Managing (and Coaching) Millennials — What Not To Do

As mentioned in previous blog posts, managing Millennials is very different than managing members of older generations in the workplace. Millennials want to be coached, not managed; they need frequent communication and feedback; and, they want not just assignments but a roadmap to complete them successfully along with an understanding of how their jobs fit into the larger world.  

In addition to these low-hanging-fruit ideas, managers should exercise caution to avoid some irreversible errors in managing this generation.

Turnover is high among Millennials as they search for a workplace and career path that suits them, but research still suggests that they would rather work for “one perfect employer” than hop from job to job. To help you keep the best Millennial team members around as long as possible, here are five don’ts for managing (or coaching) Millennials — especially Second-Wave Millennials.

Don’t: Practice Tough Love

Most middle managers and even senior managers fall into the Generation X (ages 36 to 56) category. Xers came of age at a time of economic malaise and cultural tension. For them growing up, the world was a dangerous place. Because of their gritty experiences, Xers entered the workforce fairly successfully on their own with no help from anyone. They were the survivalists and entrepreneurs who embraced risk with a fiercely independent spirit. I see many Xer managers treat Millennials with the kind of tough love mentality they experienced when they entered the workforce.

News flash: Millennials don’t “get” tough love. Their experience was entirely different growing up. They were raised carefully by their helicopter parents who surrounded them with teams of teachers, counselors, physicians, and tutors that worked on every aspect of their development. Their expectation for the workplace is the same. You can’t give a Millennial too much attention.

Don’t: Give them the Big Picture on an Assignment without Details

As empowered and confident as Millennials are, they need descriptions of assignments in detailed clarity. It is not enough to say, “Read through this 1,000-page document and create a three-page summary.” You need to identify for them exactly how the summary should be developed, what font and format you want, when you want it by, and what resources are available to help them complete the assignment. And then check in on them frequently to offer guidance and advice.

Don’t: Take Away Their Toys

A few years ago, I was doing a research project for a US government agency. We were trying to identify the drivers of satisfaction among Millennials. While the top results all had to do with feedback, two elements emerged that were unexpected: They wanted larger monitors or even two monitors on their desks, and they wanted to be plugged into to their social network throughout the workday. I realize there are some jobs where this would not be possible, but consider the two things that have always been a priority for Millennials: cutting-edge technology and the ability to connect to their social network. A hotel manager in Germany told me, “I tried to stop them from getting on Snap and Facebook, but it was impossible. instead, I have designated times for Social Media breaks throughout the day, and this really has helped, not hurt, productivity and morale.”

Don’t: Assume They Don’t Care about Benefits

One of the most remarkable and unexpected characteristics of Millennials is their interest in benefits like 401(k), retirement, health benefits, wellness and flex programs, etc. It was always assumed that young people don’t care about these things—after all, retirement is a long way off, and young people are generally healthy. But according to a study by Metlife, this does not appear to be the case. In fact, Millennials value benefits even more than older generations do.

Don’t: Try to be “Cool” Like Them

This is an awful strategy. Millennials expect older generations to act their age. Millennials already have a very positive and informal relationship with authority figures, and they share many cultural interests with their parents. But Millennials value interactions with their own generation. Don’t insert yourself into their friend network. If you do, you will not be cool; you will be weird, and you just might chase your Millennials away.


Warren Wright