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Managing Millennials in the Workplace

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
Senior Finance Writer

Learn how millennials have influenced the workplace and their current role in today's workforce. It's important to know the best ways to manage them.

  • Millennials make up more than one-third of the workforce and play an important role in the U.S. economy.
  • Managing millennials in the workplace requires business owners to be transparent, flexible and willing to embrace technology.
  • Millennials are fickle. They are willing to job hop if they aren't satisfied in their current role.
  • This article is for business owners who are hiring and managing millennial workers.

Millennials play a vital role in the workforce, accounting for more than one-third of American employees. They're an ambitious group who often value transparency and work-life balance over salary and title.

Recruiting the millennial generation requires finesse. But it doesn't end there. The hard work also comes in retaining them. Millennials aren't known for loyalty to employers, willing to leave for greener pastures and costing businesses untold amounts in lost productivity in the process. Gallup pegs the turnover cost to the economy at $30.5 billion annually. If your business doesn't want to add to that figure, it is important to understand the ways to keep millennial workers happy, whether they are in the office or working from home.

Who are the millennials?

Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials are the largest living group at 83.1 million strong. They are tech savvy, care about more than just a paycheck, and are accustomed to having a voice and seat at the table. They're an optimistic group who love social media and want their jobs and encounters to have meaning.

Key takeaway: Millennials are the largest living generation and a huge part of the workforce. They are tech natives who care about more than collecting a paycheck.

What characteristics define millennials?

Millennials possess unique characteristics that need to be embraced and harnessed in the workplace if you want to breed loyalty. If you can't meet their basic needs and provide the right work environment, they will quickly jump ship. From their comfort with technology to their need to collaborate, here are the six characteristics that define millennials in the workplace.

1. They are technology natives.

Millennials grew up with technology, whether that was a laptop, desktop computer or smartphone. They favor email, texting, and messaging apps over phone calls and face-to-face meetings, and they are ready and willing to try new technology and apps. They expect their employers to support technology, especially mobile apps.

2. They crave work-life balance.

Many millennials grew up watching their parents put all their time and effort into a job, only to lose it during the great recession. They also lived through the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Both of these events influenced their views of work and life.

As a result, millennial employees crave balance between their work and personal lives. Many of them choose flexible hours and the ability to spend time with family and friends over a high salary. This is something small business owners can use to their advantage when competing with deep-pocketed companies for talent

3. They expect collaboration.

The typical millennial worker isn't the go-it-alone type; they prefer to work with others in the company, often those in other departments. Collaboration is a key tenet of work for millennials – one that may have been more difficult during the pandemic if it weren't for their comfort with technology. Whether it's through video conferencing or collaboration apps, millennials need to feel engaged and part of the team even if they are at home.

4. They require a seat at the table.

Millennials grew up having a say in family decisions and expect that same right at the office, regardless of their level within an organization. They want to be heard and respect the companies that give them that ability. That may be difficult for a baby boomer, Generation X or Gen Z boss to accept, but you need to get used to it; millennials are an ambitious group. Give them the path and the rules, and millennials will work hard to achieve their and the business's goals.

5. They want to keep on learning.

Learning for millennials doesn't end once they graduate college. This group has a deep passion for learning and a desire to grow in their careers. They value opportunities to learn more and seek mentorship from those who came before them. Companies that provide opportunities for ongoing education and mentorship will likely do a better job of retaining millennial workers than those that don't.

6. Their loyalty is fickle.

Millennials are a loyal group when a company does right by them. However, they wouldn't think twice about leaving a company if another one offers them a better opportunity to learn, grow, or balance life and work.

Key takeaway: Millennials in the workplace tend to share certain characteristics that business owners need to embrace. They are tech savvy, want work-life balance, and expect to be heard. They are looking for employers that can provide ongoing education and a career path for them, but beware – company loyalty isn't their strong suit.

What is the evolution of millennials in the workplace?

Millennials have had an indelible impact on the American workplace. They have turned the norms on their head, bringing technology, flexibility and transparency to companies across the country.

Companies that want to recruit and retain millennials have to be willing to embrace it all, starting with technology. Whether it's collaboration tools, video conferencing, or mobile apps, technology is a top consideration for many millennials seeking employment. This is something small business owners will benefit from embracing.

Take the pandemic as an example. Companies were able to move to remote work quickly and with few hiccups, largely thanks to the tech-savvy nature of their millennial workers. The learning curve was short, with many employees easily picking up where they left off in the office.

Remote work now the norm

Remote work is another trend ushered in by millennials and made popular thanks to COVID-19. In the years leading up to the pandemic, many millennials had shown a desire to work remotely, but companies resisted until they had no choice.

"Millennials always appreciated work-life balance, and before the pandemic, a lot of bigger companies said, 'No, our way of managing people is being that big brother over their shoulder,'" said Andrew Meadows, senior vice president of HR, brand and culture at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings. "Millennials work differently. Accountability isn't about sitting at a desk. It's 'how many tickets closed, how many problems did I resolve or sales I brought in.'"

The more flexible you are, the more employee loyalty it will breed – even more so in a post-COVID-19 world. Employees have gotten used to working at home and will expect the continued ability to do so once the pandemic is contained.

Christina Janzer, senior director of research and analytics at Slack, said recent research by Slack found that only 12% of knowledge workers want to return to the office, with 72% preferring a hybrid model of working in the office sometimes and at home sometimes.

Transparency expected

Millennials have also left their mark on the way companies interact with their employees. Gone are the days of a strictly need-to-know basis for business communications. Millennials want to know what's going on within the organization and expect transparency from their employers.

"The relationship people have with companies has changed a lot over the years," Janzer told Business News Daily. "To have a successful relationship, you have to be very intentional about how you share what's happening and what's top of mind. There's a higher bar for that."

Key takeaway: Millennials have made a big impact on the workforce, changing the way employers communicate, use technology, and manage their staff. Flexible work schedules, the use of personal technology, and more open and transparent environments are largely thanks to millennials.

What are some tips for working with millennials?

Millennials may not be the most loyal group of workers, but they are an invaluable asset to businesses of all sizes. They bring a fresh perspective, passion and a drive to succeed. But you must tread carefully with this group. A dissatisfied millennial could quickly lead to an open position if you aren't careful.

Trust and transparency

Trust and transparency are the key ingredients of a successful working relationship. Without trust on both sides, resentment will quickly fester.

"It's not going to work if the employer doesn't trust them," Meadows told Business News Daily. "It creates resentment and employees who are more outspoken."

The same goes for a lack of transparency. Millennials are an ambitious group who will meet and exceed the goals if they know the endgame and the rules. They want to know what challenges they're facing instead of being kept in the dark.

Meadows said pairing a millennial with a more tenured employee from an older generation can be a boon for your business. "They are coming in with fresh ideas."

Inspiration and interest

Beyond an open and transparent environment, Meadows said it's important for business owners to keep their millennial employees interested. Millennials bore easily and won't wait years for a promotion. They want the next big thing yesterday and will go to great lengths to get it.

"There's a lot more fatigue over doing repetitive jobs," Meadows said. "They want to be inspired at work, not necessarily invested in work."

Engagement and connection

Millennials want to feel like part of the team. Collaboration is important to this group of workers. The pandemic has made that more difficult, which means business owners must make sure employee engagement is still high. Left unchecked, disengagement could hurt productivity.

"One of the things we observed through all our research is people are feeling isolated," Janzer said. "Their sense of belonging has taken a hit. It's not surprising. We're used to being in the office with colleagues, catching up at your desk or at the water cooler. That has been taken away. Companies have to figure out how to build a sense of community."

Key takeaway: Retaining millennials takes work on the part of business owners. The millennial generation works best when there is trust and transparency, when they are inspired and engaged, and when they feel like part of a team.

Image Credit: RossHelen / Getty Images
Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
Business News Daily Staff
See Donna Fuscaldo's Profile
Donna Fuscaldo is a senior finance writer at business.com and has more than two decades of experience writing about business borrowing, funding, and investing for publications including the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Bankrate, Investopedia, Motley Fool, and Foxbusiness.com. Most recently she was a senior contributor at Forbes covering the intersection of money and technology before joining business.com. Donna has carved out a name for herself in the finance and small business markets, writing hundreds of business articles offering advice, insightful analysis, and groundbreaking coverage. Her areas of focus at business.com include business loans, accounting, and retirement benefits.