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When millennials become managers

by Heat Recruitment

Open the pages of any newspaper or magazine and at any given time, or simply enter the word ‘millennial’ into Google, there will invariably be a plethora of articles talking about how business leaders can better understand millennial workers and how best to manage them.

Yet few ever discuss the fact that millennials are not an ‘emerging’ generation of worker, they are the most important and before long it will be them calling the corporate shots. So what can we expect from millennial business leaders?

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are those who were born between the 1980s and the early 2000s. They earned the epitaph of ‘millennial’ simply because this was the first generation to graduate into the world of work after the year 2000 – the dawn of the new millennium. They have also earned a reputation for many other things too.

By 2025, millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce

Indeed, popular wisdom has it that millennial workers are lazy, opinionated, entitled and prone to job-hopping in a bid to find a better role with better pay. While there may be some semblance of truth in a few of these things, such opinions often weaken when the context is considered.

For instance, on the accusation of job-hopping, this true – to an extent. This is a generation of workers that isn’t just looking for a ‘job’, they are enthusiastic, ambitious and want to work in a role that will enable them to take the next step towards achieving their career goals. They also look for purpose and if the organisation they work doesn’t share the same values as they do, they’ll simply find one that does. So when it comes to understanding millennials, it comes down to recognising the context.

Millennials are not going anywhere. They currently represented 25% of the global workforce and by 2025 more than 75% of workers will be millennials, according to research conducted by the likes of PwC and Deloitte. They are now firmly embedded in the workplace and will soon start moving up towards leadership. As they start to reach the higher echelons of the organisation, millennials will take on and adapt the leadership traits that they admired and trusted in those who they reported to earlier in their careers.

So what traits can we expect to see in tomorrow’s millennials leaders?

  1. Greater flexibility than previous generations of workers:

One of the defining characteristics of millennials in the workplace is their desire for flexible working. This is a generation that didn’t evolve around technology, it has been in their DNA since birth. They recognise that technology has made it far easier to offer employees remote and flexible working options, so we are likely to see millennial leaders champion more initiatives to create healthy workplaces and a better work-life balance.

Traditionally, flexible working hasn’t been very widespread among senior management, but that is likely to change as millennials move into leadership roles. They are far more likely to champion flexible working through leading by example than the current incumbents.

  1. The ultimate communicators:

Social media has give rise to a generation that values transparency and greater inter-connectivity like never before. Millennials want to work for open and transparent organisations and will encourage this way of working as they take up leadership roles. They are also likely to support 360° feedback systems and value advice and criticism from their team.

  1. Closer collaboration:

Unlike their Generation X and Baby Boomer colleagues, millennials value mentorship, rather than strong leadership. They are used to working collaboratively to reach shared goals, rather than simply carrying out one person’s vision – this is not a generation who will ever hold up the ‘heroic’ (aka ‘command and control’) leaders of the past. Millennials will involve others on key projects or as part of the decision making process with the focus on their people rather than the bottom line (the one positively impacting the other be default).

  1. Authenticity:

More than any other generation, millennials are unwilling to compromise on their values and want to work for a company with principles that align with their own. As such, we can expect millennial leaders to place more importance on setting and living corporate values and will recruit teams of people share that vision. It’s also about practicing what they preach too – being more willing to be personal and approachable and in doing so demonstrating their authenticity to their teams.

  1. Challenging the ‘way things have always been done’:

Millennials have seen first-hand how disruption can fundamentally change industries, and are not afraid to challenge how things are done if they think a better, more effective method or approach will deliver better results. Of course, this won’t be easy – they may still need to convince the old guard that their way will pay dividends. To overcome this challenge, the most successful millennial leaders will be those who can translate ideas across generational gaps.


The gap between Generation X and Generation Y workers is actually not as wide as many in the media would like us to think. Generation Xers benefitted from the lessons learned by their predecessors, the Baby Boomers, in much the same way as millennials will take heed of the generation before them.

There isn’t really an ‘us’ and ‘them’ – after all, there have always been differences between young and old since time immemorial.

So rather than frown upon tomorrow’s business leaders, we should view them with a sense of flattery – they’ll be taking all the things that we’ve done so well so far, and making them even better. The question then becomes – what will the generation after next be like?

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