Managing Teams

5 Tips to Make Millennials Tick at Work

millennials work

Millennials: love them or loathe them, but they are increasingly a force to be reckoned with in the workplace.

These tech-saturated up and comers born in the 1980s and 1990s already make up a quarter of the workforce in this country. By 2020, they’ll account for half of our nation’s workers. And while they’re here, and here to stay, millennials are up against a lot of misunderstandings from their older and more senior counterparts in the corporate world. Often, millennials are stereotyped as being lazy, entitled or contemptuous of authority. However, these characterizations are generally ill-conceived.

“Millennials are often portrayed as apathetic, disinterested, tuned out and selfish,” says Chelsea Clinton, former First Daughter and board member of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. “None of those adjectives describe the millennials I’ve been privileged to meet and work with.”

While misconceptions swirl, there is one undeniable fact about millennials in the workplace that you need to know: they can be tremendously valuable to the future of your organization if you understand how to manage their considerable skills.

“It is crucial for firms and leaders to understand differences in generations so that they can make better decisions about training, leadership development and culture-building for a diverse workforce,” says Henrik Bresman, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD.

With that in mind, here are five tips for how to leverage the growing millennial workforce.

  1. Don’t let millennials get bored

More than half of millennials surveyed said that they value opportunities for career growth over salary and other benefits when weighing prospective employers, according to PwC. Not surprisingly, millennials in the workplace are looking for leaders who are willing to support their career trajectory with clear guidance and goal-setting. To nurture this need to avoid a career plateau, build a culture of development in your workplace. Provide opportunities to train millennials in new skills, encourage them to take initiative on new projects, learn where they excel and give them the chance to innovate in those areas.

  1. Ditch the 9-to-5 cubicle mentality

One definite advantage of hiring millennials is that they often lack the shift mentality of previous generations. They want to work faster and more efficiently—but they also want to be able to do their work from anywhere. INSEAD research has shown that more than 70% of millennials place great value upon having flexible working arrangements. A 2016 report by Fidelity even assigned a monetary value to work-life balance for millennials. The research showed that millennials are willing to give up an average of $7,600 from their annual salary if it means better flexibility in their work arrangements. But this does not mean that millennials are looking to slack off. In fact, millennials are less likely to use all of their vacation days than previous generations. Still, knowing the great value they place upon flexibility, you can easily motivate this millennial workforce by giving them telecommute options. This will empower them to put in their best efforts in an arrangement that suits their lifestyle without compromising productivity.

  1. Go dark

This tip might seem counterintuitive when managing the most technology-inundated employees in history. However, keep in mind that millennials are one of the first generations ever who are choosing to check their work emails in bed at night. With this consideration, it’s easy to see how fatigue builds up even when millennials are not sitting at their desks.

Encourage these workers to take their vacations without logging into their work emails or without turning on their work phones. It may seem silly to have to tell your millennial workers to do so but it can go a long way toward relieving burnout and retaining these employees in the future.

  1. Pay them well

Yes, the majority of millennials say they value flexibility over salary. And yes, millennials are willing to forfeit their vacation days and check their work emails in the middle of the night. However, they still want to be paid fairly. In this case, what’s fair might not necessarily mean negotiating a salary based on seniority. Instead, pay your millennial employees based on an evaluation of the projected impact they will have on your business—and be transparent with them on how you arrived at this figure.

Keep in mind that your millennial employees are saddled with a financial burden that previous generations have not felt. The average 2016 graduate in the US took home more than $37,000 in debt along with her diploma. By offering access to platforms that can help your millennial employees pay off their considerable debt, you will go a long way toward offering them the financial security that frees them to remain with your company and fully commit to doing their best work.

  1. Show them the path to success

According to a 2014 global survey from INSEAD, Universum, and the Head Foundation, millennials overwhelmingly said that they are happy to be coached and mentored by their managers but would prefer not to be bossed around. Understanding the nuance between being a coach and a boss can make for a more successful relationship with your millennial employees.

At the end of the day, remember that millennials are not really that different from their workplace predecessors. Just like everyone else, they want to feel invested in the future success of the businesses where they work. Bring them to the table and share the vision and a snapshot of the road ahead for the company. This type of transparency motivates millennials and appeals to their desire for workplace authenticity.


This insight is brought to you by INSEAD’s Global Executive MBA (GEMBA). The Programme, ranked #1 in Ivy Exec’s 2017 Best Executive MBA Programs, offers experienced executives an intensive 14 to 17-month fast-track to the top via one of the world’s most prestigious and multicultural business schools.

About the Author

As one of the world's leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD offers participants a truly global educational experience. With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and Middle East (United Arab Emirates), INSEAD's business education and research spans three continents. The school’s 145 renowned faculty members from 40 countries inspire more than 1,400 students in its degree and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD's executive education programmes each year. INSEAD’s EMBA programmes are highly ranked by Financial Times, and ranked #1 by Ivy Exec in 2018.