How to Manage Millennials: Let Them Do Whatever They Want

In about 10 years, 75 percent of the workforce will be made of millennials. Fortunately, managing them is easy. Just give them space, freedom to make decisions and a creative workplace. Oh, and be sure to ask them how their day was.

Got millennials in your workforce? Well, you might want to give them lots of space and freedom to work wherever and whenever they want, ask them often about their personal lives, pat them on the back regularly, listen attentively to their creative ideas, and let them make important decisions early in their careers -- basically, everything you wouldn't do for GenXers and Baby Boomers.

As millennials flood the workforce, companies must figure out the best way to manage them. After all, their ranks will blossom to 75 percent of the workforce in 2025, from 34 percent today, according to Deloitte Consulting. It's a cultural quandary, since today's young worker requires a kind of care that flies in the face of generations past.

Office Spaces Take on a Whole New Meaning

One of the most spectacular transformations happening in Silicon Valley are office spaces re-engineered to look like playgrounds, in order to appeal to millennials. These offices boast open "collaborative" spaces, game rooms, fancy dining halls and bright, youthful colors. Shared workspaces have replaced the grey, permanent cubicle of the GenXer, in part because the millennial loves mobile technology and doesn't come to the office every day.

[ Silicon Valley's 19 Coolest Places to Work ]

Managers, of course, will need to accept the fact that millennials don't want to be chained to a cubicle or formal 9-to-5 work hours. In other words, micro managers who want to know what workers are doing every 15 minutes won't last long in today's work environment, says Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president of marketing at Dale Carnegie Training.

Freedom also includes allowing employees to use social media. In the early days of the social media revolution, companies banned employees from going to websites such as Facebook during work hours. They feared there would be a sudden drop in worker productivity. But social media is an integral part of a millennial's life, Palazzolo says. By banning social media in the workplace, companies risk losing millennials to competitors.

It's OK to Get Personal

Another management lesson: Regularly ask employees about their personal lives.

Historically, personal issues were off limits. Managers had it drilled into them that they were not to inquire about an employee's personal life. Such questions could upset employees and even land managers in legal hot water. The line between business and personal had to be maintained at all times.

But millennials blur this line constantly; for them, there is no line. Millennials expect managers to treat them not as working stiffs, not just another faceless worker, rather people with well-rounded lives. By asking personal questions, such as what they might be up to this weekend or what movies they've watched, Palazzolo says, "managers let millennials know they care about them."

[ Related: Millennials Rule the Valley, Enjoy It While It Lasts ]

Caring also means rewarding them for a job well done. Most GenXers and Baby Boomers didn't receive much praise during their early, formative years of their careers.

Management philosophy in those days was the opposite of coddling, rewarding and other forms of positive feedback; verbal beat downs were more the norm. But times are different for millennials.

Feed Them Feedback ... and Keep It Coming

"Consider a typical 28 year-old. From the moment she was born, her world has been rich in feedback. When she presses a button, something happens. When she plays a video game, she gets a score. When she sends a text message, she hears a sound that confirms it went out. She's lived her whole life on a landscape lush with feedback. Yet, when she steps through the office door, she finds herself in a veritable feedback desert," writes Daniel Pink, well-known author on workplace trends:

Recognition can come in many forms, from instant rewards such as coupons at local shops and restaurants to plaques to bonus checks. Yet companies typically allocate only 2 percent of payroll for recognition programs, and more than half of companies don't have an in-the-moment award program, according to a survey by Yiftee, an online and mobile gifting service.

Don't Wait to Give 'Em Power

But the most important thing managers can do is empower millennials. This means letting them take on projects, think differently about how to do them, and make decisions that will affect outcomes. In the old days, employees weren't allowed this freedom until after they paid their dues. Today's youth doesn't want to wait.

For tech companies, the payoff for managing millennials successfully can be huge. The tech industry thrives on innovation sprouting from the minds of the younger generation. Millennials are at their creative best when relaxed and left alone to experiment. Indeed, Silicon Valley's greatest triumphs came from young people in tee-shirts and flip-flops burning the midnight oil in garages, dorm rooms and "incubator" homes.

Critically, they also had the power to put their ideas into action.

"The relationship with your immediate manager is the most important thing, and that goes especially for millennials who need to have a more independent type of structure," Palazzolo says. "Give them very good direction and then let them run with their projects."

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

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This story, "How to Manage Millennials: Let Them Do Whatever They Want" was originally published by CIO.

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