Millennials aren’t difficult to manage, you just have to know what they are looking for

Author: Liana Cafolla | Date: 1 Feb 2017

Speakers at Morgan McKinley’s HR seminar discuss the best way to engage a tricky generation

Millennials typically have a less than sparkling reputation among employers. They are often said to be less motivated, less loyal to their organisation, want faster promotions and more feedback, and have less respect for experience.
 
For HR professionals trying to find ways to engage and retain talent, a daunting picture emerges of a hard-to-please and hard-to-manage generation. But at a breakfast seminar hosted in Hong Kong by Morgan McKinley on the topic of managing millennials (those aged 20-35), HR leaders discussed the realities of young professionals in the workplace.
 
In most cases, speakers agreed that making the effort to see beyond the stereotypes can reveal rational needs and concerns that HR can often resolve.
 
Millennials’ reputation for lacking motivation and being demanding is often spawned by a perception that the employer’s values are not aligned with their own. In response, organisations can demonstrate that the company walks the talk when it comes to having the same values. At Hong Kong Broadband Network, for example, the business takes staff on an annual ‘experiential’ trip where they are encouraged to bond and get to know each other in a challenging team environment. Activities like this can help build strong shared values because they show that the employer puts its people first and is committed to developing talent, says Austin Tay, founder of Omnipsi Consulting.
 
Organisations need to see past the apathy and recognise millennials’ need for values and purpose. “They’re really concerned about values,” said Samuel Tsang, partner and human capital leader at Deloitte Consulting Hong Kong. “They value transparency, honesty and authenticity and they also expect this from their managers.”
 
Millennials who appear to lack loyalty to their employer and job-hop may be signalling a need for further development. “Managers often know how to manage but not how to develop,” said Tay. He said managers need to ask themselves how the organisation can create learning opportunities for millennials as soon as they start writing the job description.
 
Managers also need to recognise the opportunities offered by millennials’ relative lack of experience, because it can lead to much greater innovation and experimentation, says Niq Lai, chief talent & financial officer and co-owner of Hong Kong Broadband Network. “We treasure naivety in millennials – the daringness to dream big, to not know what has failed,” he said.
 
Millennials crave both the freedom to experiment and more feedback. That is partly in response to living in an unstable world, with the experience of the last financial crisis still fresh. For some, that instability makes them less committed to working hard. The answer is to lead with compassion, said Tay. “You need to sit down with them and say, ‘how can we make it better for you, so that you can contribute more to the organisation?’”
 
And in some cases, HR needs to accept that the best solution for both parties is to cut ties. “We shouldn't force lifetime commitments on millennials,” said Lai. “People benefit from moving around and from international experience. Sometimes, we need to advise them to leave.”