A Study of 600,000 People Shows the Secret to Managing Millennials Is to Quit Thinking of Them as Millennials

Because 98 percent of how we think, feel, and act has nothing to do with our age group.

Photo Credit: Chet_W/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Chet_W/Getty Images

I just did a Google search for “manage Millennials.” I got 28 million results. That’s total overkill, especially since a recent study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology 

shows there are much greater attitude and behavior differences within generations than between generations.

The researchers studied over 600,000 people across an eight-year span. (How’s that for establishing a statistically significant sample size?)

“The magnitude of generational differences is small to near-zero.”

In fact, only 2 percent of an individual’s attitude can be attributed to their generation.

Ninety-eight percent of how we think, feel, and behave has absolutely nothing to do with our age group. That means two Millennials are likely to have greater differences between them than, for example, a Millennial and a Baby Boomer.

Which makes it odd that a seminar I recently attended claimed it would teach me everything I needed to know about supervising, managing, and leading Millennial employees.

  • Positive reinforcement and encouragement will get the best out of Millennials (and if I do have to give constructive feedback, I should first find a way to spin it in positive terms) because where Millennials are concerned, positive feedback is everything.
  • Flex hours, flex workdays, flex workloads–flex everything–is the best way to engage and retain Millennials, because to Millennials, flexibility is all-important.
  • Millennials want but are much less likely to ask for training opportunities than other age groups (they supposedly expect opportunities to be given, not requested). In order to grow their skills, managers need to create and implement formal development plans.

Those are just some highlights. I really didn’t learn anything useful.

Granted, Millennials are different. But so are Boomers. And Gen-Z. But is it possible that every Millennial has the same preferences and characteristics?

Of course not. Millennials are different, I’m different, but more to the point, people are different. Every person brings a different set of goals, experiences, skills, talents, and perspectives.

That means every individual has a different–better yet, an ideal–way they should be treated, managed, and led.

No one, Millennial or not, responds to criticism the same way. No one, Millennial or not, seeks the same types of latitude, autonomy, and flexibility. No one seeks the same types of training, the same types of opportunities, or has the same willingness to step forward to ask for those opportunities.

So I didn’t really learn anything because all I was told is how to manage generalizations and stereotypes, and that guidance, while sparking some interesting discussions, isn’t helpful.

Leaders may be responsible for managing groups, but leaders ultimately lead individuals.

So what is the best way to lead a Millennial employee? Start by forgetting his or her age. Ignore stereotypes. Ignoring sweeping generalizations.

And then focus on the person.

For example, Millennials may appreciate positive reinforcement (who doesn’t?), but what matters is how each individual responds to recognition.

Some people enjoy public praise. Others cringe when made the center of attention. Some people might appreciate just a quiet word of thanks.

Your job is to find out what makes the greatest impact for each individual, and provide that.

Another example: Millennials value flexibility (who doesn’t?), but what matters is the kind of flexibility each individual values. One may appreciate flexible hours; another may appreciate occasionally working from home; another may love the option of carving out meeting-free blocks of time.

Your job is to find out what each individual values in terms of flexibility and latitude, and provide that.

One more example: Millennials want training and development (who doesn’t?), but what matters is the kinds of opportunities each individual seeks, and how they best learn.
Formal training is great for some. But others want the freedom to step in and help and learn on the job.

Your job is to find out what each individual hopes to achieve, and provide that.

Millennial employees aren’t one-size-fits-all. Accepting sweeping generalizations is dangerous because it allows us to think we’re doing the right things, when, in fact, we’re not.

Instead, forget the fact one employee is a Millennial. Forget the fact another is Gen-Z. Age differences are only a small slice of what makes each individual different. To lead, you must first take the time to truly know the person and then adapt how you lead to the interests, needs, and goals of that individual.

That’s how you lead every employee, because the age group doesn’t matter.

Where great leadership is concerned, what truly matters is knowing and adapting to the different needs, interests, and goals of each person on your team.

And that’s why I promise to never write another article about managing Millennials–or managing any group based on age, gender, or other overly broad categorization.

Originally published at www.inc.com

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Millennials staring at their phones

    Millennials Are Struggling in a World That’s Trying to Understand Them

    by Dr. Habib Sadeghi

    Managing Millennials While Supporting All Generations

    by Patrick Williams

    Philanthropy Amidst the Millennials

    by Igor Makarov

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.