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Why managers and millennials need each other

I'm fascinated by the future of work. What workplaces look like when today's young employees are managers? Are today's managers smart enough to engage and prepare the managers of the future? 

Today, I used some new research to tackle the topic of how and why millennials and managers need each other. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what's going on in your workplaces. Are managers flexible in how they manage young workers?


Millennials offer a lot to employers but have their own expectations, too


Andrew Paton, 35, is a retail sales director at Dade Paper and manages many young Millennials. On Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, Paton, was walking through Dade Paper's warehouse talking with 28-year-old Jessica Sanchez, the supply chain coordinator. EMILY MICHOT / MIAMI HERALD STAFF


Is moving on from an employer the only way for a young person to get ahead in their career?

It may if something doesn’t change for millennials in America’s workplaces.

Look around your office and it’s likely you will see young faces who want an entrepreneurial culture where their ideas are listened to and their voices heard. But new research shows managers often feel millennials want too much too soon and don’t know how to keep them on a career path that keeps them engaged.

“I think there’s a disconnect because older workers come from a time when you have one career for life and corporate loyalty, and millennials just want to make an impact on day one,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, a consulting firm that helps companies understand the potential value of millennial workers.

Frustrated, young innovators often take a “move up or move on” attitude. Indeed, Schawbel’s research shows America’s millennials will have an average of 11 jobs between ages 18 and 34.

Eric Schecter, 27, has had four jobs. He says he tried to fit into traditional companies but considers himself an entrepreneurial spirit. He most recently worked as social media director at Carnival Cruise Line for two years. In January, Schecter left to become a partner in two innovative start ups — The GiddyUp Group and Skynet Aire. “I was looking for the lifestyle outside of a big company, where I can do my own thing and travel and set up companies where I can work from anywhere in the world.”

Schecter says as an employee, he saw the disconnect between the generations. “Millennials want to be able to move at a quicker pace in their careers, to leverage technology and do away with less efficient processes, and that’s hard to do in a bigger corporation where older managers are used to doing things a certain way.” While some big companies are empowering young employees to try new approaches, “it’s still a really slow process,” he says.

Clearly, managers are having trouble understanding the value millennials could bring. New research shows a majority of young employees believe their bosses can offer experience and wisdom. Managers, on the other hand, largely view millennials as having a poor work ethic, being easily distracted, and having unrealistic salary expectations, according to the Gen Y Workplace Expectation study released Sept. 3 by Millennial Branding and American Express.

But, given that three-quarters of the workforce will be millennials in slightly over a decade, companies need to keep young entrepreneurs working on the inside if they’re going to stay in business and succeed, Schawbel says.

In most workplaces, managing millennials falls mostly to Gen Xers, (ages 33 to 50) many of whom also oversee older workers. Andrew Paton has worked at Dade Paper, a 75-year old Miami company, for more than a decade. At age 35, he manages employees of three generations. Paton has seen from the resumes he receives that when millennials feel stifled, they move on quickly. For him, the challenge is setting criteria for promotions and raises to keep his entire team engaged. Where his older workers want to be evaluated on goals and numbers, his younger workers want to be recognized for their ability to solve problems. Seeing the gap, he tries to keep his young sales force engaged by being flexible.

He also recognizes his 20-something workers want to incorporate more technology into their jobs, which he encourages, as long as they also work to strengthen their soft skills. “We want creative thinking, but we want them to learn the old-school way of doing business, which is about face-to-face and personal relationships.”

Most managers agree with Paton that millennials need to bolster critical soft skills to advance. In the workplace expectation study, almost 90 percent of managers said the top skill for a young employee was his or her ability to prioritize work, followed by a positive attitude and teamwork ability.

On the other hand, expectations around soft skills are oftentimes unclear to young workers, the research shows. Millennials polled said they often felt they weren’t getting enough feedback from their bosses and there were differences around the timeframe for raises or promotions. Three quarters of managers polled said it would take about four years for an employee to move to the management level; by contrast, only 66 percent of millennial said it should take that long.

Jeremy Condomina, a 27-year old business analyst and computer system trainer at Dade Paper, says his generation struggles with the concept of proving themselves at work. “Often we try to push the envelope because we have an entrepreneurial spirit that the older generation doesn’t have. In college, we’re taught to share our ideas and expand on them. But in companies, it’s money and lives at stake and innovation is slow. It tends to frustrate millennials and make them feel ignored.”

Condomina says his solution was to take a position where being innovative was built into the job description. His job is to analyze work flow and business processes and try to find ways to improve it. “It gives me the freedom to be an innovator.”

Schawbel says the number one thing that managers need to do to keep millennials engaged is set expectations by telling a young employee what specifically to do to become a manager in a set number of years. “That’s key. Those expectations are so important, and nobody is setting them, which is why turnover is so high.”

Nikolai De Leo, a 25-year-old with Ernst & Young in Miami, says millennials not only want to know their path, they want to learn why they’re doing a task a certain way and that what they’re doing isn’t menial. “Recently, my manager explained the bigger picture, how my work helped in the grand scheme. That’s the best management style.”

Schawbel says he wants to encourage millennials to see that there are ways to get recognition and find career success without jumping ship. In tandem with the new research, he has released a book aimed at millennials: Promote Yourself, The New Rules for Career Success. He encourages young workers to become “intrapreneurs” within the corporation by taking risks, selling their ideas and seeing opportunities where others don’t.

“If you see an opportunity your company is not taking advantage of, do your research and build a presentation. That’s how you stand out,” he says. “The idea is to get people within your company to see you as a future leader.”