“Generation Why” … Tips for managing Millennials

Much has been written about what it takes to attract and retain Millennial customers, but what does it mean for dealers and manufacturers who manage employees ranging in age from 14 to 34? There’s no denying that they’re extremely important to everyday operations but effectively managing them calls for some extra finesse.

The reality is you can’t treat everyone the same if you expect to effectively manage a diverse team. Here are some tips to help business owners understand Millennials’ expectations and key drivers.

Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are currently the largest generation, representing more than 28 percent of the U.S. population, compared to Baby Boomers, who represent less than 24 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2014. By 2020, Millennials will account for one-third of the country’s total population.

As a group, Millennials are generally optimistic. They’re busy, with a lot of interests and a lot of friends (most of whom are interconnected on social media). In addition, they’re team-oriented, relying on conversations and peer reviews to make decisions.

They’re also much more diverse than previous generations. In 1963, Census Bureau data showed that 16 percent of people aged 18 to 32 were non-white. In 2013, 44 percent of people in that age range were non-white.

The Corporate Executive Board’s 2014 Global Labor Market Survey showed Millennials have higher self-esteem than previous generations – the product of an upbringing that taught them everyone can do what they set out to do. Moreover, they think they’re above-average in leadership ability, drive and intelligence, which goes hand-in-hand with higher expectations about their educations and careers. In fact, Millennials expect to be paid more and promoted faster.

These traits help explain the other nickname given to Millennials: the “Why Generation.” When assigned a task, they want to understand why it’s important and what impact it will have on them personally or professionally. To gain the respect of Millennials, be prepared to communicate and sell them on what to expect and then keep communicating on performance and their importance to the team’s success.

In her book “Generation Me,” author Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., shows that work is less important in the eyes of Millennials than earlier generations. In 1976, 74 percent of high school seniors expected work to be a “central part” of their lives. In 2012, only 66 percent of seniors felt that way. About one-third of Millennials think that work is just for making a living; it enables them to do the fun things and have the experiences they want in life.

A survey by MTV Insights, the research team of cable network MTV, shows Millennials’ top five priorities:

1. Being happy
2. Having a family
3. Having a job they love
4. Owning a home
5. Being debt-free

“Making a lot of money” came in sixth.

Moreover, a majority – 81 percent – think they should be allowed to set their own work schedules.

How can business owners manage or handle these behaviors?

• Clearly communicate expectations — the earlier the better.
Be real. Provide accurate and ongoing feedback on their performance and their potential.
• Demonstrate realistic career paths so they understand what’s possible.
Provide transparent information on pay practices. Share data to prove your points.
• Explain why an individual role is important. If possible, tie the job or skill to an employee’s long-term career goals.
• Offer flexible hours, if possible.
• Focus on results rather than face time.
Treat Millennials like adults despite generational differences.
• Ask their opinions and respect their contributions. They can bring new ideas to the business so be open to learning from them as well.
Remember what it’s like to be young.

As Millennials join Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in the business world, it’s important to learn to work together. By understanding what makes Millennials unique, it may be possible to capitalize on their enthusiasm, worldly outlook and technical skills to maximize their impact on your business.

Bruce Van Wagoner is the president of the marine group at GE Capital, Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF), where he leads a team dedicated to supporting the recreational marine industry. Bruce has more than 35 years of financial services experience. 

The opinions presented in this article represent those of the author.  


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