Tips for Managing Millennials – from a real, live millennial!

Best Practices : Article

“Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership is about coping with change.”

– John Kotter, Harvard University, Leading Change


It was only about two years ago, when I started as a Program Coordinator at Virtual, Inc., that it dawned on me that I belong to the dreaded Millennial Generation. I say dreaded, because it seems that we have quite a reputation out in the world for being lazy, spoiled and demanding.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot more about what it means to belong to this new generation of employees, and I’ve found that I’m proud to be a part of this group of young people bringing about vast change in the workforce, not just in the for-profit but also the nonprofit sector. Now, as a Program Manager, I’m beginning to think about how this change in the workforce affects the organizations I manage and how those organizations can benefit from recruiting and keeping my peers satisfied in their jobs. 

In a Fortune Magazine article entitled Everything you need to know about your Millennial co-workers, Katherine Reynolds Lewis 

writes that Millennials “yearn to work for managers who treat them fairly and respectfully, to form positive connections with colleagues and feel proud of what they do and its impact on the world.” This desire to do meaningful work that will affect the world in a positive way is a trait that makes Millennials a perfect fit for the nonprofit sector, and leaders of nonprofit organizations would do well to tailor their management techniques to draw us in.

In another recent article about the new generation at work, entitled What it will Take to Get a Nonprofit Job in 2020, Rachel Gillet quotes Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, as saying: “Coupled with the fact that more Millennials are entering the workforce with the intention of doing good, the nonprofit sector will be a magnet for top talent, creating a pipeline of future leaders who are committed and skilled at delivering a double bottom line.”

It seems that a big draw of the nonprofit sector for Millennials is tied to the idea of making the world a better place, of having an impact, and helping others. In fact, Gillet lists “a nonprofit’s mission as the most powerful attractant of talent.” 

Virtual, Inc. employs a large number of Millennials. At almost 33 years old, there are days when I feel old in my section of the office. Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed older colleagues leaving the organization; feeling out of place in this fast-paced environment despite the great benefits. On the other hand, I’ve also seen younger colleagues leaving because they feel their work isn’t meaningful enough for them.

So what can nonprofit organizations do to compete with for-profit companies that have the financial means to offer attractive incentives to draw in and keep the most talented employees? 

From an HR perspective, any company should aim to decrease what are called dis-satisfiers, such as policies and relationships with supervisors that lead to dissatisfaction in the workforce, while increasing satisfiers; traditionally seen as achievement, recognition, growth and responsibility. However, for Millennials, we can also add such things as mission, fairness, equality, tolerance for risk-taking, and support for innovation to the list of satisfiers to increase job satisfaction among the younger generation.

Non-profit organizations and their managers can also focus on turning the dis-satisfiers related to policies and relationships with supervisors into satisfiers by allowing for more flexibility in working hours, allowing staff to work remotely, and allowing staff members at more junior levels into the decision making process.

Of course, these are benefits that could be enjoyed by staff members of all ages, and it’s been found that workers of older generations are more likely to shift their attitudes than the younger ones. (Yes, you can add “stubborn” to the list of adjectives used to describe us!)

What’s most important is that these types of benefits are not the ones that would cost the organization more money. It doesn’t cost anything to implement a fair decision-making process and treat your employees equally, allow them to work from home on occasion, and encourage them to give input on decisions that affect the organization. 

Of course, change takes time, and it’s not always easy to get everyone on your side. Nonprofit leaders may become frustrated with catering to the whims of a generation they don’t fully understand and see as spoiled and demanding. However, Millennials are showing that they can be a great asset to the nonprofit sector, and the changes implemented to satisfy Millennials at work will also be appreciated by other generations. As Lewis puts it, older generations “want the same thing that every employee wants: schedule control, meaningful work relationships, and choice of projects and learning opportunities. In focusing on the needs of the next generation, these companies are creating a better place to work for everyone.”

Even with a lack of funds, there is a lot that nonprofit leaders can do to create the type of work environment and job satisfaction that attracts top talent to their organizations. Ultimately, the mission of the organization must be at the center of everything the nonprofit does; not only to benefit the staff but in the end to help the people it serves.

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