5 Ways to Build Better Coexistence Between Millennials and Managers

[Editor’s Note: We welcome millennials and other generations to contribute to this new recurring feature.]

By Heather Harder, Past President, PRSSA
By Heather Harder, Past President, PRSSA

It seems organizations publish articles and release studies regarding best practices for connecting with millennials nearly every day. It’s not often, however, that there are studies and articles sharing what millennials can do to mesh with other generations.

In a Fast Company opinion piece, two millennials asked other generations to “stop treating millennial employees like enigmas.” Yet the problem wasn’t that the authors asked for more opportunities to provide meaningful feedback and have dialogue with senior leaders, it was that they failed to discuss what millennials can and should do in return.

It doesn’t make sense for the millennial microscope to be a one-way device. As millennials’ workplace saturation increases, so does the need for millennials to understand how to work with managers from other generations and to work with other generations in general. After all, Generation Z is just around the corner.

Here are ways the parties can coexist:

1. Millennials: Learn and Understand What Managers Want and Why. While there may be better ways of doing things, there also may be logical reasons why things are as they are. If you question something or have an issue, ask—but do so with an open mind.

“The sense of entitlement in our generation often leads many, but not all, of us to believe the customer-is-always-right mentality applies everywhere, including our jobs,” says Jess Noonan, PRSA new professionals section chair. “Millennials I’ve seen succeed recognize that an entire company cannot change everything...to adjust to a single generation.”

Smart businesses will learn how to attract and retain millennials, but they also will know how to generate results. And that may not entail meeting every millennial demand.

2. Millennials: Contribute to the Culture Without Attacking It. Managers’ top criticisms of millennials in PR include that they are self-centered and disrespectful, according to a report by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. To avoid being seen that way, recognize what the organization is doing well, and ask questions before jumping to accusations.

The report also revealed that managers want to hire millennials who will contribute to an organization’s culture. That’s right: Companies are looking for young, talented leaders to make a difference in the business. If you look at the bigger picture, this provides an opportunity.

“Instead of expecting the company to completely change its culture, millennials should look to influence culture in small ways that make the company better for every generation,” Noonan says.

3. Managers: Communicate What You Are Doing. You’ve heard millennials want transparency. That means sharing what good you are doing already. You may host internal focus groups and facilitate an employee mentorship program, but if millennials don’t hear about it, they may not think it exists. Internal communication is critical for any type of work, but it is especially important when working with PR pros.

Regardless of generation, everyone likes to feel valued and appreciated. Establishing regular communication isn’t just good for the people you manage. Gathering feedback regularly can help you learn how to better motivate staff and improve results from your team. It may even draw your attention to issues you’ve never noticed.

4. Managers: Recognize This Is More Than a Generational Issue. “I believe it’s up to leaders and managers inside the organization to create an environment where employees at all levels, and particularly at the entry level, can share thoughts on how to better drive business performance,” says MasterCard CCO Chris Monteiro.

Focusing on one generation at the sake of losing other generations’ attention will get you nowhere. Instead of considering how to connect with millennials, consider how to best serve all employees, no matter where they are in their careers. Different generations have different values, but so do different people. While mass employee engagement surveys may not deliver insights into individual employees’ thoughts, ensuring that every single employee has the opportunity to check in with his or her manager to provide and receive feedback is a necessity.

“To best capture ideas in a timely manner, organizations should make a variety of channels and methods available to employees allowing them to use the manner that is most comfortable based on personal preference,” MasterCard’s Monteiro adds.

5. Managers: Hold Millennials Accountable. All you hear about is what millennials want and how to cater to their needs. Don’t let our generation off easily. Millennials should enter your company understanding that they have a responsibility to learn what the company is doing to engage its employees and to respectfully speak up if they feel things could be done differently. Make sure millennials understand what is expected of them so that everyone is meeting, and perhaps setting, the expectations.

When it comes to employee communications, it’s all about having an employee-centric focus, regardless of the generation. In the end, connecting with millennials is not an issue of generational differences, but of something PR pros have been dealing with for decades: two-way communication.

CONTACT: Heather Harder is an account executive at Capstrat. @HeathHarder

This article originally appeared in the January 25, 2016 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.