Monday, March 7, 2011

Fiction - Guide to Managing Millennials

NOTE: This post is rated PG-13 for crude humor and mature themes.


I am happy to announce that this is my 100th blog post since I started albertnet! My first post was in February of 2009. Funny … it doesn’t seem like that long ago.


I got a solicitation in my work e-mail that was either spam or a reasonable business proposition, depending on your point of view. (As the aptly named Senator Packwood pointed out, “How can you know until you try?”) The solicitation was from and was for a $99, 18-page guide on “Managing Generation Y.” The ad started out: “Generation Y. The Internet Generation. Millennials. Whatever you call them, this new generation of workers is the largest to hit the workforce since the Boomers, and they bring with them unique expectations.”

Right away this caught my attention. First of all, I was thrown by this term “Millennials.” Millennials? As in, born around the turn of the century? These people are eleven now. Please tell me they aren’t invading the workforce. Meanwhile, if the workforce is being flooded with these Gen-Y types, during a terrible recession with the worst unemployment in decades, who are they to be expecting anything? How about “being happy just to have a job”? Why should we coddle and cater to these people?

Naturally, I’m just being a bitter old man here. Obviously we need these youngsters very badly, because they “get it,” they can conceive of the next great “killer app,” they can solve our office computer problems, and many of them are still good-looking enough to be the public face of our companies as the rest of us, skin wrinkling and backs aching, run out the clock on our miserable lives. It has always been thus. So, the management guide makes perfect sense.

This is where I come in. I’m guessing that most corporate wage slaves—especially “individual contributors” (i.e., non-managers) like myself—are going to find $99 a bit steep for an 18-page electronic document, especially when the advertisement has embarrassing typos like “3 way to develop productive relationships with Millennials.” (Whether they meant “3 ways” or “3-way”—which would be kind of shocking—that’s pretty sloppy). So I figured, why don’t I write my own guide, which would be shorter (and thus better), and much, much cheaper? I might not have done as much research as these guys, but a little advice is better than nothing. Best yet, I let my PayPal account lapse, so I’m not even going to charge you. You can just buy me a beer next time I see you.

[Please note that what follows is fiction. I do not allude to any actual company in this piece, nor am I a human resources type, nor do I actually have real advice for anybody in this realm. It’s just for fun. Okay? Good.]


Seven core traits of Generation Y

Naturally there are vast differences among the members of any generation, but certain generalizations can be made (and are essential to handy pocket guides like this). This guide will concern only Americans born in 1990 or later, and who are entering the corporate world of offices rather than service-sector jobs, self-employment, or itinerant farm labor. Also, this guide only discusses males. Research for the equivalent guide for female employees is still underway as it is a much more complicated matter. (The section about boots and other footwear, by itself, is likely to eclipse this entire guide.) Stay tuned for how to order this second guide as soon as it is available!

Here are the seven core traits of Generation Y:

Informal – They consider not only words like “sir” and “please” to be old-fashioned, but also formerly widespread ideas like politeness, hierarchies, and decorum.

Connected – They are continuously in touch with a very wide, though seldom deep, electronic network of other Millennials (along with older sickos masquerading as them).

Casual – Old-fashioned business attire like suits, ties, socks, and clean shaves have been virtually abandoned by Gen-Y.

Entitled – This generation was raised by parents who were kids in the seventies—that is, whose parents were only into themselves. The backlash of the seventies selfish parents has manifested in overindulgent nineties/aughts parents who showered their kids with love, attention, praise, and expensive toys, making Gen-Y hugely imbued with a sense of entitlement.

Scattered – Millennials don’t have time for MTV, full magazine articles, lectures, books, or this guide. Their intellectual activity is the equivalent of waiting tables. They’re able to keep a dozen different text/Tweet/phone conversations going while seeming to be paying attention to you, but their mental worlds are too frantic for deep thoughts or discussions.

Public – Generation Y has become so inured to self-disclosure, due primarily to Facebook and other social networks, that the line between public and private has been essentially erased.

Smart – As far as we can tell, these kids are really, really smart. (We kind of have to say this, in case one of them happens to read this guide and becomes really, really offended.)

Deep down, Millennials are not only aware of these traits, but are very proud of them. This means if any member of an older generation, especially somebody in management, demonstrates these traits, the Gen Y employee is likely to feel patronized. You will do well to be as polite, isolated, well-attired, timid, organized, private, and, well, clueless as possible in the presence of Gen Y. This shouldn’t be that hard. Just be yourself.

Getting off on the right foot

A big part of your success in managing a Millennial is hiring the right one to begin with. Careful recruiting has never been more important—or more difficult—than it is now. Here are some pointers.

One of the most common mistakes managers make when recruiting Gen Y is to be visibly startled by the candidate’s appearance. This can cause the candidate to clam up completely, or else to lash out. If you know what to expect, you can keep your cool and have a positive recruiting experience. Things to be ready for:

  • The candidate may not wear a necktie to the interview. Many Gen Yers literally cannot believe that this would be expected, even in an interview.
  • Clip-on tie? Hide your astonishment. The candidate may sincerely want to please but knows he could never actually tie a tie; or, he is wearing the clip-on ironically.
  • Giant fist-sized perfectly symmetrical Windsor knot? You’ve got a great candidate: somebody who actually trusts the sartorial advice of his (albeit misguided) father or grandfather enough to get help tying his tie. This guy is more likely to be emotionally stable, and might also be more docile in accepting quaint workplace traditions like working hard.
  • Corporate logo, penis graphic, or animal art on a necktie? Roll with it—unless it’s a donkey or elephant. That could mean a politically active person, who could seriously damage workplace productivity during election season.
  • Totally oversized suit? Could be a loaner from Dad. Or maybe the candidate got a bad clothier recommendation from a pal and went to Big & Tall. So many Millennials are seriously overweight, Big & Tall has become almost the de facto clothier for interview suits. (In fact, the parent corporation, LivingXL, is considering rebranding the clothing chain “Big & Normal.”)

Traditionally, an interview consists of an employer asking questions of the candidate to find out if he is qualified for the job. Today, the candidate’s ability should be assumed. Technology is changing so fast, your candidate will probably have an innovative, super-efficient way of carrying out his work tasks—something you never would have dreamed of. Or, the Gen Y new-hire may think of totally different job activities, or even a totally new business for your company to get into. Thus, the main purpose of the job interview is to convince the candidate that your company is a cool place to work—even while you take care to avoid coming off as a poseur.

Three ways to Motivate Millennials

There are of course countless ways to motivate your Gen Y employees, most of which work only some of the time. But we have identified three surefire ways to get the most out of your Millennials:

Interns. Always have some interns around to do most of the work. Not only do interns not require motivation (after all, trying to turn their internship into a paying job is all the motivation they will ever need), having them to kick around will build and sustain the self-esteem of your Gen Y employees.

Rejiggered ratings. In the traditional ratings scale used for older employees, change “underachieving” to “achieving”; change “achieving” to “exceeding expectations”; and change “exceeding expectations” to “needs improvement.” The name changes to the lower ratings are to protect an employee’s morale, since Millennials in these rungs obviously came through the “praise everybody” system where every player on the soccer team gets a trophy, even the ones who never kicked the ball. The name of the top tier is designed for offspring of Tiger Mothers, who respond only to verbal abuse.

Free soda. Fountain beverages are extremely inexpensive but really make your Gen Y employees feel valued. Put the beverage company’s marketing machine to work for you! (Note: do not offer Shasta or other off-brand beverages—this will backfire!)

Public vs. private

Self-disclosure is a habit for Millennials, so you should be braced for offhanded disclosures, ranging from the candid to the downright maudlin, that would have been unheard of a generation ago. The danger here is that your reaction could catch your employee completely off-guard and cause him terrible embarrassment. It is natural to assume that anybody of this generation would have pretty thick skin, but actually they do not. There is no non-verbal communication on Facebook, and face-to-face workplace interactions are not something the typical Gen-Y person is accustomed to. A poker face and a ready comment (e.g., “How did that make you feel?”) are advised.

For example, in his first or second week on the job a Millennial might make reference to something his therapist said to him. Generation Y, unlike the proud and/or shame-filled ones before it, is very relaxed about getting a little help sometimes. To show surprise at this disclosure—to say nothing of gasping—would be a very damaging, and alienating, faux pas. Instead you should respond (practice this in the mirror if necessary), “Wow, that’s very perceptive. Say, is your therapist accepting new patients?”

Of course, playing off your Gen Y employee’s disclosure is totally different from disclosing anything of an even remotely personal nature yourself. Why? Because you’re like the Millennial’s mom or dad, so for you to open up is embarrassing (in the “eww!” way). If, say, you mention that you have an appointment with a dermatologist, don’t be surprised if your Gen Y employee says, “Dude—TMI!”

To the great consternation of human resources departments nationwide, Gen Y employees cannot be prevented from Tweeting about just about everything that happens in the workplace. The only way to keep your company’s private business private is to require employees to create a Twitter alter-ego. You can put a positive spin on this requirement when explaining it to your Millennials. One benefit: with this alter ego they can be even more brash, insulting not just their enemies but their friends.

Of course, everybody mentioned in these Tweets must have a pseudonym as well. To assure this, have your employees refer to their colleagues (and yourself) by whatever secret nicknames they’re already using. Tell your employee, “If you think of me as ‘Balding Douchelord,’ just use that nickname in your Tweets.” If the employee resists, get him excited by saying, “As of yet nobody has created an iPad app that turns a name into an alias, like ‘Joseba Bloviatronica’ for ‘Joe Blow,’ then checks its availability. Somebody is going to make a killing on that app!”

Internet use

Telling a Millennial not to use Facebook while at work would be a real morale-crusher, so you have to allow it. But with other types of Internet abuse, you need to be more firm. Specifically, you can’t have employees using the corporate network to steal media content. Gen Y-ers cannot grasp that sharing MP3 files or downloaded movies is theft; this is literally beyond their comprehension. Explain that there are some upper-level managers who just don’t “get it,” and that these managers unfortunately have the authority to fire people. This will no doubt elicit a knowing smirk—Millennials are expert at covering their tracks—so you must follow up by saying, in a low voice, “Look, there are sysadmin people in this company very jealous of your success. They might just have nothing better to do than set up network traps to get you busted.”

Of course, even bringing up Internet acceptable use policy will get you labeled as one of “them,” so to build back the rapport with your Millennial, you need to get up, close your door, draw your blinds, and let him in on a little “secret”: that there’s a conference room with an extra PC that isn’t on the corporate network but instead steals Internet connectivity from the Starbucks in the lobby. He can use this PC to browse untoward websites, just like he did at the public library as a junior high kid.

Sensitivity training

Gen Y-ers are known for being sensitive. But this doesn’t mean they’re sensitive to others’ feelings—just to their own. We’d all like to think these kids have evolved into something kinder and gentler than we are, but honestly, what can we expect from a generation whose credo is “Sucks to be you!”?

It is widely accepted among Millennials that you can insult somebody as bluntly as you want, as long as you say, “Ha ha, you’ve just been punked!” afterward. It is very uncommon, however, for them to consider their audience for such gibes; that is, they’re just as likely to insult a grey-haired senior colleague as one of their pals. Naturally you cannot assume the senior colleague will understand, so you need to alter the Gen Y employee’s behavior.

The best angle to work here is the purely pragmatic. Don’t say, “Now Tyler, you shouldn’t give Donald a hard time just because he prints out so many documents. He’s kind of sensitive about his work habits and feels like you’re making fun of his age.” That’s just not going to work. What you should say is, “Tyler, don’t make fun of Donald. He’s a gun nut and kind of unstable.”

This sensitivity washes both ways. For example, if Donald, who is putting his daughter through Columbia, sees fit to pack a sack lunch every day, he certainly may. But just because he’s always eaten peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches doesn’t mean he can continue to do so. Millennials are likely to be allergic to peanuts, and even if they’re not, would be scandalized to see a peanut product right out there in the open. After all, peanut products are practically a controlled substance in modern schools. In deference to Gen Y, have your older employees switch to another type of nut butter.


This guide is really just the beginning. Behaviors among Generation Y are always changing and shifting, even as older employees become ever more rigid, even brittle, in their ways. Perhaps the best way to motivate Millennials, and make them feel good, is to ask their opinion about how you should behave. (It’s tempting to have them critique this guide, but of course they’re much too busy.)

dana albert blog

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