Managing Millennials


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The HVACR industry is made up largely of Boomers. However, the youngest Boomers are already in their 50s, while the oldest Boomers are rapidly approaching and entering retirement. Generation X, the cohort immediately following the huge Baby Boomer generation, numbers only 1/3 the size as the Boomer generation.

By contrast, Millennials, also known as Echo Boomers, presently number 83 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Germany. By 2020 Millennials will make up 55 percent of the country’s total workforce. As a result, attracting Millennials and keeping them happy is essential to maintaining a healthy, functioning workforce.

On the one hand, the task should be relatively easy. Boomers and Millennials share several key attributes. For instance, both generations are driven and competitive. However, Boomers are more competitive with their peers, while Millennials are driven to compete with themselves. After having grown up receiving participation trophies from well-meaning parents and coaches, Millennials also expect and demand intrinsic rewards, a factor that is frustrating to many Boomers, according to Gabrielle Jackson Bosché, founder and CEO of The Millennial Solution.

“Boomers feel burdened that they have to do it all, provide handholding for Millennials, on top of their jobs. (They say) How far do I have to bend to accommodate this new generation of workers? Nobody cared how I felt about work,” Bosché said.

Generational Leadership Styles

Generation X represents the natural successors to fill leadership slots left open by retiring Boomers. But because Generation X is so small, Millennials will be increasingly called upon to fill the future management gaps. It’s important to note that the three generations each have distinctive leadership styles, which reflect their respective value systems, according to Bosché.

“Boomers lead from the top. They say, ‘I’m the boss and I said so.’ Generation X leads from the side. They don’t like to be micromanaged so they don’t micromanage. They say, ‘OK, get this done, and I’m not going to tell you how to do it.’ Millennials lead from the middle. They want to get everyone on board, which is great, but can slow things down,” Bosché said.

Essential Millennial Traits

To a large degree, managing Millennials requires recognizing their attachment to technology. While Generation X is adept with technology and many Boomers have trained themselves to be technology literate, Millennials are digital natives. They grew up with computers, mobile devices and digital electronics. Many Millennials have never used a dial telephone, worn an analog watch or played a vinyl record on a turntable. They view and use tech gadgets differently from Boomers – a trait both generations should acknowledge, according to Bosché.

“Boomers see Millennials pulling their phones out during a meeting and think they’re playing Pokémon Go when they’re actually taking notes or sending relevant emails,” Bosché said.

While Boomers should exhibit tolerance toward Millennials and the way they use technology, Millennials also have a responsibility to recognize and defuse potential misunderstandings, according to Bosché.

“They should ask ‘Is it OK if I use my phone to take notes during meetings?’” Bosché said.

Besides digital nativism, Millennials also value soft skills and place an emphasis on conflict resolution. Specifically, Millennials display three common traits, according to Bosché.

  • Millennials need to feel that they are part of something bigger, that they have community impact
  • Millennials often become bored if they don’t feel empowered to change the status quo
  • Millennials also have a deep desire for mentorship

“They will quit if they don’t feel personally invested in,” Bosché said.

Millennials are also more prone to blend work and play than Boomers. They want to have friends at work that they can hang out with on the weekend, as opposed to just sharing breaks or going out to lunch, according to Bosché.

Attracting and Retaining Millennials

A common area of frustration for Boomers is that Millennials don’t take advantage of training or other available opportunities. However, what Boomers may fail to realize is that the training they offer may not be what Millennials appreciate.

For instance, many Millennials are ambitious and entrepreneurial. Unlike older Boomers and workers in earlier generations, Millennials have no expectations of joining a company and remaining with that company for life.

However, Millennials often require and respond to active encouragement from Boomers to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. This is the result of their educational experiences, according to Bosché.

“Millennials expect their bosses to hand them a syllabus for their jobs,” Bosché said.

Even so, Millennials often possess a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Boomers can tap into that entrepreneurial drive by helping Millennials recognize that they are the CEOs of their own careers and giving them the opportunity to “manage up”, according to Bosché.

“Boomers should say, ‘We’re here to help you, but you need to be hungry’,” Bosché said.

What doesn’t work to retain Millennials? Money – at least not for long. The average “high” from receiving a raise only lasts about 60 days, according to Bosché.

“Then they go back to hating their jobs,” Bosché said.

Conflict Resolution

While it is unrealistic to expect to avoid all conflict, one key to promoting harmonious relationships in a multigenerational workplace is mutual understanding and tolerance, according to Bosché.

“What Millennials need to recognize is that the company and culture existed before they got there, and maybe before they were born. Challenge is fine, but they should retain respectfulness. Boomers should understand that Millennials aren’t being willfully disrespectful when they want to make their voices heard,” Bosché said.

Giving workers of all generations the opportunity to create their own ideal workspaces can also minimize conflicts. For instance, many of today’s workplaces are fitted out with beanbag chairs and gaming tables, which Millennials enjoy but often make Boomers feel uncomfortable and unproductive. Providing a mixture of private offices and open workspaces can make Boomers feel more comfortable while allowing for the type of collaborative work style preferred by Millennials. However, even without providing this sort of physical setup, embracing varying cultural values can also ease intergenerational tensions, according to Bosché.

“Encourage conversation among workers about their expectations, preferred communication styles and work styles and act accordingly,” Bosché said.

Audrey Henderson
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Posted In: Management

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