Quick. How do you manage Millennials?
This may sound like a trick question, but it’s not. Born between the early 1980s and Mid- 1990s, the Millennial demographic doesn’t typically respond to traditional management styles in the same way other generations do.
Chances are, your team probably includes staff members who represent multiple generations — Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Millennials, each bringing its own strengths, abilities and perspectives to the table. The Millennials are a breed all their own, with unique characteristics and work habits.
Dr. Joe El-Khoury, Co-Director of the Clinical Chemistry Laboratory at Yale-New Haven Health, says the most crucial thing to remember is that Millennials don’t want to be “managed” in a conventional sense. He should know, because he is one.
“I cannot overstate that enough,” he said. “They need to be led, inspired and motivated. How you do that is by explaining the big picture to them. They really care about that, and they really want to understand how what they’re doing is impacting the bigger picture in our laboratories.”
Here are six important points you’ll want to keep in mind if you’ve got Millennials on your team.
Not ones to blindly follow instruction, purpose-driven Millennials insist on knowing and understanding the reasoning behind the processes they’re participating in. Be prepared to answer any questions they might ask, and know that boilerplate “this is the way we’ve always done it” responses aren’t going to cut it.
“Millennials very much want to know why,” said Christina Nickel, Laboratory Quality Manager at Bryan Health in Lincoln, Neb. “Everybody does to an extent, but a lot of Baby Boomers and even some Gen-Xer’s, have a mentality of ‘if you ask me to do it, I’m going to do it’ and that’s it. They don’t need any more detail. Millennials want to know why so they can get things done more effectively and more efficiently.”
Giving Millennials the “why” also allows them an opportunity to take ownership of their work roles and responsibilities.
“It helps them personalize abstract tasks we’ve done day in and day out,” said Jason Majorowicz, Quality Management Coordinator at the Mayo Clinic. “A lot of things that we do in laboratories are because A, it’s the right thing to do; and B, it broke once because somebody did this, and we’ve put a change in there to keep it from happening again. If you can communicate that to Millennials, it goes a long way.”
Millennials, perhaps more so than any other generation, want to know how you think they’re doing at any given time. Don't wait until an annual review rolls around to provide them with some status updates. Communicate with them about their work performance consistently and often, particularly if the feedback is good.
“They expect more than once a year for you to tell them when they’re doing a good job and when they’re not,” Dr. El-Khoury said. “You have to let them know when they’re doing great; and if not, let them know right away and explain it.”
Millennials thrive in a collaborative work environment. To see them succeed, you’ll want to do everything you can to foster a culture of teamwork in which everyone feels encouraged to make their own contributions.
“Millennials like sharing, so it’s important for them to be able to talk about projects with peers and come up with ideas together,” Dr. El-Khoury explained. “Instead of having meetings, we’ve seen laboratories switch to huddle formats, which are shorter and more focused.”
Dr. El-Khoury says today’s laboratories can learn a lot from modern startup companies — for example, the benefits of creating open-plan office spaces that nurture free-floating discussion without the barriers of doors, walls or cubicles.
“Startups are attractive to many Millennials because they have this open concept,” Dr. El-Khoury continued. “They don’t have offices; they have shared work spaces where they get to engage. That’s what works best for these people. I feel we could try to move towards establishing something similar in the laboratory to facilitate teamwork.”
It shouldn't come as any surprise to learn that Millennials love, love, love their electronic devices. But, just because you see them texting away at work, don’t assume they’re wasting time. They may be communicating with a manager, or accessing the Internet to find a solution to a problem.
“Communication has changed, and texting seems to be the norm now,” Dr. El-Khoury said. “I text more frequently with Millennials than other generations. It’s a way of exchanging information more rapidly than calling or emailing.”
The concept of communicating electronically as opposed to face-to-face may be offputting to other generations that aren’t as familiar with the practice, but don’t be so quick to dismiss its value in the lab setting, especially for multitasking Millennials.
“When you’re watching somebody on their phone, you can’t tell what they’re doing,” Nickel said. “They may be running tests, and their work flow may be just fine. Other generations haven’t grown up with this and may wonder how can they be doing anything else if they’re texting? But they are.”
With Millennials in position to fill the jobs vacated by the upcoming “Silver Tsunami” wave of retiring Baby Boomers, it behooves lab leaders to start looking to and preparing for the future now.
Millennials are ambitious and passionate about the work they do, and other generations can actually learn quite a bit from them, if they’re willing.
“I see Millennials rubbing off on some of their Gen-X'er cohorts,” Nickel said. “I have Gen-Xer’s coming in now and saying, ‘You know, I was talking to so-and-so and I think maybe we should change this. Why do you do this?’ When one of the peers is actually involved in the process, it’s so much better-received.”
Millennials not only want to feel that they’re contributing to their work environments in a positive way, they also want to keep evolving as individuals, in both a personal and professional sense. Take an interest in their goals and help them find opportunities to keep improving themselves.
“It doesn’t have to be monetary rewards,” Dr. El-Khoury pointed out. “They’re looking for experiences that help them grow — educational opportunities or even serving on committees that may not necessarily be doing things directly related to the lab. Fostering those opportunities can help you retain those employees.”
More than any other generation, Millennials tend to blur the boundaries between work responsibilities and their personal lives. Helping them achieve a healthy work-life balance is a key component to their success.
“They don't come to work and leave their home lives at the door,” Nickel said. “If you can help them build skills where they can address issues at home and at work, they're going to be better communicators. I think that's a really critical piece for them as they grow, and an opportunity for us to help them as mentors.”
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