Three Big Mistakes Leaders Make When Managing Millennials
Millennials have become the largest demographic in the workplace. But managers of all ages have struggled to find the best way to connect with a wave of twenty- and thirtysomethings who do most of their typing with their thumbs, work wearing earbuds, and claim they can hold meaningful conversations while monitoring five open browser windows. Many leaders have fallen back on stereotypes about the generation (see the previous sentence), only to find that they’re neither true nor useful in managing.
So now what?
It’s time for Managing Millennials 2.0, based on finer distinctions derived from years of experience and current data. Three helpful insights stand out:
Different Generations Aren’t Different Species.
On many important dimensions, millennials are remarkably like Gen Xers and baby boomers. Contrary to stereotype, in a recent IBM (IBM) survey only 18% of millennials said “managing my work/life balance” is one of their top two career goals, vs. 22% of Gen Xers and 21% of baby boomers. Millennial employees are less likely than Gen Xers to use personal social media accounts for work purposes, says the same research. And millennials’ preferred method of learning new work skills is—brace yourself—face-to-face contact.
Cultural Differences Swamp Generational Ones.
By reputation, millennials are notorious for having one foot out the door, scanning other potential employers for a better offer. But that doesn’t hold true everywhere. In Peru, 82% of them expect to leave their employer in the next five years, while in Belgium only 51% do, finds new research from Deloitte. In another gauge of identification with an employer, the share of millennials who have refused a work task because it conflicts with their values or ethics is generally high in Latin America—71% in Colombia—but only 20% in Japan.
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Within Any Culture, Millennials Differ Widely by Age and Gender.
The generation’s oldest members were born in 1982, when Time’s Man of the Year was “The Computer,” while the youngest were born in 2000, when the Internet boom busted. Older and female millennials expect to stay in their jobs longer than younger and male millennials do, say Bentley University researchers. Men of the generation are more likely than women (17% vs. 9%) to aspire to be a CEO or company president, says the same study. PwC research finds that women are more likely than men to say they’d take a pay cut and fewer promotions in order to work fewer hours.
Managing Millennials 1.0 goes wrong in two critical ways: overstating differences between this generation and others, and overstating similarities within it. The takeaway, for leaders of any generation: Accept the reality that millennials are as varied as any group you’ve encountered—and that you’ll need a diverse range of incentives to get them to perform at their best.
A version of this article appears in the November 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Millennials Are Not Monolithic.”