Your Monthly Remix: Millennial "Common Sense" and Management Strategies for Young Leaders
Your Monthly Remix: Millennial "Common Sense" and Management Strategies for Young Leaders

Welcome to the Monthly Work Remix, where I answer career and workplace questions submitted by professionals like you. Every month, I’ll adapt episodes of my brand new podcast, The Work Remix, into a reader-friendly advice column.

Click the links below to stream the individual episodes and hear my answers in greater detail.

Tech Founder from Generation X Wants to Better Understand his Millennial Employees

In 2010, I founded a small tech startup, which I’ve grown to about 60 employees. Like most other tech companies, my employees are primarily Millennials. They know their technology and software, but sometimes they seem to throw common sense out the window. I’m trying to see things from their perspectives, but I need help.

How do you suggest a startup with a traditional leader embrace a multigenerational team with a majority of the team being Millennials?

It is common for a startup, particularly in the tech space, to have a large percentage of Millennial or Gen Z employees. Some companies today are 80 or 90 percent Millennial! So to answer this question, I’ll start with one of my favorite lines from Voltaire who said, “Common sense is not so common.”

I truly don’t mean this as a criticism of Millennials or Millennial-heavy environments, but the truth is that people raised in different generations have different expectations and different experiences of what is “common sense.” 

So, for the self-described “traditional” leader in this question, it might be common sense to answer a phone professionally or to be comfortable having a difficult conversation face-to-face. But this might not be common sense to many young people who have come of age in a world dominated by technology.

When it comes to such differing expectations and comfort levels, flexibility is key.

I’d encourage this leader to use what I call the Five Percent Rule. The Five Percent Rule asks you to be flexible on just 5 percent of your expectations. If somebody is doing what you want most of the time correctly, can you allow some wiggle room? 

Can somebody get up from their desk and go to sit at a coffee shop to answer emails? Or leave a little bit early on Wednesdays because they want to go to an exercise class? Can you pair employees with complementary work styles so that they’re more productive?

Small choices can make a huge difference, and for those of us on the more traditional side of management, allowing small amounts of flexibility can be a great first step to integrating Millennials into your team.

Millennial Sales Leader Asks How to Manage Employees Older than He Is

I’m a Millennial who was recently promoted to lead a team of salespeople at my company. A good number of team members are my same age. I have a couple of members who are older, and it seems they’re not happy working for someone younger. I want to show them that age has nothing to do with being a good manager. 

How would you suggest going about talking to them and building rapport?

Did you know that in 2020, over 38 percent of leaders manage people older than they are? So you’re far from alone in this situation. Here are two perspectives on overcoming your team members’ age-related concerns.

The primary piece of advice I find myself giving to younger managers of older employees is not to assume the older person minds the age difference. There’s no need to ever apologize for being young. Some older workers actually like reporting to someone with a different generational perspective. 

But if an employee comments on your younger age or even just appears uncomfortable or resentful, there are some steps you can take. 

The first step is to spend some time really getting to know the older employee. Try to ease any tensions by developing a relationship outside the “manager-employee” framework. 

The second step is to focus on end results and be flexible on how people accomplish their work. If you can tell your employees you don’t mind how the job gets done as long as it meets clear standards, your team members might feel more comfortable under your leadership. 

The third step is to confront the conflict directly. While you may never be beloved by every employee, you can explicitly ask for their respect.