Managing Millennials: Don’t ask us what we want because we actually don’t know

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Over this past weekend I spent some time reflecting on some of the millennial focus projects I have had the privilege to work on in my organization. During this reflectional period I thought about the impact I made with my suggestions and how much my opinion, as a millennial was depended on for strategic direction and influence on our certain workplace environments.

As much as I am proud of the effort and successful impact we made as a working group, although a little part of me can’t help but cringe when I think about how a dysfunctional, barely able to adult group was tasked with so much responsibility and freedom to experiment.

Two of the things we did really well (unintentionally); which I think contributed to our success were:

  • Having numerous, diverse initiatives (because in hindsight now that I think about it, no two 25 year olds are the same)
  • Seeking more guidance and partnerships with experienced senior sponsors (because although we belong to an incredibly special and unique generation, our behaviour and motivational drivers are not revolutionary, someone, somewhere has wanted the same thing before, whatever it is and to a varying degree)

Some of the questions I am asked now more than ever are ” How do you want me to manage you?”, “What makes millennials happy”, “What workplace dynamics will make you thrive” and each and every time, true to Simon Sinek’s video titled “The Millennial Question” I had a smart succinct answer that I was sure was correct, universal and would guarantee my loyalty. I believed I was giving away a formula that when used, would curb global millennial attrition in the workplace. Until it dawned on me one day. I had the environment I wanted, the resources and the leadership backing to implement the formula I had suggested but it was just not working. With my working group, I had sat down and created this magical Utopia that we thought incorporated elements that would make work life incredible but even so, there was something we had missed, a huge oversight.

The big thing we miss with the millennial generation, on both sides, as the manager and the millennial, is that we try to get a “1 size fits all” strategy that we try to paste to INDIVIDUALS. What my experience on these projects taught me was that strategies are great as long as they don’t involve implementing them directly on people. Although millennials are all born into the same generation, we aren’t all motivated by a bean bag and flexi-hour workplace some millennials thrive in traditional bureaucratic settings and others couldn’t care less for the mastery of unwritten office rules. At the end of the day, millennials, like the rest of the human race, are fickle and forever evolving. Today we might want complete autonomy and the next day we could be accusing you for being a distant leader who isn’t interested in growing their people.

Millennials are really great at having opinions which can sometimes be uninformed and rash when given the opportunity to have a voice.So next time (as a manager/ leader/ human capital business partner) you have an engagement with your millennial employee, instead of asking us what we want, try asking what we don’t want from an organization/ management perspective. As human beings, the things we dislike tend to stick because the decisions we make to rule them out usually stem from concrete and tangible past experiences unlike a future state, wish list  made from fantasies we have no experience in.

I hope this post helped to shed some light into the thought process of a millennial. But, then again, this opinion piece might just be coming from an “entitled, know-it-all millennial” perspective that could change in the next two blog posts haha! Who knows?

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