Unlocking the Code to Millennials@Work

Is it possible that three magic numbers can unlock the secret of working with your Millennial employees? Consider these sequences: 77-61-92 or 10-7-10.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just turn the dial of a combination lock and all the tips, secrets and advice for managing Millennials would suddenly appear?

But seriously, these numbers are important. They represent the numbers of three key generations: the Baby Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials (also known as Gen Y).  And for the first time, according to government statistics, the number of Millennials in the US and Canada outnumber the two previous generations.

US Population by Generations

Canadian Population by Generation




And because Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000, they are now ensconced in the workplace as well. In fact they are the largest workplace cohort at 37%.

When the Boomers were the largest cohort they could dictate the culture of our organizations, but this leverage is disappearing as more and more Boomers retire and leave the workplace. To fill the gap, Millennials are moving up into management positions. This gives them the leverage to start influencing the culture.

So what can we expect from this wave of Millennials?

Entitlement vs Coaching

During their informative years, members of this generation were influenced by the presence of a strong supporting cast. Helicopter parents were the norm and this style of parenting also played out in the school system and in extra-curricular activities. They are used to being surrounded by people who have their best interests at heart and who have coached them to be successful. Imagine their shock when they get into a workplace where the style of management is that if you don’t hear from me consider that a good thing.

Millennials are demanding a workplace that sets them up for success. You may see this come across as a behavior of entitlement. In fact, they are just looking to contribute to the success of the organization and want to know what they need to do in order to deliver. According to a Robert Half survey, 60% of Millennials would like daily feedback from their managers!

Uber Tech Savvy

Businessman select closed padlock between two openWhile some might joke that this Millennial generation was born with smart phones attached at the umbilical cord, it’s not far from the truth. They are known as the digital generation and have all sorts of resources at their fingertips. They no longer need their managers for information. They are also the most connected generation through their social media activities.

I remember a new hire Millennial who within a week of joining our company requested a second screen for his workstation.  We had barely transitioned from desktop computers to laptop docking stations at the time! This ongoing desire to keep up with the latest technology is a constant part of their daily life. They are always looking forward to the newest iPhone or embracing the latest app. They see change as normal and stimulating.

Social and Collaborative

Millennials have grown up in an environment of collaboration and teamwork. The school system right up to and including MBA programs have emphasized that this is a requirement for success. In the early years in the workplace, Millennials make up for a lack of expertise by reaching out and working on solutions via teams and alliances. They come into the workplace as natural team players.

A Better Culture

So who wouldn’t want a workplace full of employees who care about making a difference and contributing to their organization’s success?  Imagine an employee base filled with natural team players who communicate and collaborate in an open and unbiased basis. And what about having employees who are dedicated to using technology to work smarter not harder? By doing this they enhance the productivity and work-life balance of everyone.

This is the type of workplace Millennials can bring into our organizations. We need to shift our management and behaviors to be more supportive, to act as a coach and mentor and show that we care about our employees’ success. We need to work on open communication, to be adaptive, flexible and open to new ideas and new ways of doing work.

Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. According to Chip Espinoza, author of Managing the Millennials: “The idea that leaders and managers are going to change members of the current generation into what they want them to be is a strategy destined for failure. Only by flexing with the concerns of Millennials will today’s managerial leaders have opportunity to develop the trust and rapport required to lead them”.

By 2020, just 4 years from now, Millennials are posed to be 50% of the workforce. How ready are you to adapt to and embrace the best things Millennials are bringing to your workplace culture?

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