Dealing with the Unique Qualities of Millennials in the Workplace


Whether you realize it or not, you are probably already dealing with millennials in your workplace. Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are the demographic age group born sometime between the early 1980’s and around the year 2000. It is estimated that millennials make up about 40% of the workforce at current, with that number expected to reach 75% in the next 10 years.

So why are millennials so unique and important to understand? Well, put simply, they are the rising generation, the future leadership of our world, and they view the world quite differently than those from previous generations.

If you have Millennials in your workplace (and you are not a Millennial yourself), you have likely experienced frustration, or at least some head-scratching over behavior exhibited by members of this generation. As much of the management world is still made up of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, it is important to understand the unique characteristics of the Millennials in order to harness their true potential.

Baby Boomers and Generation X

For context, let’s briefly examine Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s. Baby Boomers (born approximately 1946-1964) were born in the biggest population explosion in recent history at a time of unprecedented middle-class affluence. Coming on the wings of the post-WWII industrial boom, they value work ethic, goal setting, independence, competition and self-actualization.

Generation X (born early 1960’s to early 1980’s) was greatly influenced by the social unrest of the sixties and seventies, but also experienced American dominance and prosperity of the eighties. Gen Xers can be quite cynical and distrustful of authority. They value individuality and work/life balance, but they aren’t afraid to work hard for things they want. They have an attitude that you have to earn whatever you get, as nothing will be handed to you.


Millennials have grown up during a time of unprecedented technological advancement, and most have not known a world without internet, smart phones, and other technology. Millennials have come of age in a post 9/11 world and most have not known a time without war and threats of terrorism. They have also been greatly affected by “The Great Recession”.

In spite of the dark world they have been reared in, Millennials tend to be very optimistic. Two main Millennial attributes include confidence and tolerance. Millennials are unfailingly optimistic about their own abilities and about world views. This can be hard to understand, especially for Gen Xers, who tend to be much more cynical. Millennials optimism is a very positive attribute that can be utilized in the workplace.

Other Millennial attributes include a sense of entitlement and narcissism. It is often joked that the Millennial generation does not know how to recognize winners and losers because it was with this generation that youth sports leagues started awarding trophies to everybody who participated. Joking aside however, it is generally true that Millennials have a tendency to expect rewards even when the effort or result may not warrant it. This is also important to understand in the workplace.

Synergy of the Generations

Each generation discussed has their own unique qualities that make them successful. Millennials are no different. While Millennials can cause frustration for those from previous generations, they can also be a huge asset. The key is understanding. You can’t expect them to behave like your generation, but you can take the time to understand their perspective, and use it to your organization’s advantage.

Here are some tips to getting the most out of Millennials in your workplace:

  1. Implement a reward system. Although we joke about it, Millennials need and crave recognition and a pat-on-the-back. Just like the youth participation trophies, you need to find a way to recognize every employee for their unique efforts, if nothing more than a gold star next to their name. Recognition will go a long way to encourage performance.

  2. Look past entitlement issues. Don’t let it bother you that Millennials will feel entitled to one thing or another. If you can’t give them what they want, then at least give them recognition and validation. Entitlement comes from a need to be validated.

  3. Focus on the positives. Do not underestimate Millennials ability to be optimistic and to work hard. While you might expect them to get upset and quit when they don’t get what they want, Millennials are more likely to continue on in spite of not getting what they want. Remember, they crave validation, but they are also extremely optimistic. If you can give validation while also riding the wave of optimism, you will see great things from your Millennial workforce.