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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.

Caring also means rewarding them for a job well done. Most GenXers and Baby Boomers didn't receive much praise during their early, formative years of their careers.

Management philosophy in those days was the opposite of coddling, rewarding and other forms of positive feedback; verbal beat downs were more the norm. But times are different for millennials.

Feed Them Feedback ... and Keep It Coming

"Consider a typical 28 year-old. From the moment she was born, her world has been rich in feedback. When she presses a button, something happens. When she plays a video game, she gets a score. When she sends a text message, she hears a sound that confirms it went out. She's lived her whole life on a landscape lush with feedback. Yet, when she steps through the office door, she finds herself in a veritable feedback desert," writes Daniel Pink, well-known author on workplace trends:

Recognition can come in many forms, from instant rewards such as coupons at local shops and restaurants to plaques to bonus checks. Yet companies typically allocate only 2 percent of payroll for recognition programs, and more than half of companies don't have an in-the-moment award program, according to a survey by Yiftee, an online and mobile gifting service.

Don't Wait to Give 'Em Power

But the most important thing managers can do is empower millennials. This means letting them take on projects, think differently about how to do them, and make decisions that will affect outcomes. In the old days, employees weren't allowed this freedom until after they paid their dues. Today's youth doesn't want to wait.

For tech companies, the payoff for managing millennials successfully can be huge. The tech industry thrives on innovation sprouting from the minds of the younger generation. Millennials are at their creative best when relaxed and left alone to experiment. Indeed, Silicon Valley's greatest triumphs came from young people in tee-shirts and flip-flops burning the midnight oil in garages, dorm rooms and "incubator" homes.

Critically, they also had the power to put their ideas into action.

"The relationship with your immediate manager is the most important thing, and that goes especially for millennials who need to have a more independent type of structure," Palazzolo says. "Give them very good direction and then let them run with their projects."


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