Millennials and Gen Z: Connecting with and Managing Younger Generations in the Workplace

September 24, 2019
Katie Russell

It’s not a stretch to say that millennials may be the most vilified generation in the workforce today. This group, which is typically defined as those born between the early 1980s and mid to late 1990s, is commonly described as lazy, entitled, impatient, and out of touch with reality. Older employees complain about millennials’ lack of work ethic and unwillingness to comply with traditional office culture norms. And as Gen Z begins to claim its place as the youngest segment of the workforce, some dismiss both groups together under the same derogatory label.

While many of the charges against today’s youngest members of the workforce may be derived from real experiences, it is dangerous to make sweeping claims about an entire generation. Stereotypes offer a quick method of assessing complex situations at the expense of understanding the nuances that allow people to truly connect. They can also be applied both ways as young employees make assumptions about older generations in the workforce,further hindering connection.  

As a millennial who has worked with and managed other millennial and Gen Z employees, I offer these thoughts on how employers can successfully connect with and manage their youngest employees.

Set Aside the Stereotypes and Approach Each Employee as an Individual

Are all millennials lazy and entitled? That’s like asking if all Baby Boomers were hippies or exhibited the narcissism associated with the “Me Generation.” Some millennial and Gen Z employees will undoubtedly join your organization with unrealistic expectations of the work that will be required of them, but not all will. Approach each young employee as an individual with a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and then coach them as necessary to help them reach their full potential.

Don’t Assume It’s All About the Office Environment

A “cool” office with free snacks and events may help to attract young employees, but it won’t keep them there. Many of the young professionals I have worked with place a high value on the three elements of a connection culture – vision, value, and voice. If these elements are missing, they won’t stick around long. In fact, some of the job hopping that millennials are often accused of may in fact stem from the fact that so many of our company cultures are broken. Introduce some fun elements into your office culture, but focus more on getting the basics right and you’ll be more likely to retain your millennial and Gen Z employees.

Provide Clarity

All employees appreciate clear instructions, but for those in the early stages of their careers this is particularly important. Younger employees don’t yet have the wealth of experience that older employees draw on when they are presented with partial direction. Explain the purpose of the project and what you expect the final output to be. Suggest resources they may not be aware of that can be tapped for information if needed. Use this same approach with discussions about performance and career advancement. Be specific about what they will need to do or change in order to move to the next level.

Remember Their Youth

When you were in your 20s, were you excited to put in overtime on nights and weekends? Probably not. Don’t be surprised if many of your younger employees are anxious to wrap up their workdays on time. In this life stage, friendships and relationships are highly valued, so personal time and vacation time are too. If a project is going to require a lot of extra hours, be honest about it and set the right expectations up front to avoid frustration later. Connect with them by asking about their travel or weekend plans. They will often excitedly share their latest restaurant discoveries, current Netflix series obsession, or travel goals.

Support Them Through Life Changes

Young professionals in their 20s and 30s are in a rapidly changing stage of life. They are taking on financial responsibilities, forming serious relationships, and establishing their own households. This can be a confusing and stressful time. Contrary to what you may think, many young employees are receptive to advice from those with more experience, so long as it is given with respect. Offer to answer questions they may be too embarrassed to ask – like deciphering confusing insurance terms during open enrollment season or understanding basic principles of 401K investing to maximize their employer offered benefits. You can also lend a listening ear if they need to vent about pressures in their personal life.

Rethink Work From Home and Flex Scheduling Policies

Millennial and Gen Z employees have used technology their entire lives, so they don’t understand why companies fail to take advantage of the flexibility that technology offers. It’s often no longer necessary for an employee to be physically present in an office, which also means that work can happen outside the traditional 8-5 window. Cloud based storage and VPNs offer on-the-go access to files while video conferencing offers “face to face” remote meeting options. In spite of this, many companies still cling to policies that require physical presence, express fear that employees working from home will have lower productivity, or insist on a rigid work schedule.

Some millennial employees prefer a rigid work schedule because it protects their personal time, while others favor flex scheduling because it allows them to better balance work and personal life. Most, however, appreciate the opportunity to occasionally work from home…and even point out that they are MORE productive there due to a lack of office distractions. As a manager, consider how you can use technology to give your younger employees a bit more freedom while outlining clear expectations for how that freedom may be used.  

The Bottom Line

Millennials and Gen Z may represent specific generational divides, but the reality is that these generations are composed of individuals with diverse personalities, interests, and work styles. By approaching each young employee as an individual and reminding yourself of his or her current life stage and experience level, you can build strong, mutually beneficial work relationships.

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Katie Russell is digital marketing specialist for Connection Culture Group and editor of

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