to know the strengths and weaknesses of individual employees to help them succeed. That’s always the best way to save the company money and retain talent.

Have you experienced a big difference between managing Millennials and non-Millennials? What characteristics seem unique to the younger generation? Please share in the comments!

JT Ripton
JT Ripton is a business consultant and freelance writer who has penned articles for The Guardian, Business Insider and Entrepreneur.com. You can follow him on Twitter.