The Millennial User Manual

Our recent “WTF Millennials” piece laid bare many frustrations older managers have in dealing with their young charges. On the flip side, millennials don’t think their bosses understand them.

Digiday is here to help. We spoke to over 10  millennials in various roles at agencies to find out how they’d like to be managed. The idea is to come up with a sort of “user manual” to managing to the newest generation of workers in advertising and marketing.

Two key issues came up across the board. One big one, and the first thing that needs to be tackled, is overcoming the millennial stereotype. As one millennial put it, “I’m sick of hearing that we’re lazy, entitled, overconfident, expect to have everything handed to us, blah blah blah.” Many millennials who weighed in echoed this sentiment of feeling labeled and unfairly misjudged. To put it in language the older generation might understand better, one bad apple doesn’t spoil the bunch.

Another big issue was lack of direction. Agencies often carp about nurturing talent. And yet, by all accounts, they do a terrible job at it. One study showed agency workers get less training than a Starbucks barista. One millennial noted, “A lot of managers are spread too thin to set aside proper time to make sure that juniors are learning the basics of their craft.” Millennials don’t want to be micromanaged, but they also don’t want to be completely left alone to just feel things out. Millennials are curious and creative, and they want to learn and do well, and that requires some directions and pointers from those above them.

Read the full “Millennial User Manual” below for all of the tips and instructions on how best to deal with those youngins in your workplace.

The Millennial User Manual: How to Best Manage Millennials According to Millennials

  • Forget the stereotype. Don’t assume that your millennial charges are just sitting around all day on Facebook and Twitter and expect to be patted on the back every five seconds. That’s just not the case — at least not most of the time. One millennial even requested to not be patted on the back, or touched, ever. But that seems to be an isolated case.
  • Communicate respectfully. This may sound obvious, but apparently it’s not. Many of your millennials are fresh out of school and are inexperienced when it comes to the working world and agency life. Don’t be condescending when talking to them if they seem a bit confused or come across as if they think they know everything. Millennials want to trust and feel comfortable with the person who manages them.
  • Reprimand in private. Don’t call them out in front of others if they messed up. Again, millennials are still newbies in the working world and may not be familiar with certain agency practices, policies and etiquette. Managers are often bewildered by the confidence young workers arrive with, a trait that is far different than how they were at their age. That can sometimes lead to overreactions. If millennials say or do something that’s inappropriate, take them aside and go over in private why something isn’t OK. One millennial shared that early on in his career he often came off as cocky without meaning to and once had the dreaded accidental “reply all” mishap. As he explained, “I was fortunate enough to have mentors to coach me privately and speak up for me in management meetings; not everyone is so lucky.” Constructive criticism and guidance go a long way.
  • Give directions. This is very important. Many millennials feel left out in dust without any guidance from their managers. Managers told Digiday they’re frustrated that many young workers don’t deliver. Like it or not, this is a generation that thrives on feedback and direction. Take some time to go over their projects with them. Give them tips you wish you knew when you first started to help them learn and reach their full potentials. Make sure they are producing.
  • But don’t micromanage. Millennials want pointers and some help every once in a while to keep them on track, but don’t be helicopter managers. Yes, yes, this runs counter to the helicopter parents stereotype. Millennials understand deadlines and are expert multitaskers. They know how to prioritize and how to hustle to meet due dates. Trust them sometimes.
  • Inclusion and access to information. This goes along with communication. Millennials want to be part of the conversation. They want to learn from you and see the bigger picture of what’s going on at the agency. Give them a chance to feel part of decision-making processes, let them see new technology and platforms that you are trying out. If you want them to be innovative, they need to know about the cool things you are hearing about, seeing and doing.
  • Let them be creative. Millennials at agencies are there because they want to be around other creative people and want to be inspired to make cool things. They want to use their ideas and let their creativity run wild. They know all of their ideas won’t work for technical reasons X,Y and Z, but they want to be able to put it out there and learn what will fly and what won’t — and maybe change some of that eventually.
  • Be patient. Everyone agrees this generation is incredibly talented and will obviously define the direction agencies go eventually. It’s hard to imagine for those in their 30s, 40s and older, but they too were once new to the workforce, struggling to find their places. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday “WTF” moments with young charges. Don’t. Look to the big picture.