Carla Howard

We’re well into January, and this time of year is often filled with renewed commitment to goals and the desire to make a fresh start. If you’re hoping to facilitate better working relationships, a great place to start is with millennials. There’s a good chance you are a millennial yourself, since millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, and they’re expected to represent 75% of the workforce by 2025.

Yet despite the significant presence of millennials, they get a bad rap—Udemy’s Millennials at Work report found that 86% of millennials feel undermined by myths and misconceptions about their generation, especially the beliefs that they’re lazy, entitled, and self-centered. I don’t think that’s an accurate portrayal of what millennials are really like. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with millennials, both as interns and full-time employees, and I share my insights in my Udemy for Business course, Leading Millennials: How to Be an Effective Coach.

One of the most important characteristics of millennial workers is they crave learning and development opportunities. Recent research from Udemy found that millennials feel personally affected by the skills gap and would quit a job where they received no training. In order to tap into this motivation, millennials need leaders who coach and listen, understand what they want in their career, and are personally dedicated to them. When you show millennial employees you care about them, you’re telling them that you’re invested in their future. When coaching leaders take the time to explain why they’re doing things, young professionals are dedicated and they do amazing work.

The difference between coaching and managing

To coach millennials effectively, it’s critical to make the distinction between coaching and managing. The traditional way of managing does not provide the kind of feedback that millennials (and Gen Z or “Linksters”—the generation born after 1995) crave and need in order to feel connected to their leadership team, their peers, and the organization. The coaching approach, on the other hand, helps millennials find the purpose in their work and connect it to both personal and company goals.

The traits of a coaching leader (as opposed to a traditional manager) include communicating clearly and regularly. These leaders don’t just tell their team what to do—they explain why certain decisions have been made and why the company is now moving in a particular direction. The coaching approach also avoids rigid career pathing, which can create unrealistic expectations and may not appeal to workers who are still exploring their ideal job. Coaching leaders also provide feedback on a regular basis. Research from Gallup shows that millennial employees who meet with their managers on a weekly basis are more likely to be engaged at work than those who meet less frequently.

Here are five ways that managers can take a coaching leadership approach with their millennial employees.

1. Create a “second family” on your team and in your company

This is a generation that’s used to having a community of support around them. 70% of millennials want the people they work with to function as a “second family.” Managers can create a sense of community by offering community-building activities for your team and company-wide. This may include employee resource groups, casual get-togethers, or service projects. Get to know your employees and learn about their concerns and interests. Look for ways to get your team together that may include a walking team meeting or lunch outside of the office. Creating community relies on building connections beyond those you establish in the office and engaging in activities that support a sense of belonging. Keep in mind that communities don’t just have to exist in person—you can also build them online through technology like Slack that encourages communication across different teams and departments.

2. Make a personal connection with your employees

88% of millennials want to work in more social workplaces, so in addition to creating a sense of community in your company and on your team, it’s essential to connect with your team on a personal level. Find out where they’re going over the weekend or what they’re doing for holidays, and ask them about it when they get back. When you have one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, spend time learning about their personal and professional goals and their lives outside of work. It’s important to become a good listener. Try to be open and curious when millennials share information with you. By replacing judgment with curiosity, you can build their trust in you and develop a personal connection.

3. Regularly provide feedback

For anyone who manages millennials, I recommend having weekly meetings with a structured agenda. Give your millennial employees the ability to help set the agenda, and provide feedback on their work regularly throughout the week. When providing feedback, it’s essential to frame the conversation in a way that lets your employees know that the reason you’re sharing these observations and to help them improve their work because you have confidence in them and their potential to succeed.

This approach so important when working with millennials because these are highly educated people who are excited about their role in the workplace, and they’re open to continuous growth and development—73% expect they’ll need to pursue additional education or training to advance their careers. This is a generation whose parents, coaches, and teachers have provided feedback. If they enter a work environment where it’s basically instruction or they only get minimal feedback, they won’t be engaged and they won’t be learning. They’re very focused and keen on learning and continuing their journey to whatever the next role or position is for them.

4. Support ongoing learning in any way you can

Millennials find ongoing learning opportunities incredibly valuable and it makes their connection to you and the company more sticky. Ongoing learning might include sending them to a seminar, a summit, or letting them choose online learning classes they’d like to take through Udemy for Business. Then, give them time at work to take these classes. Learn about their long-term goals so you can assign them projects that will increase their capabilities and skill level. Look for opportunities where they can job share, take stretch assignments, or maybe even fill in for someone else who’s on leave. All these kinds of activities create stickiness and an environment where millennials want to come to work.

4. Be as flexible as you can with their schedules

44% of millennials say having a flexible work schedule is their ideal work arrangement, and 30% want to work remotely full-time. Managers increasingly have the ability to offer flexibility to their teams. This might mean working from home, or letting someone work remotely for the week over the holidays—any time when you can find an opportunity to give them flexibility, that’s something they crave and they appreciate.

One of the most important aspects of becoming a coaching leader for millennial employees is connecting their personal sense of purpose and ambition with the strategic vision of your company. By keeping these points running parallel, you’ll tap into their motivation and dedication. When you become a great coach for millennials, you’ll become a better leader for all generations in the workplace. Who doesn’t want that level of commitment from their leaders?

To put this advice into practice and learn more, check out Carla’s Udemy for Business course Leading Millennials: How to Be an Effective Coach.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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