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How to manage millennials: Let them do whatever they want

Tom Kaneshige | May 14, 2014
In about 10 years, 75 percent of the workforce will be made of millennials. Fortunately, managing them is easy. Just give them space, freedom to make decisions and a creative workplace. Oh, and be sure to ask them how their day was.

Got millennials in your workforce? Well, you might want to give them lots of space and freedom to work wherever and whenever they want, ask them often about their personal lives, pat them on the back regularly, listen attentively to their creative ideas, and let them make important decisions early in their careers — basically, everything you wouldn't do for GenXers and Baby Boomers.

As millennials flood the workforce, companies must figure out the best way to manage them. After all, their ranks will blossom to 75 percent of the workforce in 2025, from 34 percent today, according to Deloitte Consulting. It's a cultural quandary, since today's young worker requires a kind of care that flies in the face of generations past.

Office Spaces Take on a Whole New Meaning

One of the most spectacular transformations happening in Silicon Valley are office spaces re-engineered to look like playgrounds, in order to appeal to millennials. These offices boast open "collaborative" spaces, game rooms, fancy dining halls and bright, youthful colors. Shared workspaces have replaced the grey, permanent cubicle of the GenXer, in part because the millennial loves mobile technology and doesn't come to the office every day.

Managers, of course, will need to accept the fact that millennials don't want to be chained to a cubicle or formal 9-to-5 work hours. In other words, micro managers who want to know what workers are doing every 15 minutes won't last long in today's work environment, says Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president of marketing at Dale Carnegie Training.

Freedom also includes allowing employees to use social media. In the early days of the social media revolution, companies banned employees from going to websites such as Facebook during work hours. They feared there would be a sudden drop in worker productivity. But social media is an integral part of a millennial's life, Palazzolo says. By banning social media in the workplace, companies risk losing millennials to competitors.

It's OK to Get Personal

Another management lesson: Regularly ask employees about their personal lives.

Historically, personal issues were off limits. Managers had it drilled into them that they were not to inquire about an employee's personal life. Such questions could upset employees and even land managers in legal hot water. The line between business and personal had to be maintained at all times.

But millennials blur this line constantly; for them, there is no line. Millennials expect managers to treat them not as working stiffs, not just another faceless worker, rather people with well-rounded lives. By asking personal questions, such as what they might be up to this weekend or what movies they've watched, Palazzolo says, "managers let millennials know they care about them."


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