I like to allow time for Q&A after I keynote because the questions generally lead me to new research interests. I knew it was time to put a book proposal together when I kept getting asked, “What if you are a Millennial managing older workers?” The tipping point came while I was getting a haircut. During the perfunctory small talk, the stylist made a comment that intrigued me. She said, “My Mom’s baby boss is driving her crazy but my Dad loves his baby boss.” I had to ask what a baby boss was, according to her baby Boomer parents, a baby boss is someone who manages someone significantly older than them.
So, with a survey population of two, Millennials were batting 50/50 as managers. In an effort to get a broader perspective, my co-author Joel Schwarzbart and I decided to survey workers 35 years and older to see how they perceived their Millennial managers. List 1 reveals what they liked about being managed by someone under 35, List 2 unveils what they consider to be the negative characteristics of a baby boss, and List 3 shares advice they have for young managers.
List 1: Positives of Being Managed By Someone Under 35
- They are relatable
- They have a fresh perspective
- They are open-minded
- They have energy and enthusiasm
- They understand new technologies
- They are helpful
- They are understanding
List 2: Negatives of Being Managed By Someone Under 35
- They lack experience
- They can be immature
- They have no long-term vision
- They are too focused on their next career step
- They struggle with people skills
List 3: Advice Employees Over 35 Year of Age Have for Millennial Managers
- Be respectful
- Be patient
- Be a learner
- Treat employees as equals
- Lead by example
- Don’t take on too much
- Be confident
The role of a manager is characterized by both task and relationship. Unfortunately, there are some managers that believe it is not possible to emphasize both results and people. Millennials are always looking for a third way of doing things. They do not accept the notion that being results oriented means that you cannot care about your employees. Reflecting upon List 1, the terms relatable, understanding, open-minded, and helpful connote strength in the human-side of management.
Millennial managers prefer to manage through relationship rather than the power of their position. Smart move. Millennials are comfortable with the informal dimensions of the organization where org charts stop and cultural values surface – people values like training and development, corporate responsibility, giving back to the community, and having fun.
List 3 is also populated by several “relational” qualities. I think Millennials may grow to be better listeners than their generational predecessors. The manager position will require it as more and more emphasis is being placed on employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and manager expectation models. In our study, older workers perceived Millennial managers to be approachable and caring.
As I mentioned earlier, many organizations have manager expectation modules so we decided to select one and survey employees managed by Silents, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials and compare the age cohorts. We landed on the Google People Analytics Team’s eight characteristics of a “high quality” manager.
- Good coach
- Empowers the team
- Expresses interest in, and concern for, team members’ success and well-being
- Is productive and results oriented
- Is a good communicator – listens and shares information
- Helps with career development
- Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
- Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team (note)
The survey results for Millennial managers exceeded our expectations. We anticipated that they would do well, but we were actually quite fascinated. The 25- to 34-year-olds were ahead of all other age groups in empowering their employees. Overall, 25- to 34-year-olds came out either first or second on all but two of the dimensions.
Millennials have been socialized to work in teams to a greater extent than previous generations. Millennials see coaching as an important part of the supervisor-employee relationship, and they shun the hierarchical, power-oriented management role that is more typical of older generations. Assuming that they treat others in the way that they would like to be treated, we expect Millennials to manage with a low power orientation – that is, a more inclusive and transparent style of delegation and oversight in which authority is de-emphasized and constructive feedback is expected.
Okay, so Millennials may come hardwired to some degree but they can also short-out if they aren’t prepared for challenges that come when transitioning into management. One of the major challenges we identified was over-functioning. If you ever do a focus group on what people want in an ideal manager, ‘hold me accountable’ will not make the list. Millennial managers reported struggling with holding their older employees accountable. Older employees know Millennials are achievement oriented and will use that to get Millennial managers to do their job for them. The problem is that if you are doing everyone else’s job, you are not doing your own. The inability to hold others accountable often results in over-functioning and ultimately burnout.
In closing, I have to address the ‘struggling with people skills’ in List 2. It seems inconsistent with ‘they are relatable.’ Millennial managers are apt to get right to the point rather than engaging in perfunctory small talk. The communication tools they grew up with do not capture tone, expression, or emotion (emoticons withstanding). Older workers prefer a phone conversation or face-to-face and Millennials avoid both at all costs. In researching for my previous book [email protected], Millennials reported miscommunication with older workers as one of biggest challenges in the workplace. Getting promoted into management does not change that. But the fact employees perceive that their Millennial managers care about them mitigates awkward communication.
(Note) Garvin, D. A. (2013). How Google sold its engineers on management. Harvard Business Review, 91(12), 78.
– Chip Espinoza is the author, along with Joel Schwarzbart, of Millennials Who Manage: How to Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become a Great Leader. He is also the author of Managing the Millennials and [email protected] Espinoza is the Academic Director of Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Leadership at Concordia University Irvine.
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