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When Generation Xers Manage MillennialsMillennials may be the younger brothers and sisters of Gen Xers, but they were raised differently, with different expectations from their (usually Boomer) parents. Gen Xers, now in the role of manager to Millennial employees, are finding that their view of work, priorities, and use of time differ from those of their employees.

Born between 1965 and 1977, Gen Xers are the last of the “free range” children raised to be independent, take responsibility, and get things done in the absence of supervision. In the economic chaos of the 1970s and 1980s, when 40 percent of their parents lost their jobs and/or got divorced. Gen Xers came home to an empty house, started dinner, and had their homework done before their overworked parents got home. They could not call their parents at work for dinner or homework help without getting them fired. As a result their world view is skeptical and pragmatic—they are businesslike, realistic, and determined. Often the only child or one of two children in the household, Gen Xers are used to working alone.

Born between 1978 and 1989, Millennials are the most over-scheduled, highly supervised generation to come along. The economy improved and jobs were more available in the 1990s. Their parents worked fewer hours and became their Millennial childrens’ “best friends.” These “hovering parents” accompanied their children to: school, ballgames, plays, even weekends away at college, and now many go with their adult Millennial children to job interviews and often want to negotiate job offers and salary increases. After 9/11, parents wanted to be able to reach their children by phone at all times, so every Millennial had a cell phone and is used as a constant contact. In the words of a Millennial I know, her parents never told her “no” or any variation of “no.” Hovering parents tried hard to say “yes” to all requests. Millennials can be overly optimistic and not particularly inclined to follow policies and procedures. Millennials are multitaskers who grew up with groups of friends who did everything together and often worked on collaborative projects in school. It can be difficult for them to make decisions without input from parents or friends because of lack of practice.

Millennials are loyal to their managers, not to their company, and they have no fear of quitting without another job in hand—because mom and dad still have a room waiting for them. While Gen Xer managers will leave at 5:00 p.m. to spend time with their families, childless tech-savvy Millennials may come in late or want to work from a café, home, or other location, not necessarily between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The greatest challenge for Gen Xer managers is to focus on managing their Millennial employees’ outputs and quality of results, not time at a desk. It can be a challenge for skeptical Gen Xer managers to provide the level of encouragement and feedback that gives naturally optimistic Millennials confidence and keeps them engaged. Face time is the secret management tool that retains Millennials.

Gen Xers can command loyalty by encouraging constant learning, modeling desired behaviors, and patiently letting Millennials try new approaches. Wise Gen Xer managers build relationships with their Millennial employees by focusing on areas of commonality such as both generations’ interest in constant learning, project success, and community service.

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