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Breaking Six Stereotypes of Managing Millennials

Nontraditional approaches to managing younger employees.

By Laura Hanichak Gregg

Millennials are quickly overtaking Baby Boomers as the largest living U.S. population. They will have a profound impact on our industry and your practice  both in how you serve them and develop them as employees. As the average age of a financial advisor (51) and the age of advisors’ legacy clients continue to grow, staffing your office with younger professionals is important to long-term viability.

Managing millennials may require you to consider different and nontraditional approaches that embrace more flexibility, transparency, autonomy and different channels of communication. Getting it right can have a profound and lasting impact on your business. Let’s analyze common stereotypes and consider ideas for managing younger employees.

Breaking the Stereotypes

1. Millennials Are Entitled

Millennials are well-educated, adept at accessing information with ease as well as speed and believe they can succeed with focus and access to learning. They often leave college with a financial planning education and with a Certified Financial Planner designation. With this resume, younger employees may consider "paying ones’ dues" unnecessary. As managers, this can be a challenge.

While younger professionals have access to credentials earlier in their career, they’re not necessarily ready to immediately take on their own client base. As seasoned professionals, we understand that knowledge is important, but perspective gained through experience is critical for success.

Management idea: Encourage and applaud the knowledge base and intellectual curiosity your younger employees have. Document their milestones and help them understand how those learnings help build a career framework. When appropriate, include them in client meetings and encourage them to seek additive insights from more experienced co-workers to gain greater perspective.

2. Millennials Are Lazy

Much of this generation came of age in the financial crisis. Don’t confuse lack of job opportunities with laziness. In addition to struggling themselves, they saw their parents struggle with joblessness and investment losses. Laziness can also be confused with boredom in millennials. Growing up, this generation’s time was highly structured with competitive academic pursuits and extracurricular activities. They have the ability and desire to multitask, can become complacent when activity wanes or, they are required to follow a predefined approach to their work. Millennials want to understand what you expect them to deliver, but they don’t want a road map on how to get there.

Management idea: Ensure that your younger employees have multiple projects whenever possible and give them permission to approach project management with autonomy. However, as a manager, ensure they are not taking on more than they can deliver. Provide clear deadlines, help them prioritize as needed but always hold them accountable.

3. Millennials Are Not Loyal

Millennials came of age in a volatile work environment and don’t necessarily trust their employers to be loyal to them. They may have been victims of cut-backs or saw their parents lose jobs after long-time employment. In order to build loyalty, you may want to offer more work-life balance. Millennials crave flexibility and technology enables them to blur the lines of a standard workday.

Management idea: Show your commitment to younger employees. Highlight how their work is making a difference. For a financial advisory firm, this may mean positive client outcomes or support to business development. Underscore how their work is additive to their professional growth and development. Offering flexibility in work hours is another way to show loyalty. If it’s a fit, this can build mutual respect, trust and a longer-term relationship.

5. Millennials Need Constant Feedback

Millennials are used to regular feedback. They received it growing up and have it on demand with social media. They crave the same feedback at work to help them understand what they are getting right, or wrong, so they can adjust course. This also plays into their desire for clarity on their career journey. According to a 2016 study by Cone Communications, 95 percent of millennials cited job training and career development as the most important benefit when looking for work.

Management idea: While constant feedback may not be the management norm, more regular feedback can yield benefits for both managers and employees. As a manager, give frequent and honest feedback. Millennials want to chart their progress and overcome developmental obstacles. When possible, build out a development plan with clear milestones that leads to new projects and opportunities.

5. Millennials Are Concerned About Social Responsibility

Yes, millennials are typically socially conscious in their personal life and are concerned about corporate social responsibility (CRS) in their professional life. According to Cone Communications, 88 percent of millennials want employers to share details regarding their CRS commitments and 85 percent want opportunities to help their employers reach those goals. The Cone study also cited that 83 percent of millennials would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social or environmental issues.  

Management idea: If you don’t already, identify local charities to support both financially and with time. Some advisory firms offer PTO for employees to volunteer. Others combine charity and team building with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. This type of engagement can help retain millennials and enhance your firm’s brand within the community.

6. Millennials Are Distracted by Technology

Growing up in the age of technology, this stereotype is generally true. However, what I’ve learned while managing my Gen Y team is that they often use social media or the internet to research work-related projects. Instead of inquiring the office, they go straight to YouTube for technical support and find it is more efficient.

Management idea: Don’t assume an employee on YouTube or social media is sloughing off. They may be gathering information or teaching themselves how to access data for a project. Use your younger, tech-savvy employees to vet new technology or help suggest areas where processes can be streamlined. This gives you an opportunity to help them understand the implications of systems upgrade from a cost and efficiency standpoint. It also shows that you value and respect their knowledge.

Younger Talent is Critical to Business Health

Shying away from bringing millennials into your practice may make management easier in the short run, but will likely put you at a competitive disadvantage in the near future. If you are seeking to take your business to the next level or considering a future succession plan, developing a multigenerational team is critical. If you manage it appropriately, you may find they are critical in keeping your practice relevant in today’s fast-paced environment.


Laura Hanichak Gregg is Senior Vice President and Director of Intermediary Client Development at Northern Trust Asset Management.

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