As Millennials have begun to define their careers, they’ve placed new demands and expectations on the workplace. As the first generation to grow up with technology at their fingertips, Millennials bring a different perspective and set of professional standards to their jobs. Today, they are the largest generation in the workforce—and a 2016 survey by Deloitte found that 66% of them worldwide hope to leave their current employer in the next three years. The key to retaining Millennials as employees lies in developing and nurturing their potential, as well as bridging the gaps to older generations so they can collaborate effectively. Managing Millennials actually means loosening the reins of management—after making sure they clearly see the road ahead and know how to run it. Although this may be a change in leadership style, we've outlined some tips to help you better understand how to unlock the potential of your Millennial staff.

Empower Millennials as Individuals

Because millennials grew up with strong identities, this group not only forms their own ideas, they want to act on them—or at least talk about them. For managers, this can be a tough scenario to work through, especially when there are targeted deadlines to be met and ordered systems of operation that help meet them. If a young employee comes forward with a new idea, don’t dismiss it outright. Instead, take a few minutes to talk through the suggestion, whether it’s a change in the workflow, a new marketing strategy, or a completely new product or service. If it sounds plausible, challenge them to take some initiative to make the suggestion real. At that point, they’ll either be excited enough to bring something back to you, or the idea won’t take wing.

Managing Millennials

Try Task Forces

Millennials are also notorious for their need for praise and positive feedback. One way a manager can use this to their advantage is by asking Millennials to work in groups to achieve goals. This way, they have other people to provide them with the feedback they need and also become more vested in the result themselves.2

When handing a Millennial employee a big task, or allowing them to run with an idea, don’t just leave them to sink or swim on their own. Partner them with someone else (or a few others) who will complement their strengths and weaknesses.

For seasoned managers, this strategy probably doesn’t sound like anything new. Group projects and a respect for the majority opinion are well-established standards of the workplace. And whereas some would claim Millennials over-rely on collaboration, one IBM study showed that Gen-X is actually the generation most likely to delay making a decision if a group consensus can’t be reached. Millennials and Boomers were both willing to act on projects or workplace issues without a group consensus about 50% of the time.3

At least in the workplace, Millennials are just as willing to make tough decisions as generations before. Still, when it comes to consumer habits, they’re very socially motivated. It’s been shown that the feedback of their peers can change the Millennial perspective on everything from what new restaurant to try next to when to begin retirement planning.

Unsee the Generation Gap

While there are many ideological differences between Baby Boomers and Millennials, when it comes to what they look for in a manager, they’re surprisingly alike. When surveyed, both groups ranked inspirational leadership (around 35%), performance-based recognition and promotions ( around 31%), and a clearly articulated business strategy or plan of action (around 33%) as the most important factors in workplace engagement.

Unsee the Generation Gap

Where they do differ widely is in their work-life balance expectations; around 25% of Baby Boomers said work-life balance made them more engaged, while around 33% of Millennials said the same. That’s a significant difference. Gen-X was the generation that prioritized this balance the most, at around 35%.4

If you want to manage Millennials effectively, especially on the same team as Boomers and Gen-X, try to engage them all with clear communication and performance-based recognition to bridge the gaps in their more fine-tuned preferences.

Boost Professional Development

Millennials are looking for employers that will boost their professional development and help them learn the tricks and trades of their industries. This has become an important part of Millennial retention. In fact, per Deloitte’s survey, 63% lamented that their employer was not fully developing their leadership skills.5 Supporting the leadership ambitions of this generation with training is one way to make them feel valued while giving them value at the same time.

Digital Natives, Socially Awkward

Millennials are the first generation of digital natives, those who grew up with the Internet and mobile technologies from early childhood. Many older generations think this digital expertise has come with a cost to Millennials’ mastery of face-to-face interactions. Whether it’s understanding social boundaries or workplace policies, Millennials ask “why should I?” far more often than those who came before them. Educating Millennial-aged employees on rules both written and unwritten might be a task that falls to a manager. This includes teaching them to leave their cell phones behind when entering important meetings, emphasizing the unprofessionalism of the emoji, and maybe mentioning to them if and when personal disclosures are too personal.  

To manage Millennials best, the consensus is to stop managing them and start leading them. Provide ample opportunity for Millennial workers to run with ideas and projects on their own—many of these workers learn best from jumping right into the thick of it, but they’ll need talking up from their supervisor and teammates if they fail. When tapped appropriately, the Millennial generation’s positive attitudes, resilience, and flexibility can be great assets to any manager that understands how to draw them out through education, empowerment, inspiration, and patience. If you’re still struggling to understand this generation, watch Simon Sinek’s video.