Working Effectively with Millennials Requires Enhanced Communication Skills

Cara Siletto, MBA

Cara Siletto, MBA, founder of Crescendo Strategies.

Millennials are getting something of a bum rap in the workforce these days. No, they don’t expect constant praise. No, they don’t demand 24/7 handholding. And no, they don’t believe they deserve to be Vice President at age 24.

However, managing and working with millennials does present unique challenges, says Cara Silletto, MBA, founder of Crescendo Strategies.

For starters, millennials have a very different view of company loyalty, Silletto says. Defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, many millennials grew up in households where parents divorced—the American divorce rate peaked in the 1980s—and often watched parents get laid off for non-performance reasons as the internet and globalization upended the domestic U.S. economy beginning in the 1990s.

“I saw my accountant mother come home three times with tears” and a box of personal belongings from the office after she was laid off for reasons that had nothing to do with her as an employee, Silletto recalls.

Little wonder then that today’s millennials don’t view employment as anything close to a lifetime contract. Today, the “employer/employee relationship must be mutually beneficial” and clear to both parties, Silletto says.

That’s not to say millennials are rootless or without the qualities of loyalty. However, they are more likely to bond with a boss who is a good communicator, who provides clear instructions, who explains both the how and why behind tasks, and who frequently acknowledges the millennials’ work output.

“Bad management is the number one reason people leave jobs,” Silletto says, but this is where some of the confusion between generations comes in. Millennials don’t expect parades and constant words of praise for everything they do. Rather, they do appreciate being thanked, even briefly, for taking on a task. And contrary to some urban myths, they want constructive criticism as part of feedback received, Silletto adds.

In fact, communication is arguably the single most important tool in the care and feeding of millennials.

“There’s nothing more frustrating to them” than to be left in the dark about a task or situation impacting them, Silletto says. Where previous generations were more comfortable in a “sink or swim” environment, many of today’s millennials want more training and the tools to succeed in their job. “They really want to understand the why,” Silletto stresses, especially if they believe they’ve come up with a better way to complete a task.

“Millennials really want to know where they stand,” Silletto says. “They panic if they hear nothing and can assume the worst.” Failing to keep them informed, and not acknowledging good work, risks making millennials feel undervalued and underappreciated, she adds. “They don’t need over the top praise,” she notes. “That’s a myth.”

Finally, lest older workers begrudge what they believe is a bit of millennial emotional entitlement, Silletto is quick to remind us “the older generation created the expectation by, as parents, giving millennials trophies for coming in ninth place or merely showing up,” Silletto says. “Millennials didn’t ask for those trophies.”

Author: Michael Causey