Why Millennials Won’t Be Like Your Old Boss

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The Millennials are growing up. That’s not to say they’re changing their ways: They’re still hyper-connected, and still want flexibility, balance and meaning from their jobs. But after years of challenging recruiters and HR with their unique approach to the workplace, the older members of Gen Y are leveraging their experience into management positions. That’s right. Soon, you could be working for a Millennial.

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Like any generation, Millennials vary in their expectations and precisely how they go about doing their jobs. Still, their plugged-in, fast-moving style is going to force changes in approach on the part of their teams. Like any boss, they’re going to worry about deadlines, schedules and budgets. What will markedly differ is their approach to communication and how they interact with you.

Online, All the Time

The Millennials are the uber-connected generation. “They were raised on the Internet and devices,” noted Alice Ain Rich, a career coach and corporate employment consultant in Boston. “You’ll have to text, you’ll have to communicate electronically, or communication won’t happen.”

This can lead to some uncomfortable situations. While you might be used to dealing with certain issues face-to-face—project updates, say, or even resolving conflicts between team members—your new boss may prefer to tackle those subjects by email or Skype. Whereas before, you may have provided project updates in status meetings, now you may have to put it all in a single slide.

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The key to success is figuring out what approach works best for your new boss. In some instances, they may simply tell you, though it’s more likely you’ll have to look for signs. If your requests for phone calls or one-on-ones are repeatedly put off, shift your approach to email or text to see which gets you the most effective response. If your boss regularly sends around charts and graphs, look for ways to deliver information using similar tactics.

With all their experience in the professional world, Baby Boomers may have an easier time with this than they first imagine, believes Elizabeth Lions, a Dallas-based career management and leadership development specialist, as well as author of I Quit! Working For You Isn’t Working For Me. “Boomers really understand how to make their boss look good,” she said. If in doubt, “you can just flat-out ask them: ‘Is there anything I can do to make your job easier?’ Doing that helps if you’re missing the social cues.”

The Uncomfortable Truth

For some people, reporting to a younger boss can be ego-shattering. In such situations, anger and resentment are natural emotions, but you have to overcome them if you’re going to continue to succeed.

“As difficult as it is, you have to check your ego at the door,” said Rich. Though you should “remember that you still have a lot of knowledge,” don’t assume the manager doesn’t have the right skills, too. “The manager was made a manager because they bring something to the table.”

Keep your discussions—however you have them—on-point and focused. For example, you might be tempted to spotlight the depth of your knowledge by discussing the theory behind a programming language. Don’t do it. Like any other boss, Millennial managers are pressed for time and need immediate information related to the tasks they have in front of them.

Keeping Current

Staying up-to-date has always been a key to success in IT, but working for a Millennial gives the idea of “current” new meaning. To communicate effectively, you need to know what’s going on not only in technology, but in culture as well.

This is all about speaking your boss’s language. Whether you’re a Gen Xer or a Baby Boomer, avoid the trap of isolating yourself with others of your own age. As Rich puts it, “You have to take the time to know what ‘trending’ means.”

A Millennial boss has the same concerns your other managers had, but their approach to directing the team is going to differ. For many tech professionals, working for them will mean jumping into a new world of texting and Skype, of more communications on the fly. Learn how they operate and reach out using the methods they understand. That way, you’ll develop the relationship and the visibility you need to keep your own career moving forward.

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Image: Kzenon/Shutterstock.com

11 Responses to “Why Millennials Won’t Be Like Your Old Boss”

  1. I’m surprised that the writer of this article has fallen for the bullsheeat. Does he really think ‘millennials’ are somehow DIFFERENT than ‘boomers’?? Does he REALLY think that BOOMERS…. hmmm, let me backtrack and change ‘millennials’ to ‘people between 30-45’ and ‘boomers’ to ‘people over 45’, although actually I think there’s another ‘generation’ inbetween millennials and boomers, but never mind that. I’ll argue that on my blog(s).
    I have relatives who are in their 90s now, and every single one of them is ‘computer literate’. Everyone of them has email and several have their own youtube channels (which I setup but so what? they do their own videos. True, a lot of their videos are ‘when I was your age’ bla bla blahs, but I like the videos and so my siblings. As to ‘boomers’, who the bleep do you think INVENTED computers?? Actually people in their 90s-100s now, ‘invented’ mainframes, but those of us over the age of 55 invented microcomputers. AND the software. AND the internet (protocols, etc.) Boomers are just as ‘hooked up’ as anyone who is a ‘millennial’. I have two smartphones, two notepads, three working laptops, two 45-inch external monitors, a handspring pda (that still works but of course I don’t use it), a Phillips flip-top PDA that has a full install of Office on its CE OS and that I would still use — if I had anyway to use a device with a 2400 baudrate modem. I have a recording pen for taking notes in meetings, a digital recorder for “writing” my books while I’m driving or walking somewhere. and I can dictate directly into my windows machines using the built-in voice recorder/transcriber. I do my banking using my smartphone and haven’t paid anything with a check in at least ten years. Do you ACTUALLY think there’s some millennial who can outdo ME (or my fellow professionals who are boomer age) electronically? I can play minecraft if I felt like being that lazy & goal-less. I wrote my own android app to track my health stats, I cracked my droid phone, and I’ve had a cellphone since the early 90s. My living room doesn’t have a couch or even a chair other than my office chair. I’ve thrown several parties via skype, and danced alone in my living room with my friends in Paris, Pakistan, and Manila. One of my BFFs is a professor in Nigeria, another is a soldier n the ME, my linkedin profile is ‘studied’ a LOT by an Israeli secret service-type cop, who doesn’t think I know it, and I have often kicked the NSA OFF my computer. I keep my webcams covered with strips of duct tape. Hmmm. Did I miss anything? Oh. Yes. I’m 66 years old and I handcode all my websites, because after all I was also an SGML template designer in the 80s. I still code, for the fun of it and to keep up my skills. I can tweet exactly 140 characters in less than 40 seconds and I can text with my grandkids faster than THEY can. Does that cover it? Do you REALLY think Boomers are not technically literate or as wired as the 30-45 somethings? The only BIG difference is that I do NOT play games, because THAT is a TOTAL waste of time.

    • Somnambulator

      As a Millennial that also works for a Millennial I only agree to an extent. Obviously being in the IT field pots most (hopefully all) IT managers on the side of using more current technology to communicate and function in the workplace, non-IT managers that are significantly older than me simply do not, on average, utilize tech the way I would expect a Millennial. Many are still wrapping their heads around managing heavy email mailboxes while their millennial subordinates don’t even use email in their personal life and find their jobs annoying by the web 1.0 technologies being used. these millennials often don’t even know what web 1.0, 2.0, or the cloud is, but they know their older bosses aren’t “with the times”. once these ppl are managers I greatly expect to see more shorthand communication. Hell most 25 and under don’t use email at all personally. they don’t even text. they’re actually beyond Facebook…they do close to 100% of their communication through Twitter, Instagram, snapchat, and whatsapp. Are you ready for that? IT managers need to be ready to allow these social messaging platforms in their business (or preferably introduce or enable the existing messaging services they already have and are blocking, like Google Apps for Work’s hangouts and Google+

      • GenX and Y are the ones between Boomers and Millennials. Newsflash: Twitter and Whatsapp are texting services. Instagram and Snapchat are effectively MMS services. People regardless of age come to use whatever messaging protocols the people they communicate with use. There are many apps available that seamlessly bridge these protocols so well, that I could be carrying on an encrypted chat from a GChat address with someone using FB messaging and another person using a private XMPP server, and none of us has to care what service actually provides the message on either end because we’re not actually using Google or FB software to access the services in the first place. Arguing over services is completely moot. They are nearly all compatible, and the ones that don’t play nicely with the existing ecosystem fall by the wayside.

    • Jeannette

      I couldn’t have said it better . . . thank you. Oh, and by the way, I’ve already had the pleasure of having to answer to Millenials in the workplace. Having to listen them with their 1-1/2 to 3- years’ work experience was beyond ingratiating, but it has caused me to focus on starting my business. So, thank Millenials and the Hiring Managers who place them in managerial positions prematurely.

  2. I’ve seen some of these “Millenials” on the job. I am not impressed. If these individuals are the future of IT and this land, then we’re in deep, deep trouble. Who gives a flying bleep about being “connected” all the time and having a smartphone and a Twitter account? Is that what we have degenerated to?

  3. Joe,

    How can you (and the author) generalize about an entire generation of people and draw conclusions? For the most successful workplace experience, get to know your manager’s style, preferences, and expectations — regardless of whether s/he is 25 or 55.

  4. The truth is that being a manager requires learning to communicate with a team. A team that may be comprised of people from three (or even four) generations. Being a manager means communicating with your team in ways that are, first and foremost, effective. If you force your team to communicate by methods that are effective for you and neglect the fact that many of them aren’t comfortable with Skype or don’t want to connect with coworkers via social media, you’re either going to end up without a team or without a job. This article is based on the idea that a manager has the right to dictate the communication methods that are used with their team, but in reality communication methods are dictated by business needs. Unless the business needs dictates social media interaction and Skype use, millennial managers need to put the business and their team first.

  5. “The manager was made a manager because they bring something to the table.”

    And in all too many cases that “something” is arrogance, incompetence, bullying tactics, their political connections, favoritism, cronyism, nepotism, or various combinations of these in a mad dash to reach their personal pinnacle of the Peter Principle.

    You can add the phrase “millennial manager” to the list of oxymorons. You can also add many people who fit that title to a parallel list without the “oxy.”

  6. I love all the assumptions about how previous generations don’t know anything about computers. My father is 92 and spends most of his days playing things like Call of Duty or Fallout 3. He’s the one that taught me DOS commands before I could even read.

    Conversely, in my job I speak to people my own age (36) or younger who can barely turn on a computer; which makes me wonder what they were doing in school.