Millennials at the helm: Effectively managing a multigenerational workforce
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The workplace has changed dramatically in the past decade. The social turbulence from the past two years continues to puzzle business and academic leaders alike as to what exactly is the “new normal.” Over the past year trends like the great resignation and quiet quitting to the downsizing in the tech industry have cycled through our water-cooler vernacular — so what can leaders do to keep employees focused and motivated?
Taking a step back and outside of the current business cycle pendulum swing, another important transition is clear: millennials aren’t just up next in the progression of leadership succession, we’re actively becoming “the boss” in all sectors. In fact, the average age of a first-time people manager is 30 years old, and the Department of Labor estimates that between five and 11-million of us 20 and 30-somethings are now in management.
The great irony here is that millennials have somewhat of a mixed reputation in terms of work ethic and other stereotypes, like being bad at managing money and reluctance to place phone calls. While many of these silly characterizations are false, there are some truth-bombs in the way we are characterized as a generation that bleed into how we operate and now, how we manage people as we ascend into positions of leadership at work.
From about 1950 to 2000, the U.S. economy steadily grew, and it was common for young adults to settle into careers early in life and stick with their employers. Households often had one wage earner, employers provided pensions, and unions were common in blue-collar jobs. In the past 20 years however, this has changed dramatically as the middle class spread of wealth has distributed towards the poles, and health care/education costs have skyrocketed.
As a result, birth rates have decreased, and the average age of first-time parents has risen. At the same time, membership in religious groups and fraternal organizations has continued a downward trend, so the entire social fabric of millennials looks very different nowadays.
My theory: millennials are generally postponing having families as a result of this and instead are looking to the workplace and their managers to many of these social needs. That is to say – younger generations expect more out of their workplace experience. To us, it’s not just a job. Our careers are intertwined with our identity, and some of our most important human relationships are formed in the workplace – and we seek to give away our precious time for employers that represent our values, and for work that we feel is paving the way for a better future for all.
The best business leaders understand this, for better or for worse, and can adjust accordingly. And if you are a people-manager leading millennials yourself, the good news is there’s a lot you can do to connect with, empathize with, and motivate your millennial employees:
For people-leaders, one of the most important proof points of your leadership is your ability to unlock meaningful career growth for your team. This is where you can really shine, in not only coaching your team to achieve outstanding personal and team results, but also challenging them to grow as people and gain new perspectives in business and in life.
Too often, first-time managers think that feedback is a simple regurgitation of what’s been shared by others to them – a laundry list of “stop, start, continue” bullet points that assess an individual’s performance against what’s expected. That is all well and good, and necessary to fairly manage performance across groups.
However, it stops short at being what employees crave, and that is to help them build their career strategically and methodically, using the perspective only you can bring given your experience, knowledge of their work, and (hopefully) earned trust in delivering constructive feedback.
One example – let’s say your team member has a stated goal of getting a promotion to a VP of Marketing role. On first glance, of course, this seems like a reasonable career aspiration. Who would not want to be a VP? But to help this individual really grow, you will need to peel back the layers of the onion a bit.
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What is it about such a title that your team member really cares about? Is it the influence, the sense of mastery of the marketing profession, the compensation package? Who has that role today at your firm, and what aspects of what they do appeal to your team members, and why? Does the size of the firm matter – anyone could start a company and declare themselves “VP of marketing” – so what exactly does such a career title actually mean to them?
These are just some suggestions – your leadership with your team members who are exploring their aspirations with you as their guide will be unique. Yes, these sorts of career pathing conversations are an investment of time and emotional energy. However, this investment is what is going to make a big difference with your ability to hire, retain, and develop millennial talent, because as described in the first section – this generation needs a lot more out of the workplace and in you as a leader.
Emily Tsitrian leads a professional services team in fintech. With over seven years in tech management, she’s led groups at various companies, from mature public businesses to start-ups, including one where she started a department to help grow the company into a global presence. After her first promotion to manager, Emily figured it out on her own. Now, she hires and coaches team members into their own management careers. She is host of themanager.flowpodcast.
Learn more at www.emilytsitrian.com.