Bad Millennial Managers: What HR Can Do About It

Kristin Boe
Written by
Kristin Boe

Millennials Need Mentoring

Think your Millennial boss has some room for improvement?

A recent article by CNBC says you are not alone; only 5% of the current workforce thinks that Gen Y is ready to lead.  And the Millennial-damning statistics don’t end there. A recently published Ernst and Young study, featured in the article, reveals that the prevailing perception in the workplace is that Millennial bosses aren’t overly effective; in fact 68% of survey respondents think Millennials are “entitled” and do a poor job of going to bat for their subordinates.

Millennial ManagersThese statistics are rather unsettling considering the fact that many Millennials are taking on managerial roles; the same study reports that 87% of Millennials took on a management position in the last 5 years, compared with only 38% of Gen X employees and 19% of Boomers. But before we write all Millennials off as horrible managers, it’s important to look beyond popular article headlines and at the E&Y research itself, where more interesting statistics, that lend themselves to this conversation, can be found.

According to the study, Gen X managers are considered to be the best managers in an organization today, beating out even their older counterparts.  Also, the survey found that while members of Gen X are highly regarded managers, 51% of their colleagues still think that (similarly to Gen Y), Gen X is “entitled and too concerned with individual promotion.” So it seems that Gen Y isn’t the only generation that’s perceived as entitled, which makes one wonder if this perception has less to do with generational characteristics and more to do with a function of age and overall maturity.

Could the perception that Millennials are bad managers and leaders also stem from something else that may extend beyond generational characteristics/boundaries?  Like a lack of managerial experience and corporate development? Something tells me that my fellow Gen Yers are probably not all innately horrible managers; rather, it seems much more plausible that we may lack the knowledge or experience to effectively lead and manage. That said, unfortunately for us Millennials, when there’s smoke, there’s generally fire, so it seems we have some work to do with regard to our ability to manage others.

With this in mind, how can the companies we work for help us rectify this problem and, thus, help their soon-to-be-majority-in-the-workforce become better managers and leaders?

Team buildingI think it comes down to learning and development, and this is where HR/Learning can really help out Millennial managers.  But HR/Learning leaders, before you get out your courses and start re-doing your formal new manager programs, consider the type of information and knowledge that Millennials need to be more effective managers.  They will absolutely need to know managerial policies and processes—this is where your courses and delivery will really count.  But if you hand your employees a book, manual or course for learning needs like being a better (and more noticeable) team player, understanding the capabilities of one’s team and delegating effectively, handling difficult people and conversations, understanding how to give feedback around sensitive areas, how to manage upward, and how to empower one’s team, they are going to want to throw these items right back at you.  Managerial skills and knowledge are not things easily learned from a textbook, manual or course; this knowledge is learned best experientially, such as through mentoring. Since an organization cannot influence the current level of experience that Millennials possess, this is where learning from peers and other managers/leaders takes on real organizational importance.

By enabling effective mentoring programs in your organization, you can give Millennial managers a leg up by providing them with a means to connect with peers and other advisors about situational learning needs, long-term leadership development, and so on.  So do us Millennials a favor and give us an easy way to connect with the right people who are willing and available to help us learn how to be better managers and fix our not-so-awesome reputation with our colleagues. Some of us are green and inexperienced when it comes to managing others, but we are willing to learn and improve. Hopefully, with a little learning and development (and perhaps a little corporate maturity), we can change the underlying perceptions of our colleagues and begin to lead highly productive and effective teams.

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