Home / News / Business Of Life /  Managing millennials? Be a partner not a leader


Srijan Sharma, 23, a brand strategist at Mettl, a talent assessment company recently acquired by Mercer, believes bosses are the reason why millennials get boxed into stereotypes like job-hoppers or self-entitled employees. If only bosses were to display “common sense", things would be on a different level. “We don’t want to be treated like a commodity. Companies are going to ask us for our best; they should be willing to give us something, too. I would say the three things that most of us look for in a boss is constant feedback, involvement within and outside the workplace, and a commitment to mentor us so that our career can grow."

Gen Y wants managers and leaders who are available on an ongoing basis, and those who provide instant feedback rather than bosses who are viewed as “a part of the administrative structure and not necessarily a career influencers", explains Rahul Sinha, president, human resources, Pidilite Industries, an industrial products company.

The boss is clearly the catch millennials can’t overlook when it comes to the workplace. A 2015 report from the US Chamber of Commerce revealed that the number one reason millennials leave a job is directly related to a boss

Srishti Agarwal, 25, is a hub honcho at 91springboard, a co-working space in Delhi, says her boss—the connection between her and the organization—plays a critical role in her work life. “I believe that people leave bad managers, not companies. You may love your work, but unless you like the way you are managed and are engaged, you will end up feeling demotivated," she says.

The new checklist

Clearly, for millennials, authoritarian leadership is out, inclusive leadership is in. The emerging trend in leadership is a manager who directs, not commands. According to Agarwal, the ideal boss should be “approachable, transparent, and ethical". “She should be able to offer a clear growth path, not leave you out of any opportunity, be transparent, and provide motivation and recognition," Srishti adds.

Sharma agrees. “We expect feedback from bosses, but not just at review time. We want bosses who get out of their offices and ask us about our projects, offer us hands-on guidance."

If you are a boss to a mostly millennial staff, then it’s time to listen to what your staff wants from you—and it’s not quite a lot; just extra feedback at regular intervals and of course, less dictatorship and more mentorship.

Qualtrics, a company that provides software to survey employees, markets, and customers, and Accel, an American venture capital firm, came together in 2016 for a study on millennials. The survey of almost 1,500 millennials showed that the boss could well be a make-or-break factor for Gen Y. As many as 67% of the millennials surveyed said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work at a company that offers good mentorship opportunities by a senior leader or manager.

Listing the most important qualities of a manager, millennials interviewed for the survey cited qualities like trustworthy (81%), respects work- life balance (80%), clearly communicates expectations (74%), and available and responsive (64%). All this may sound like the millennials are a needy lot, but in actual practice this is the way millennial employees learn to distinguish what is needed from them at work and how they can find balance between professional and personal life.

Change the lens

Gurprriet Siingh, senior client partner—leadership and talent practice, Korn Ferry Advisory, a global organizational consulting firm, says the fact that the psychological contract between millennials and their bosses is different from earlier generations. “The greatest difference between the millennial generation and Gen X is that instead of a hierarchical approach, millennials tend to want more egalitarian relationships; they see themselves as partnering with their managers in order to achieve business results."

He feels millennials largely look for the following in their bosses: a participative style, authenticity, vulnerability, flexibility and support, context, transparency, social conscience, and integrity.

“Millennials like to know the big picture; they are purpose driven and motivated to make a difference towards the larger goal. Managers should communicate often and explain how their role contributes to the big picture. Contextualisation engages and energises them," Siingh adds.

This is not to say that all millennials abhor hierarchy and asking for constant feedback or bigger picture is their way of disrupting established patterns at work. “They prefer to align with decision makers, not necessarily hierarchies. This doesn’t mean that millennials don’t respect hierarchy; they merely prefer strong decision makers," explains Sinha adding that managers must realize that most millennials are driven by a solutions approach not by a follow-my-diktat directive.

Give and take

Many HR experts have now come to realize that millennials are a generation that believes ideas don’t flow in the arena of a boss’ glass cubicle. They look for a “matrix kind of leadership, which involves an open-door policy with the senior management, celebrating success, having multifunctional task forces and regular job rotation and mentorship programmes for the team", says John Chenetra, president, SecUR Credentials, an employee background check and verification company.

Speaking of how managers and companies can keep millennials engaged and in the job, Chenetra suggests that “bosses have to ensure they provide these young guns with career paths with specific milestones and rewards. Almost any situation can be turned into a learning opportunity. Give them the chance to lead—start small, and if they prove they can handle the responsibility, give them more. Millennials need more direction than previous generations, but given the right support they can become the most valuable employees for any company."

Srijan seems to be speaking for his entire generation when he says benefits and salary are “mere expectations" for millennials. “We aren’t interested in simply filling up a role or a position. We want meaning, strong company culture, and extraordinary experiences at work. And clearly, we prefer a team leader, a coach, a counsellor and a friend rolled into a boss."

Are you ready to become one?

The four-point plan

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Shine the spotlight

This is a generation that wants to be recognized, and they aren’t willing to wait for that recognition. The annual performance review and bonus may have served other generations well, but millennials need feedback —perhaps every week—and incentives spread out through the year.

Offer a flexible work life

Millennials believe in maintaining an impeccable work-life balance. Flexibility at work—be it telecommuting, flexi work hours, or work-from-home days—will let them go hiking over the weekend or take time off to volunteer. This matters more than free snacks, breakout areas or game rooms.

Open the doors

Millennials don’t respond very well to hierarchy and top-down-heavy structures. They want a hotline to the boss. An open-door policy works well.

Photo: iStock
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Photo: iStock

Help them grow

It’s well known that over 70% millennials are looking for a new job in their first year at work. Learning opportunities, be it courses, seminars or access to mentors, can keep them engaged. Millennials want to know that their work matters, so set measurable goals and hold them accountable.

—Rimjhim Ray, co-founder of Spotle, an AI-powered talent network matching talents directly with relevant employers

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