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By Karen McCaffrey, Rutgers University

If you have anyone on your team that was born between 1980 and 2000, you are managing a Millennial. And, if you’ve noticed that your traditional management techniques don’t always work with them, now is the time to learn what Millennials want in the workplace and how to balance that with what your non-Millennial employees expect.

  1. It’s not enough to sit down once or twice a year for a formal performance review with Millennials. They grew up with frequent, often positive, feedback. Now that they are in the workplace, they assume they will receive constant coaching. According to a recent study conducted by global technology company SAP, Millennials prefer to receive feedback from their managers monthly. Non-Millennials prefer less frequent feedback. And, Millennials don’t want traditional feedback. They want the conversation to focus on why, not how. In other words, connect your conversation to something that goes beyond the task and even beyond your department or company. They want to see their impact on the greater good. While you might traditionally focus your coaching sessions on how to do something better, Millennials perceive this as micromanagement. They prefer to focus on why things are important rather than how to do them better. Consider structuring your coaching sessions to first discuss the why, then ask your Millennial how he/she thinks the situation could have been handled differently for a better result.Do: Be creative as a manager. Try having more frequent but less formal feedback or coaching sessions with your younger employees. Think of coaching as the new performance review. Millennials want real-time coaching, but they also want to receive feedback regularly so they can focus on more than incremental improvement. They are young and need to see the big picture for their professional development. It’s a good idea to also use monthly coaching sessions to listen to what your Millennial employees think is important. They value being heard and sharing new ways of thinking. If you have an open mind, you might find some interesting creative ideas for your company

    Don’t: Expect everyone on your team to think and behave the same way. Coaching has never been a “one size fits all” method of management and this is no exception. Ask each employee what frequency he/she prefers to hear regular feedback. Adjust your schedule and style accordingly. This is leadership time well spent.


  1. Working in Teams. Millennials want to be challenged. If they are bored, they will move on to the next opportunity. They would prefer to have job fulfillment, an impact on society and have work/life balance than to work at a job they don’t enjoy. Working in teams addresses one of their “wants”. They want to be surrounded with great people so they are always learning. Working in teams, especially cross-functional teams, provides exposure and a voice to your younger employees while leveraging the experience of your older employees.Do: Involve Millennials on teams and committees that can have an impact on your department or company, especially cross-functional teams. Consider including customers on a team for an external point of view and a unique team dynamic. Check in with the team leader often to be sure that your Millennials are being challenged and not just part of a bureaucratic rubber stamp committee.

    Don’t: Assign every committee opportunity to your Millennials. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are willing to be a part of committees and teams that have an impact on the department or company. And, their engagement can challenge them and help elevate their role in the organization.

  2. Technology. Millennials are digital natives; they grew up using technology from the time they were born so it’s second nature to them. In fact, this might be the single most significant difference between Millennials and other generations. While non-Millennials may shy away from exploring new technology, Millennials crave it. It is easy for them to think in terms of technology.Do: Use your tech-savvy Millennials to move your department and company forward. Give them the flexibility to solve problems with existing and new technology solutions. Millennials are comfortable finding apps and free or low-cost software to address many needs. They are at ease working from a smartphone, tablet or even a less traditional (and less expensive) computer such as a Chromebook. Encourage your Millennials to think about tomorrow’s challenges and how they would solve them today. Since technology is a moving target, this will never be a waste of time. Think of your Millennials as in-house technology consultants. You can even engage them in reverse mentoring so that your younger employees are actually mentoring more seasoned employees on how to use new technologies. In return, the non-Millennials can share some of their traditional skills and experience with the Millennials.

    Don’t: Let your department fall behind in terms of technology. While you may not consider some or all of your customers tech-savvy, you might be surprised. The rapid adoption rate of smartphones, apps and social media reminds us that customers live in a connected world and have the same expectations of the companies with whom they do business.

    A word of caution – don’t let your team compromise on professional communication and blame it on technology. While Millennials use text shorthand and prefer to communicate electronically, that might not always be the best approach. Coach your Millennials and non-Millennials to communicate internally in a respectful and mutually agreed-upon manner. And, when it comes to communicating with customers, it’s always best to use the method of communication the customer prefers.


  1. Above all, Millennials want to be inspired at work. Millennials are motivated in much different ways than their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts, according to an article by Karie Willyerd in the Harvard Business Review. They respond to a manager that communicates a compelling vision. They want to know how they fit into the total picture, not just in the department or company, but how they can make a difference in society. They like to work for someone that enhances relationships. That speaks to their collaborative teamwork style; they want a manager that develops and nurtures connections. They respond to leaders that drive results. They are especially responsive to managers that serve as a role model they admire.Do: Work on inspiring your team rather than managing them. You are the only one that can lead by sharing your vision and setting the tone for the entire department every day. Inspiration is the essence of leadership so be the leader that inspires, not the one that manages.

    Don’t: Underestimate the influence you have on each one of your employees. While Millennials are most articulate about being inspired, non-Millennials want to be inspired, too. Help everyone see the possibilities and the importance of their role.


Millennials have brought a lot of change into the workplace. When you understand and embrace this new generation of professionals you can find fresh and creative ways to motivate your entire team to achieve success beyond your expectations.

Karen McCaffrey is the Assistant Dean of Executive Education at Rutgers School of Business – Camden. Her experience includes over 20 years in corporate Human Resources and training and development roles. She currently works with U.S. and global corporate clients including Caterpillar, Graybar and NFI to develop and deliver custom training programs. She manages the Rutgers Human Resources Certificate Programs, Lean Six Sigma Certificate Programs, Project Management Certificate Programs (link each program to the program page) as well as all other certification programs offered by Executive Education at Rutgers School of Business – Camden.

To talk with Karen about a custom training program or certification program for your company, email her at or call her directly at 856.225.6801.