Can One Successfully Manage Millennials?

By Lindsey Novak

December 9, 2015 4 min read

Q: At 29, I'm an assistant manager at a giant retail chain. I'm responsible for interviewing and recommending who gets hired and fired. I graduated with a bachelor's in fashion marketing and management, but nothing in any of my classes prepared me for work.

The new graduates do nothing but disappoint me. None of our young employees have any work ethics. None can be relied on to show up each day or to follow through on what they tell me day-to-day. In fact, I now know when employees are not coming in the next day, because while they are at work, they talk about a party they plan on going to that night. That's their way of hinting that they will not be in the next day. When I mention I was short-staffed because they didn't show up, they look at me like I'm stupid for expecting them to come in the day after a party.

In interviews, I've had employees say they need or really want the job, but their actions on the job say otherwise. I know the salaries are just a bit over minimum wage, but good employees can quickly work their way up to management positions. They seem sincere in telling me how much they want to get into fashion, and then they walk out without notice. I then look bad, like I don't know how to interview and manage them.

I like my job. The work itself and talking to customers is fun, and I want to be promoted to manager so I can move to larger stores. I need to learn how to deal with them.

A: Each generation complains about the previous ones and the ones that follow, but there are tips for handling each. Millennials generally want their goals satisfied immediately. You seem happy to work your way up to manager, but many generations before you might have spent 10 to 20 years in the same position, whereas you may be willing to stay several years before a promotion.

Twenty years ago, job-hopping every year was a negative factor, and employees who bailed out of job after job were considered bad risks. Companies used to train employees and each person leaving contributed to the turnover costs. Many companies simply stopped training and required experienced employees to avoid some of those losses.

Enter the Millennials with different values, work ethics, and goals, so companies lost in their efforts to manage them have turned to workforce consultants and psychologists for answers. In "Bridging the Soft Skills Gap," business consultant and author Bruce Tulgan explains that the best approach with Millennials is to negotiate everything. One example is to say, "OK. I'll do that for you tomorrow if you do X for me today." If you have an unpleasant job that you need done, offer the reward for completing it immediately. Promising something for the future won't be acceptable. They want custom deals. Tulgen says managers have more discretionary resources at their disposal than they realize.

Millennials want control, so think of what you can offer that will make them happy and get them to do the work you want. Use flexible scheduling, paid time off, extra training, or short-term accommodations if you can. It doesn't take much to write a letter of appreciation or to add a commendation in the employee's file, but such acknowledgments will go a long way in getting the results you want. Aim for short-term accomplishments and you may change your mind about seeing these new workers as difficult.

The Millennials may have the right approach to work. They won't go home angry and stick it out on jobs and bosses they don't like, and they won't suffer the stress that generations before have experienced from feeling trapped.

Email your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @TheLindseyNovak. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at

Photo credit: Mike Licht

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