The question at the forefront for many organizations is “How do we lead millennial employees?” I am speaking to those individuals born after 1981 that have been inundated with technological advances, the accessibility of immediate gratification in response to the most off-the-wall inquiries, “Hey Alexa, what are the top 10 unusual places people have gone to the bathroom?” Seriously! But the reality is that hunkering down, poring over piles of research, and consulting the encyclopedia Britannica are relics of our past. Debevec, Schewe, Madden, & Diamond (2013) stated that millennials, the children of Baby Boomers, represent the largest generational group since their parents. And with them comes a workforce with three times the rate of turnover than prior generations. Prestia, Dyess, & Sherman (2014) found that 78% of the current millennial workforces are seeking new opportunities within 2 years of being hired. So how do we as leaders manage such a mobile group of individuals?
Not surprisingly, a common reaction is to feel a need to hover, just as many millennial parents do, and feel an intrinsic need to be overbearing, restrictive, or, as many of my colleagues categorize it, “hand-holding.” Basically, our managerial forces typically consisting of older generations are holding the hand of this growing workforce super tightly in an effort to hang on to them. But, eventually, we run out of hands. Just imagine how it will be come 2020 when millennials will make up more than 50% of our workforce. I do not know about any of you, but I do not have spare limbs, extra time, or resources to micromanage every millennial employee in an effort to retain them and sustain an operation.
Then we have those managers at the other end of the spectrum. Those that feel an investment in millennials is a waste because they will move on too soon and there are plenty to replace them. These managers have thrown the concept of the human capital theory out the proverbial window. The human capital theory was an important perceptual shift in the manager-employee relationship. The theory conceptualized labor mobility and turnover in that when managers invest in their respective workforce a reciprocal increase in organization commitment by employees is found. Prior to this theory, managers had seen their respective workforces as cogs in a machine that could be easily replaced. It is unfortunate that when these managers throw their hands up and in essence “give up” we are regressing to the mechanical rather than the relational leadership.
So I am sure you are asking “if I should not hold on too tight or not hold on at all, what am I supposed to do?” The answer, as found in my doctoral study on millennial development and retention, millennial employees desire what I categorize as a Laissez-faire leadership.
Many may recognize the Laissez-faire concept from economics and the notion of a need for government to keep their “hands off, let go, or leave alone”: to let the economic system govern itself. Now you might be thinking, wasn’t letting go something we should not do. And you are right, but the key difference is that the manager maintains a relational investment in the millennial employee. Moreover, that the manager focuses on the minimizations of disruption in the millennial employees development. This is because as one of my case studies noted “They (millennials) don’t seem or want to tolerate a lot of rules and regulation.” This supports the idea to avoid micromanaging these employees. While another stated “The environment/culture is purposely structured to allow flexibility, freedom, and creative liberties to let them (millennials) define themselves and keep them interested in staying.” A concept that supports the notion of allowing uninhibited development to be the platform on which employees can achieve their individual career aspirations, establish job security, and increase organization commitment. Weber’s seminal work in 2017 further supports this notion by finding that millennial employees place emphasis on a value orientation associated with their personal competencies. Simply put, we as managers put aside our notions of “this is how we have always done it” or “my way or the highway” mentalities and allow millennial employees to be innovative, allow them to develop, and in turn they will be more inclined to invest more in your organizations. This is not to say there will not be outliers or times in which you will need to give these employees a “reality check” but to simply say:
“How do we lead millennial employees? Let go, be flexible, don’t be fast to dismiss, and especially do not just give up!” or simply “Be Laissez not Lazy”
Debevec, K., Schewe, C.D., Madden, T.J., & Diamond, W.D. (2013). Are today’s Millennials splintering into a new generation al cohort? Maybe! Journal of Consumer Behavior, 12, 20-31. doi:10.1002/cb.1400
Prestia, A. S., Dyess, S. M., & Sherman, R. O. (2014). Planting the seeds of succession. Nursing Management, 45, 3(3), 30-37. doi:10.1097/01.numa.0000443941.68503.09
Weber, J. (2017). Discovering the millennials’ personal values orientation: A comparison of two managerial populations. Journal of Business Ethics, 143, 517-529. doi:10.1007/s10551-015-2803-1