Managing Millennials


I’ve found that many managers in Malaysia are either puzzled or petrified with the prospects of supervising “millennials,” young adults born between 1976 and 2001. “They’re like aliens from Pluto,” a fifty-something senior manager whispered to me.

All over the world, Gen Y employees are plugged into the world of social media. They have hundreds of Facebook friends. Most do not fear quitting their jobs; they’re confident of getting new jobs. They care a lot about work-life balance. And they don’t like rules.

Constantly Connected Gen-Y & The Disconnect with Senior Management

In Malaysia, the challenge is compounded by the tertiary education system which has created social-media-savvy young adults who are not necessarily adept in basic communication skills. So how do you motivate such a group of people to get things done?

Given that more than two-thirds of the staff at Love on Wheels is made up of millennials, Clinical director Dr Premala Thambirajah has discovered a thing or two about how to get the best out of young talent. Below are some insights I gleaned from her as well as from surveying the latest leadership insights:

1.   There is no ‘one size fits all’.

Like any group, not all millennials think and act in the same way. Some prefer bosses who give direct and clear instructions while others prefer bosses who guide by asking questions. One thing young adults care about is that you care. “When you work with people below thirty, you have to keep on relearning. You can’t sit on a high horse and tell them ‘here’s how I’ve done it.’ You seek to understand them first,” says Dr Premala.

2.    Accept the reality that talented young people will not remain in your organization forever.

“They don’t look at a long career path. They’re not here to stay, they’re not even here for promotions. For them, the career is just here and now,” observed Dr Premala. Sounds depressing? Not really. By creating quick wins and rewarding effort under short timelines, you’re able to generate lots of energy, because young adults value a steep learning curve, mentoring and peer support.

3.    Connect company goals with personal experiences.

“Providing excellent healthcare” won’t resonate with a millennial worker, says Dr Premala. But their eyes open with wonder when you help them see how their work benefits other people in real ways. “If healthcare’s your product, you have to help them see that they need it. If they’re not old enough to need healthcare, then help them see how these services matter to their parents. They’ll get it instantly,” she said, snapping her fingers. And more importantly, they’ll be motivated to go the extra mile.

4.    Create a great space for work.

With everyone using smart phones these days, Dr Premala told me that her younger staff like to post pictures of their office on Facebook with an update saying, “This is where I work.” A nice office space helps them work in teams and groups – something which they appreciate.


Image courtesy of Flickr User Roger Johnson.

Check out the related article and video ”Love On Wheels” here!

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