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The Top 3 Most Impactful Mistakes Managers Make When Managing Millenials

It’s a fact: employees leave their manager, not the company. This is as true for Gen Y as it was for previous generations, although, in general, Gen Y employees are more likely to leave companies. The reasons can range from pay to mismatch with work/life goals. However, in every case, having a great manager increases productivity during the duration of employment and significantly decreases the probability of attrition.

In addition, it’s also becoming a well known fact that it takes an expanded set of skills to manage Gen Y/Millenials. While there are common mistakes to avoid such as micromanagement, this article focuses on the top 3 impactful mistakes – those behaviors by managers that have the biggest bang for the buck, the biggest impact for minute moments.

Mistake #1: Humor That Alienates, Specifically By Relying on Assumptions

It’s natural to try to find common ground when establishing a manager-direct report relationship. Many experienced managers struggle to find common ground with the new workforce and make a number of mistakes. This struggle can exhibit outwardly in multiple ways including false assumptions, belittling humor, and misguided expectations.


For example, many assume that Gen Y’s had “helicopter parents” and had childhood lives filled with endless parent-scheduled activities, school followed by ballet, soccer, etc. This results in presumption of lack of work capability, accountability, and responsible behavior. Viewing a new employee in this light automatically sets them up for failure, instead of success. In many cases, the opposite Gen Y scenario is true as many in this generation grew up in divorced homes, resulting in very independent childhoods. Comments of this nature start with statements like, “This generation has it so easy….” or “You’re supposed to want constant feedback right?” It’s better instead to always ask questions instead of assume that an employee relationship should be a certain way. Alternatively, you can share how you like to work and ask the employee if that works for them.

Some other examples are statements like “Maybe you can tell me what I should do about my son/daughter constant selfie addiction – aren’t you a part of the Me Generation?” or “You’re a Gen Y, can you teach me how to use my iPhone?” Treating your Gen Y employees like your IT Services connection is a definite no-no. Not all Gen Yer’s are adept with technology and no one likes to be put on the spot for assumed skills.

The best practice is to never assume. Instead of basing off of assumptions, starting instead with a story from your time and then asking if the Gen Y can relate is a much better way to forge a bond you can both work from. For example, when you were transitioning from college, xyz was a struggle for you.

Mistake #2: Lack of Transparency Regarding Career Progression

career-progressionIf pay progression or promotion is slow at your organization, just admit it. It is far better to admit it than to say nothing. Many companies have a culture that dissuades talking about career progression. But as new employees starting a new  chapter in their lives, one they have never embarked on before, this is one of the biggest questions. What does the future look like? What is the big picture I am working towards?

Also, recognize that young employees may not realize what other forms of progression and growth look like. Generally, the first thought for any new employee is: Rewards = Increased Pay, Better Title. This is a moment to educate and expand your employee’s perspective – growth can be in many dimensions. Share what other dimensions your company offers and don’t exclude diverse project work as a perk. As their manager, you are in a position to understand what kind of project the new hire would really enjoy getting into and then delivering elements of that in their current work. Transparency is key.

Mistake #3: Lack of Opportunities to Meaningfully Contribute

The biggest complaint I hear from many Gen Y’s is the amount of time it takes before they are permitted to contribute to results. Doing the grunge work doesn’t capture the maximum productivity your Gen Y can contribute and instead, demotivates and disengages the employee. If they are not allowed to contribute quickly, it generates reasons for leaving the company. Although it may surprise you, most Millenials don’t want to be paid for doing nothing – and we are quick to trust our own judgement of what is worthwhile work.

It is important to strike the right balance between introducing them to the work and allowing them to contribute significantly to a project or even lead a project on their own. It’s important to explain which work will help to build a foundation to do more challenging work later vs. which work items are intended to allow them to already start displaying leadership and critical thinking skills. By establishing the expectations regarding the work this way, the new employee has no false understanding of work – yes, some of it is going to  be tedious, but it is going to build to something later or may always be a tedious part of the job. It’s important to be transparent about the work.

A good rule of thumb is as long as 10% of the work plan at a minimum involves true leadership and critical thinking from the new employee, the remainder of the work plan can be more learning alongside a more experienced employee or working as a part of a team with no clear responsibility. But in at least 10% of the work plan, the new employee should be personally accountable and contributing clearly to a significant group or department result.


These are just a few of the behaviors that can lead to quick turnover with Millenials, but they are big mistakes. New employees can either work with you, against you, or contribute little to no work. How you choose to manage these employees makes a critical difference in the outcome. 

What mistakes have you seen managers make when managing Millenials?