Workplace Culture

Managing Millennials Without Putting Them in a Nutshell

August 27, 2021

Managing Millennials the right way is important. Here is what you need to know about this generation so you can see the best of them in the workplace.

Image of a man with his hands in front of him in the shape of a rectangle.

Music and Respect

Your music is terrible, and you have no respect for your elders.

Does anyone recognize what that is? It’s the great lie told to every generation by the generations that go before them.  Millennials are no exception—you have likely heard something along these lines once or twice since the beginning of your existence.

Despite the resounding echo of these words, I would like to give a positive shoutout to you Millennials out there.  Why?  Because you should be free to know your value without having it confused with a lack of respect.

So, here’s to Millennials!  For good measure, I’m throwing in a few well-researched tips for business leaders as they manage your thriving generation.  After all, good leadership knows its people, and Millennials make up a large portion of today’s workforce.  So, let’s get to know you!

Your Music Isn’t Terrible

Image of a man in a striped jumpsuit, holding a boombox, with headphones around his neck.

Before we go on, let’s get something out there.  Your music isn’t terrible.  In fact, your music is pretty rad.  After all, your generation is responsible for birthing artists such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber.  Ok, before I discredit myself altogether due to any name on that list, remember that it’s not just about the artists born in your generation, but the artists your generation appreciated.  In other words, you Millennials were out there buying up Whitney Houston, Elton John, and U2 albums when you were mere babes.  If that doesn’t say something about your range of taste, I don’t know what does.

Your Generation

It’s easy to forget who’s who when it comes to the different generations, especially when it comes to generations X, Y, and Z.  But let’s back up for a second.

The 20th century started with the Greatest Generation and ended with Generation Y, or Millennials.  Well, that in itself, can leave anyone with a meh feeling.  After all, how can you possibly compete with a generation that has “greatest” in its title? Talk about the most superlative superlative! It’s like, Well, I guess the only place to go is down from here.  Might as well run amuck.    

Let’s not get hung up on titles, though.  That name wasn’t coined until 1998 by journalist and author Tom Brokaw.  He claimed the Greatest Generation earned the moniker because of their great, selfless contributions to the war efforts of the time.  Here, I want to remind you, Don’t let another person’s beauty make you doubt your own.

Millennials are those of you who were born between 1981 and 1996.  Still, why even categorize people into generations?  Well, researchers like to do this because it allows them to analyze the differences in viewpoints over time.  Among other things, this information can help employers know what motivates you and makes you tick, which ideally translates into better management.

Related:  The Happiness Target: What makes employees happy at work and how do you keep them happy?

You Clearly Know the Definition of Respect

In order to debunk another myth, you are not respect-challenged.  Sure, you may have sung along to Mellencamp’s Authority Song, but it’s mainly because your mom (a Baby Boomer or from Generation X, mind you), was blaring it in her Pinto, on the way to the mall, with you and your siblings in the back… no seatbelts on… and no judgment… about the car or the seatbelts (it wasn’t your fault).

My point is, you are following on the heels of two generations whose entire existence was to resist and/or fight.  Think about that.  Post-war activism starting in the 1940s led to major social, racial, and labor movements taking place.  The things those generations saw, experienced, and lived through could easily make someone jaded.  By the time you came along, your generation quickly adopted the mindset that all humans deserve respect, even if previous generations had to learn that concept, instead of being born into that understanding.

Managing You Well

So, how does all this translate into managing your generation? Well, let’s look at some overarching themes researchers highlight about Millennials.


Image of a worker at a local shop checking out a customer.

While the Greatest Generation may have been characterized by their desire to do what’s right, Millennials are motivated differently.  Specifically, you want creative freedom to share your gifts in a way that will best serve your community.  Think about it this way—the ideological push to shop local wasn’t a thing before you made it a thing.


While you do know what it means to respect authority, you are the generation who is keenly aware of the difference between good and bad authority.  Furthermore, you have learned how to do something your predecessors couldn’t.  You figured out how to respectfully identify—and even overthrow—bad authority.  While the #metoo movement was founded by a brave woman from Generation X, it’s the Millennials who distance themselves from the idea that calling out gross injustices is a “victim’s mentality.”


Photo of a person holding a book with an image of a man on the right-hand page, with a black 80/20 mug in his other hand.

Although Generation Alpha is said to have been born with a smartphone in hand, who do you think taught them to use the devices?  That’s right—Millennials!  Your generation not only developed some of the most mind-boggling technology in history, but you fine-tuned it to make it user-friendly enough for even babies (and Baby Boomers) to learn the ropes in just minutes.


Another really cool aspect of your generation is how you view education.  Millennials are known for embodying curiosity and having a desire to learn.  Even so, you don’t keep education in a box.  In other words, you don’t view education as something that happens between four walls from age 5 through 23.  You know the educational benefit of the gap year, of being a non-traditional student, and that something as simple as the Duolingo app on your phone can revolutionize who you are able to communicate with.

Related:  Then and Now: Remembering Women in the Workplace


Image of three workers sitting at an outdoor table, smiling and collaborating while sipping from mugs.

Once upon a time, workers left work at work.  Work was work, play was play.  Millennials changed that.  You desire an enjoyable workplace with a heavy emphasis on social relationships.  If your team has a strong bond, you know you collaborate better.  You believe team bonding happens in the fun space previous generations didn’t offer at work.

5 Recommendations for Managers

So, what is the big takeaway?  Here are five recommendations to employers of Millennials:

  1. Allow Millennials room for creative freedom and to give back to their communities.
  2. Lead with integrity and know Millennials will hold your feet to the fire.
  3. Trust Millennials’ can-do attitude with technology and give them opportunities to try the latest developments.
  4. Recognize your Millennials as lifelong learners and encourage them in their search for knowledge.
  5. Never stop fostering the team bond with your Millennials.  Be thoughtful about ways to keep them engaged.

No Millennial in a Nutshell

Even as I write about who Millennials are and how best to manage you, I want to remind you that you are still individuals.  In other words, people can say whatever they want about the Millennial generation as a whole, but it would only be a blanket statement.  Each of you is unique in your own way.  Thus, lumping you all together is simply to highlight some of the qualities your generation tends to embody. Ideally, this will give managers some ideas about how to best channel your energy.

So, since we can’t put you in a nutshell, let’s wrap this up with a quote from one of the top songs of the Millennial generation:  Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.  I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want.  Yep, that about sums it up.  Managers, know this—Millennials are not shy to share their thoughts, and you should be ready to listen. 

Photo of a hand holding a nutshell.

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