Managing millennials in the workplace: Unlocking potential through a coaching culture

There are various misconceptions about managing millennials in the workplace. But how much of it is true? (Photo by Akson from Unsplash)

- Millennials - those born between 1981 and 1996 - have been stereotyped as a lazy, entitled, job-hopping generation. But what do the stats show?

- As a manager, it’s critical to understand what motivates your employees, and to start engaging them the right way.

- The key to managing millennials in the workplace is to adopt a coaching style of leadership.

- Clear communication, constant feedback and guidance, and involvement in meaningful, innovative work will help improve employee engagement and loyalty in millennials.

Millennials now comprise about 22 percent of Singapore's population and are expected to account for 75 percent of the workforce within the next decade. Failure to create a conducive workplace environment that brings out the best in them would constitute tremendous productivity loss for any company.

Companies and managers who do not pay attention to the needs and motivation of this upcoming generation run the risk of losing their talents and possibly a brain drain. Millennials, typically defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, are constantly surrounded by implicitly negative labels such as “needy”, “lazy” and “entitled”.

Contrary to this stereotype, a study conducted by ManpowerGroup in 2016 found that Singapore millennials clocked 48 hours a week at work on average and claimed the second place for longest working hours per week.

This is just behind Indian millennials who clocked 52 hours per week. While millennials are undoubtedly very diligent at work, they are also more likely to leave a job when they feel disengaged, unlike non-millennials who often say no to the idea of job-hopping.

Thus, the message for employers when it comes to managing millennials in the workplace is simply to stop complaining and start engaging them the right way.

Millennials look up to their leaders and managers as role models

As leaders and managers, how one executes their role is imperative to unlocking the potential of millennials at work.

Top tip for managing millennials in the workplace: Be mentors, not bosses. (Photo from Freepik)

Research findings from the Singapore Workforce Engagement Study 2019 highlights some key themes that are insightful and consistent with other global researches.

Some important drivers for improving employee engagement and loyalty in millennials include:

  • Having supervisors who constantly provide feedback and guidance

  • Having leaders who walk the talk and act as role models for the organisation’s culture and values

  • Implementing a fair system to reward and recognise good work

  • Clear communication on each employee’s role and purpose in contributing towards the organisation’s mission

  • Involvement in meaningful, collaborative and innovative work to make the workplace better

These drivers suggest that the upcoming generation of employees are more receptive to a coaching style of leadership, fueled by walk-the-talk leadership, constant feedback and guidance, as opposed to the traditional top-down style.

This approach demands leaders to put aside their ego and welcome employees to challenge the “old way of doing things”. This is something that can go against the Asian tradition of respecting seniors. This mindset shift on the part of managers is a tricky but important one.

Managing millennials in the workplace: 3 Practical steps for managers to adopt a coaching style of leadership

  • Dedicate a portion of your time for feedback and coaching

Just like most of us, millennials seek to improve their quality of work as they pursue career progression. Rather than wait for the yearly performance review, initiate a monthly or bi-monthly interval meeting to regularly check in with millennial team members.

There might be challenges when it comes to managing millennials in the workplace, but understand that millennials are very goal-oriented, and prefer continuous, actionable feedback. (Photo by NEXT Academy from Unsplash)

During these meetings, analyse and understand what they are struggling with and offer them coaching or advice. Coaching is not just crucial for developing relevant work skills. It will also help in retaining millennial team members.

According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, younger professionals who have a mentor are twice as likely to stay with their organisation for more than 5 years as compared to those without a mentor. Just 30 minutes monthly could save companies more money and hiring time in the long run.

  • Explain “Why”

Millennials are inquisitive. They want to know how and why the work they are doing is making an impact. Make deliberate effort to share details with team members and help them understand why the work was assigned as such, and how it fits in with the overall mission of the project/company.

Managers can leverage skills such as storytelling and reframing to shape the perspectives that employees view their work from. Remember to be a role model to employees and focus on inspiring them besides managing them.

  • Involve millennials in collaborative creation processes

Millennials prefer to work in a less hierarchical workplace and a team-based environment where leaders are considered as team captains rather than bosses.

Whenever opportunity allows, involve them in the brainstorming process by creating avenues for them to contribute ideas and voice their opinions. This provides them with a sense of ownership when it comes to the final decision.

Another key to effectively managing millennials in the workplace is to recognise their need for recognition. (Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels)

This is especially evident in areas of tech or IT. With the rapid advancement in technology, employers/managers will soon discover that they have much to learn from their employees.

Adopting a coaching style of leadership is an overall principle and the challenge lies in its execution. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to engaging millennials at work.

It is important to diagnose your situation, facilitate one-on-one sessions, conduct pulse surveys, and provide feedback channels for millennial employees to voice their thoughts and recommendations. With a deeper understanding of employees’ desire and what drives them, leaders can better build a culture that brings out the best in this younger generation workforce.


About the Author

Yeow Chern Han | Director | aAdvantage Consulting Group

Bringing with him 20 years of experience in Organisational Development consulting and training, Yeow Chern Han is a professional facilitator and coach.

Yeow has helped to implement successful corporate transformation initiatives through interventions such as business reviews and planning, change management, team building, team coaching, executive coaching and leadership development training.

His experiences span diverse industries such as automotive, healthcare, pharmaceutical, electronic manufacturing and financial services.