Millennials as Managers: Overcoming Stereotypes and Promoting Effective Leadership
Much to the chagrin of baby boomers and Gen Xers, millennials are moving into management. And they’re doing it despite the stereotypes of selfishness, entitlement, bad work ethic and laziness. Studies have shown, including the Gallup’s How Millennials Want to Work and Live report (Gallup, 2016), that millennials have higher job satisfaction, bring innovation and efficiency, are “big picture” thinkers, and are more open to feedback than their counterparts. I speak from experience – I’m a millennial and am the youngest manager in any department within the city that I work. This sounds impressive, but it has brought to me a host of challenges that I’ve had to overcome while rebuilding a struggling program, filled with employees from older generations in an environment that values wisdom and experience. Millennials bring a unique skill set to the workplace that can be deployed to create strong teams, encourage innovation, and increase overall workplace satisfaction.
Get a Mentor: Having a mentor, including my current mentor through NSWM’s Policy Fellowship Program, has been instrumental in the development of my leadership style. Mentorship allows for a place to seek practical guidance, to learn from experiences of others, and to build confidence. I believe mentorship, (along with education, work experience, and failure), are critical to leadership development and lifelong learning.
Embrace Differences: Although my employees in the baby boomer generation require me to adjust my leadership style, they also bring a wealth of experience and a different approach to social services. I have learned to embrace these differences and take advantage of the brain power in older generations. The different vantage points from multigenerational employees has helped me to build a strong, innovative team of problem solvers.
Promote Strong Communication: Millennial managers should support a constant stream of feedback from both superiors and subordinates. Open and safe communication allows for trust-building, especially with older generations. I’m constantly seeking new information and ways to educate myself (this is a product of my upbringing with the internet). I ask my team for feedback daily, and making sure they know they are heard and respected. This helps me to take the temperature on the workgroup, but also on myself. How am I performing as a manager? Am I providing expectations, guidance, and support to my team? Do they feel satisfied in their jobs? Do they feel like they are contributing to the success of the team? I additionally encourage this communication from my boss. I’m always reviewing my expectations so I have an internal guide on how to conduct business.
Respect Tradition: It takes a long time in government for things to change, and when it does, change is hard. Sometimes, change is fought and tradition stays. What I’ve learned is that it is important to explore the tradition – ask questions like, “How has this tradition or practice helped you before? How has it hindered you or made your job harder?” This not only educates the manager on the purpose of the practice (which may be unclear at first), but also allows the employee to assess the practice and decide for themselves whether it makes sense.
Be Flexible and Collaborative: I’m a little bit of a control freak. Those closest to me might argue that it’s more than a little bit. I have had to force myself to be flexible as a manager. I must be open to ideas, accepting of setbacks, and so incredibly patient. But I realize that my flexibility allows my employees to move and shake with me. Collaboration is also key to effective millennial leadership. Ask employees how you can help them, or ask them for ideas. Relinquishing some control and collaborating with my team on things like policy development, workload reassignment, or even office reconfiguration empowers employees to make innovative decisions and take pride in the overall program development, which leads to higher job satisfaction and more trust in the manager.
I am, by no means, an expert in leadership. I am learning by trial and error, and am admittedly using Google quite a bit. I’m figuring it out as I go, taking lots of notes, and staying positive. I believe that millennials have an inherent skill set because of their upbringing that positions them to be strong and effective leaders, so long as we can convince everyone else. As a manager, I’m committed to changing the perception of millennials, because I believe millennials can change the world (or at least my little world in social services).
Gallup, I. (2016). How Millennials Want to Work and Live. Retrieved March 03, 2018, from http://news.gallup.com/reports/189830/e.aspx
Lauren Hyre is a professional social worker with direct service, clinical, and community-based experience in public, private, and non-profit sectors. Lauren has worked with diverse populations including refugees, mental health, justice-involved, homeless, and older adults. Currently, she works as a Social Services Supervisor with the City of Tempe’s Human Services Department Adult Diversion, Probation and Home Detention Program, and provides services in the City’s treatment courts. Lauren is passionate about public service and a champion for social justice, and has dedicated her life to advocating for marginalized populations. Lauren is interested in issues related to women’s rights, health care access, affordable housing, economic security, restorative justice and criminal justice reform, and civil rights. Lauren received a Master of Social Work degree from the University of North Dakota, and is currently a Licensed Master Social Worker through the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. Lauren was appointed as a member of Tempe’s Veterans Commission in 2017, and is a recipient of the 2017-2018 Network for Social Work Management Policy Fellowship. Outside of her social work practice, Lauren enjoys practicing yoga, riding horses, and spending time with her family and her animals.