Managing millennials as a small business

August 15, 2019

It's no secret that staying on top of current trends is essential in the world of business. This is often cast in terms of market movements and technological innovations, but there's another trend you should keep in mind if you run or manage a small business. As of 2015, millennials have overtaken baby boomers and Gen Xers to become the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Knowing how to manage millennials in the workplace is imperative to success. With that in mind, it's important to understand how to bridge the generational gap and attract and retain quality millennial talent.

Understand the millennial mindset

The first step in creating a strong, millennial-friendly business is understanding the typical characteristics of millennials in the workplace. Having grown up through the rapid change and upheaval of the information age, millennials possess a range of unique traits as a group. They tend to be more curious, flexible, teamwork-oriented and eager to innovate. They're also inclined to seek work that is meaningful to them and that contributes to a larger and more substantive goal. Millennials often view the world in technological terms and are quick to embrace new tools that facilitate quicker and more efficient work.

As a whole, each generation is deeply shaped by their shared experiences. No generation is unique in this regard, but the rapid pace of change in technology and mass communication has created a distinctive mix of traits among millennials. Failing to understand and account for these generational traits is bound to lead to trouble in attracting and managing younger talent. Embracing these differences can help you manage more effectively and unlock the full potential of your employees. Here are a few substantive steps that you can take to create a more millennial-ready workplace.

Create a strong work culture

Millennials tend to be more self-possessed and less accepting of authority in the workplace than previous generations. However, that doesn't mean managing this generation is a difficult task. It simply requires a different approach. Millennials often seek out companies offering a strong culture that aligns with their values and priorities. They desire an inclusive, respectful workplace and respond best when they feel they're working collaboratively toward meaningful objectives.

Developing a strong culture begins by defining the key values that will guide your business. Why does your business exist, and what positive goals do you strive to achieve? Communicate these ideas to your employees and give them a reason to be excited about the success of the business. Empower them to use their unique talents to reach these shared goals. Cultivate a culture of leadership that relies more on mentorship and mutual cooperation than traditional authority.

Be an adaptive and flexible manager

Effectively managing millennials often requires a willingness to put convention aside. The typical 9-to-5 paradigm simply doesn't fit with a generation that deeply values work-life balance and has come to expect a great deal of flexibility. Indeed, around three in every four millennials make career decisions based on their ability to maintain a work-life balance. This desire is also reflected in 56 percent of younger workers preferring benefits they can choose for themselves.

Offering flexible scheduling has become a key strategy for attracting and retaining millennials. It's also helpful to offer opportunities to work from home when the job allows. When it comes to benefits, try to offer employees a range of options. Health insurance is important, but millennials also value dental and vision plans, disability and life insurance, retirement plans and more paid vacation days. Many millennials are also willing to pay a greater cost for a benefit rather than losing it entirely. It's also important to be flexible in the workplace. Be open to employee suggestions, and if you must reject them, be sure to provide a good reason.

Embrace technology in the workplace

It's not surprising that the children of the digital age value and rely on technology. It's also not a bad thing for your business. In fact, encouraging millennials' love of technology can keep employees happy and engaged while also paying off in other ways. Look for ways to incorporate technology into your business operations whenever it makes sense. Keep an open mind when employees offer tech-based solutions to problems, and don't be afraid to empower them to explore new opportunities. However, it's important to prevent potential issues by adopting clear policies regarding things like social media and the use of personal devices.

Focus on the individual employee

No one wants to feel like a replaceable cog in the machine. That's especially true of the millennial generation. Perhaps above all else, millennials want a workplace that offers recognition, reinforcement and opportunities for growth. Most millennials prefer workplaces that offer frequent and specific feedback. However, just 15 percent of them regularly request it from their managers. With that in mind, effectively managing millennials requires laying out clear expectations and following up with frequent and meaningful feedback.

Giving your employees opportunities for personal and professional development is also invaluable. The businesses that appeal most to millennials are typically those that invest in their employees as people. Consider introducing initiatives to improve health and wellness in your workplace. Offer your employees opportunities to learn new skills and qualifications and be ready to expand their responsibilities as they grow. Speak with them about their career goals and offer a path to reach them.

No matter the size of your business, hiring and keeping top talent is critical. It's also becoming more difficult. Considering that millennials will comprise about 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, knowing how to effectively manage and appeal to this unique generation is more important than ever. Creating an inclusive, collaborative and flexible work environment that encourages personal growth and embraces the best traits of younger workers is a sure path to success both now and well into the future.