The Generational Divide: Working with Millennials

4 Minute Read

Recently, several managers have asked for suggestions on how to challenge, motivate, and retain talented Millennials. On the flip side, a few managers have also expressed the opposite problem: being frustrated about working with and managing the Millennial generation. We’re finding that the frustration is typically blamed on generational differences.

We typically hear comments such as, “When I was that age,” or “This Millennial generation doesn’t have the same work ethic that my generation had.” Negative references are made about Millennials who use their smartphones all the time, and their constant use of social media sites.  Or that they think they can show up for work whenever they feel like it and demand a flexible work schedule.

We often wonder if this is less about the Millennial generation and more about being younger, willing to take risks, and wanting to challenge the status quo. Baby Boomers may have said the same thing about Generation X as they entered the workforce.

“The Millennials that you manage may just make you a better manager for all generations…if you allow them to.


When Generation X first entered the job market, email and desktop computers were just beginning to be used on a large scale. So Gen Xers were proficient with the technology and actually embraced it. Now the technology has changed exponentially, and those same Gen Xers are being challenged and pushed by younger co-workers to embrace it in new and different ways, and sometimes even seek out Millennials to ask questions about how to upload this or download that.

As managers, we really only have two choices:

  1. Complain about the challenges of managing Millennials, or
  2. Embrace the way they challenge us and our organizations to think differently.

If we take the time to consider how Millennials can have a positive impact and the value that they bring to our workplace and culture, it may actually improve things a little for every generation.

Here are a few ideas on how to engage Millennials in the workplace:

Change your mindset.

Consider the possibility that you can learn from a Millennial, just as much as they can learn from you if given the opportunity. Keep an open mind. Ask for ideas and input…frequently!

Think out loud!

Share the knowledge and experience you have stored in your head with Millennials. Encourage other Baby Boomers and Gen Xers on your team to do the same. Don’t just tell the answer. Share the thought process that you went through to get there. Then, ask if they think there is any other way to attack or look at the problem.

Be transparent.

Give information freely. Explain the “why.” This helps everyone make better decisions and increases engagement in the organization.

Show flexibility.

You have always done something one way, but that doesn’t mean that it should always be done that way in the future. Ask yourself if you are managing the outcome or the process. Do you allow room for creativity? Not only in how the work gets done but where and when it gets done.

Talk about opportunities.

Share stories about how you got where you are. Connect them to others within your organization that have experiences and skills to share. Explain what career paths are available in the organization and what experiences they would need to get there. Don’t limit yourself to thinking that opportunity equals promotion. Organizations are leaner than ever. Fewer and fewer promotional opportunities exist. You may have to redefine opportunities. Consider opportunities to learn a new skill, gain additional experiences, or seek a new challenge.

Coach and Mentor.

You probably had someone help guide you and help you be successful along the way. Pay it forward. Equate part of your success with how successful your Millennial staff are. Define success by how much you see them grow.

Are these things really any different than what most employees want from their manager?  Is it possible that the way we need to motivate, challenge, and retain Millennials might make us a better manager to all employees? From any generation? Isn’t it a good thing to have someone challenge the status quo from time to time? Otherwise, our organizations could become stagnant.

The Millennials that you manage may just make you a better manager for all generations…if you allow them to.

Do you want to know more about how to retain millennials? Click here and here.

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