Managing Millennial Aspirations

One of the qualities that makes an amazing manager is the ability to understand the desires and motivating forces that drive their team. Without this valuable emotional intelligence, a manager can’t understand what motivates their reporting employees and, thus, can’t connect the work that employees are doing with the passions that drive those employees. While this won’t always end poorly (some people are just passionate about the work that they’re already doing), a manager who is unwilling or unable to engage with the underlying professional goals and needs of his team runs the risk of alienating his team from their work. I mean, how can you expect to motivate someone if you don’t know why they got into your industry or what they plan to be doing in 5 years time? By 2020, 46% of the workforce in the US will be comprised of Millennials, those people born between 1980 and 2000. There has never been a generation for which meaningful work was more important, making it crucial that you engage with your Millennial employees about the work that they’re doing and the work that they’d like to do in the future.

There have been a lot of opinion pieces flying around recently on the “Me Me Me Generation” that cast Millennials as entitled, lazy and generally ignorant of how good they have it. While there is certainly a percentage of the population that fits this bill, it’s important to clear your head of such silly impressions from magazines. People have been saying that the most recent generation will be responsible for the deterioration of society since there was a society to deteriorate, and the Millennials are no different. That being said, managing this generation isn’t like managing any other. Where older demographics were at least outwardly content to keep their heads down and do the work, it’s all about the “why” for Millennials. Why don’t I get to do meaningful work right away? Why are we all following these inefficient procedures? Why would I even work for a company that I’m not passionate about?

Getting Millennials to engage in their work (especially when it’s monotonous, entry-level stuff), is all about connecting that work to their greater professional goals. The best way to do this is by using that emotional intelligence I was talking about earlier. Talk to your millennial employees about their future and how the work that they’re doing right now relates to that future. Unlike older generations, Millennials are much less likely to have marriage or child rearing as a top priority, making career everything for this age group. As a manager, you should be talking to your Millennial employees about the advancement opportunities within your company.

Even if this discussion leads to learning that a Millennial employee plans to start their own cowboy boot brand in the next few years, you can still use this information to get them involved with the work that they’re doing currently. Talk to them about the value of experience and how the work that they’re doing today is preparing them for the work that they’re really excited about. By giving your Millennials context about where their work can take them, both in your company and beyond, you’ll tap into that intense creativity and enterprise that separates this generation from those that came before it.

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