Expert Commentary

Managing Millennials

Managing millennials can be challenging for human resources (HR) departments. Many myths and broad generalizations about this generation have emerged. However, there are risks involved with relying too heavily on generalizations for managing any particular demographic.


Employee Hiring, Development, and Retention
October 2017

First, who are these younger workers? The term millennials is used to categorize individuals born within the years of 1981 to 2001. Various researchers and pollsters disagree on the exact years when the generation starts and stops, but the consensus is people born during the early 1980s.

Because this generation of workers has been labeled lazy, entitled, and job-hoppers by older generations, managers have a tendency to lump workers in this age range into a broad category instead of evaluating each employee as an individual person.

When put into practice, these characterizations are dangerous for the HR department and overall company. It reduces return on investment and increases turnover risk by acting upon the belief that everyone from one generation fits into a one-size-fits-all management approach. The reality is that people are people no matter what age and people are unique.

The key is understanding how each individual from the so-called millennial generation thinks, behaves, and ultimately works—going beyond "what you see" to what can be measured. A successful manager will understand both how the person works (employee responsibility) and how they should be managed (employer responsibility).

But, how do you peel back the layers of what you perceive to be "millennial behavior" to understand the individual person? There are advanced tools to help managers objectively measure the core motivators of each worker.

Don't Be a Millennial Specialist—Be a People Specialist

ZERORISK HR studied one company that saw an increase in turnover despite believing they were catering to millennials. The company brought in basketball hoops, table tennis, and other amenities to create a "cool work environment." But more workers left the company. Why? The company played into myths about how to cater to millennial workers.

The study found that the millennials actually thought the company was wasting money on these amenities; the money spent on installing a basketball court could have been given back to them in the form of performance bonuses when they added value to the company.

Ironically, the managers, who were largely from the baby boomer generation, fell victim to the very myth they sneered at while trying to figure out how to cater to millennials. Millennials have a reputation for seeking a quick fix and instant gratification. Yet, the older generation tried to achieve a quick fix by frivolously spending money on amenities instead of truly understanding their employees.

What the study found is that younger workers preferred one-on-one coaching and emotional intelligence training. They wanted to be built up in their career, not treated like kids needing a recess break. When the company refocused on building relationships by being people specialists, not millennial specialists, they saw a reduction in turnover.

The Absence of Motivation is De-Motivation

Managers have a tendency to assume that millennials are motivated by trivial elements. Sure, some workers who happen to fall in the millennial age range might seem like they are motivated by doing less to achieve more. But, workers from all generations have the following same underlying desires.

  • Fair pay
  • Work/life balance
  • Opportunities for training and growth

Millennials seem to get a bad rap from managers because there is an assumption that younger workers want to get more than they are willing to put in. For example, some think they desire more money for less work. But all generations of workers want more money for less work. The issue is that, because millennials are one more generation removed from "the Greatest Generation," there is an assumption that each subsequent generation has become lazier and less motivated to work.

This cycle is part of a dangerous mindset attempting to manage a category of people based on myths. Instead, successful managers understand how to work with individual people. In practice, the absence of motivation is demotivation. In other words, if you do not understand a person's core motivations and try to apply a one-size-fits-all management approach, you cannot effectively manage individuals and motivate them to produce for your company.

Managing millennials requires going beyond the myths associated with the younger generation of workers. There is deeper science that allows managers to find core motivators for each employee and develop a custom management approach to reduce turnover and increase return on investment.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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