Managing Millennials at Work: A Guide for Employers

Managing millennials might seem like a utopian long-shot for many Gen X managers. And understandably so. This is a generation born into extremely different life circumstances, even compared to their not-dissimilar neighbour, Gen Z.

Millennials were growing up as the digital world was evolving. They lived in the transition to smartphones and a digitised world. They have different priorities and motivations when it comes to work, especially compared to their most likely management group, Gen X.

The important fact here is this: millennials currently make up an estimated 35% of Australia’s workforce. By 2030, they’re expected to make up 70%. Yikes. And in what is an increasingly talent and skills-short market, sourcing, hiring, and engaging millennials is proving to be no mean feat for hiring managers and HR business leaders.

Today, we’ve taken a lens on what drives this ubiquitous generation at work. And we’ve provided six tips for engaging them in your workforce, so your business can operate cohesively with them, and get the most out of your investment in them. Managing millennials isn’t as challenging as you might think.

But first, let’s look at the typical characteristics of millennials.

Managing Millennials: Characteristics

Millennials were born between 1980 and 1995. When they entered the workforce, most wealthy nations were in the grips of a recession. So, they looked at their parent’s generation, they saw their parents’ loyalty to their employers, and they saw them losing their jobs carte blanche.

This gave them a different mindset.

They realised that the ‘grind’ of work, wasn’t worth it. And if they were going to be spending 40 hours a week at work, they wanted more than just a salary. They wanted meaning in their work and meaning from the ethos of their employer.

Also, their parent’s experience in the workforce taught them that job hopping was okay. Loyalty to your employer? It was conditional.

Millennials are not easily engaged in their jobs; if the circumstances aren’t right. They’re looking for flexible work arrangements. Work-life balance. Purpose. They want to make a positive difference in the world. They’re not interested in working big hours. But they’re not lazy.

Millennials want to connect to the people around them and grow in their professional lives. They want to feel like they’re part of something important.

Managing Millennials: Six Tips to Engage Millennials (and get the most out of them!)

managing millennials

Tip #1: Focus on Long-Term Growth

Millennials want to feel their job provides an opportunity for growth and development. They’re not big on inertia.

Millennials want to feel that their manager has their best interests at heart and that they’re being heard at work. Feeling they have long-term career and personal growth prospects at work, millennials will be more engaged and more likely to stick around. In this context, managing millennials takes a more simplistic pathway.

millennials at work

Tip #2: Facilitate Their Success, Don’t Hog the Limelight

Millennials value managers with empathy. They don’t want their problems at work solved for them. They want to be given the tools and support, to get there themselves.

This generation doesn’t want (or respect) managers that enter a problematic situation, take over, and then take all praise and adulation. No. They want supportive managers. They want to be guided and nurtured to overcome problems, so they can learn and reach their full potential.

Managing millennials with a chest-beating, grandiose style simply won’t work.

managing millennials

Tip #3: Independence is Big

There’s a reason millennials like to work for start-ups. They can often craft their own role; they can forge some independence and they can have real agency over their workday.

This generation thrives on independence and individuality. They want to be supported when challenges arise (as per Tip #2), but they also will reject micro-management in an instant.  One of the best ways to engage millennials is to support them by enhancing their opportunity for creativity and problem-solving.

communicate with millennials

Tip #4: Communication is Key

Millennials like feedback. They grew up at a time when instant gratification and feedback were increasingly a part of everyday life (the internet was starting to boom). So, communication is key for this generation.

There’s a fine balance to strike here. They want clear directions, but they don’t want handholding. They respond well to regular feedback and assistance, and they want to feel that their work is contributing to their long-term personal and career goals.

Regular one-on-one meetings with millennials are a great tactic to keep them engaged. Without micromanaging, provide feedback that’s crafted in a positive light, that shows how their contribution impacts the business while keeping their long-term aspirations in mind.

embrace technology

Tip #5: Embrace Technology

Technology is now a cornerstone of life, for every knowledge worker. No matter your seniority or rank, having the ability and knowledge to use technology is mandatory.

And millennials get this. They see technology as a given, for almost every part of their lives. From brainstorming to note-taking, interacting with colleagues to organising meetings. Technology is everywhere. So, managing millennials with a technology lens will serve you well.

As their manager, you need to show your willingness to embrace technology. You’ll get more respect from millennials if you demonstrate your knowledge and technical prowess at work, rather than talking about it. Show them you’re not stuck in the old way of doing things, or worse, woefully old-fashioned.

focus on the why

Tip #6: Focus on the ‘Why’ of Working

Back to our point earlier of millennials wanting purpose, this generation is keen to understand the ‘why’ of what they do, and how it fits with the company’s goals and purpose. They also want to see that their company has similar values to them and stands for more than profitability.

Whenever possible, give your millennial workers an understanding of how their work fits within the bigger company picture; how it’s important to the operation; and how valued the work is. We’re not talking hot air here; we’re talking genuine feedback and insight into why their work is respected, appreciated and important.

And Finally…

The workforce continues to change at a rapid pace. From the use and evolution of technology to the nuances and attitudes of the multiple generations that make up our workplaces. Today’s workforce is an amazing place given how different the generations are!

Managers in today’s workforces must learn about and adapt to new generations, as their numbers grow in the corporate ranks. This is especially so in today’s challenging skills-short market.

To have an engaged millennial workforce, your business may need to rethink its people strategies and employer value proposition. You may need to look at your culture and the spirit of your organisation, so it’s accommodating to the mindset of the upcoming generations. You may need to initiate new talent development opportunities and build engagement strategies that are purpose-built for younger generations.

Being digitally enabled, flexible, communicative, and values-based will be a great start. Managing millennials using these tips will give your business a definite competitive advantage.


Finally, please do contact us if you have any feedback or comments.

As one of the world’s leading providers of contingent worker management solutionsCXC is well-positioned to optimise all elements of your contingent workforce strategy.

With operations in more than 50 countries across five continents and decades of experience, we can assist with every aspect of your program.

If you are interested in discussing the millennials in your workplace, we’d love to hear from you. Simply contact us here.