Should You Change Your Leadership Style When Managing Millennials?

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Jan Ferri-Reed, PhD

There are many stereotypes that either compliment or plague Millennials. I recently interviewed and videotaped leaders who managed these young workers. Their replies prompted me to dig a little deeper, as there were lingering questions.

What impact have Millennial employees actually had on their managers? Have they turned out to be as challenging as many feared? Or have they proven to be hard-working, valuable employees? To find out, our team administered a survey to managers to learn if their leadership style had changed since managing Millennials. And if so, how had they changed? The survey asked supervisors to respond thoughtfully to 10 statements by making selections ranging from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.”

The results are preliminary, as the survey is ongoing. But the results so far indicate that most managers are challenged by Millennials and feel the need to “step up their game” in response to them. One of the most telling findings is that many supervisors find themselves altering their approach to managing younger workers while also looking for new ways to engage Generation Y.

Some of the results of our manager survey may surprise you:

  • 87.6% said that they have altered their management style when working with Millennial employees.
  • 70.8% spend more time guiding and teaching Millennials than they do with older workers.
  • 73.5% worry about losing Millennial employees.

So what does this mean? Is it really time to radically transform workplace cultures? If so, how? It may be easier than you think. Just apply these few strategies:

  • Encourage open communication. Younger workers respond more positively when they believe that management actually welcomes their input. Communicate openly to employees about the organization's needs, challenges, and successes. There shouldn’t be a lot of secrets in the workplace.
  • Involve workers in decisions and change efforts. Decision-making doesn’t have to be limited to those in upper management, although most executives believe it is. Key decisions affecting employees need to be carried out by employees, or at least accepted by the workforce, before they can be realized. By involving employees in assessing a problem, determining possible courses of action, and choosing from alternate solutions, executives will find that decisions will have a greater chance of success because they have the full support of all employees.
  • Provide continual feedback for performance improvement. Millennials like feedback; lots of feedback. In the traditional model, employee performance was tied directly to compensation, so workers were reviewed once a year to determine annual pay raises. Millennials are not content to wait 12 months for feedback about their job performance. They want to know where they stand and what they can do right away to improve and advance. Supervisors should realize that this kind of employee is a gift that should not to be taken for granted. Although giving ongoing feedback can be time-consuming and may seem like a chore, helping employees do their best work is, after all, job one for every manager.

So, should managers change their style to accommodate Millennials? Yes! When they see the resulting increases in employee productivity and engagement, they see that making thoughtful changes in their approach to these younger workers is well worth the effort.

You can learn more about improving your managerial and leadership effectiveness at these AMA seminars: 
Achieving Leadership Success Through People 

The Psychology of Management: Why People Do What They DoYou can learn more about improving your managerial and leadership effectiveness at these AMA seminars: 
Achieving Leadership Success Through People 

Expanding Your Influence: Understanding the Psychology of Persuasion

About the Author(s)

Jan Ferri-Reed, PhD is president of KEYGroup®, a consultancy that helps leaders to achieve productive, profitable workplaces that attract, retain, and leverage talent.