In 2009, an Illinois politician named Aaron Schock (R) became a member of the United States House of Representatives. When he did, he made history: Born in 1981, Schock is the first millennial to serve as a member of Congress.
Schock represents a sea change: Generation Y workers aren't just gofers at their first internships and entry-level employees at their first full-time jobs. Many of the oldest of this generation, which includes those born some time between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, have now ascended to management positions. They represent a different type of boss.
"Millennials bristle at the term 'manager' or 'boss,'" says Brad Karsh, president of the workplace training and employee development company JB Training Solutions and co-author of the book, "Manager 3.0: A Millennial's Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management." "They feel like all staff is in it together, and that maybe they [as the boss] help people along, but really, it's a team effort."
"People who manage the way millennials do often get better results and better action," Karsh continues. "Because more people are involved in leadership and making decisions, and therefore, more people feel invested in projects."
But Generation Y managers supervise many different types of staff, not all of whom understand the way their young bosses think and work. Here are some pointers for how those workers may handle having a Gen Y boss.
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A baby boomer employee -- born between the years 1946 and 1964 -- might fear his or her millennial boss doesn't know enough to be in a position of authority, whereas the boss fears that a boomer won't respect him or her or welcome change. It helps if both groups abandon these stereotypes and keep an open mind. For boomers, "Don't get caught up in the good ol' days speech," says Aaron McDaniel, corporate director, entrepreneur and author of the "Young Professional's Guide" series of books. "Be open and flexible, and if you are referencing the past, also be complimentary and respectful of today's standards and a new boss's methods."
Both may use their generational differences to their advantage, though. Millennials do have less experience in the workforce, but they also have a collaborative spirit. If you're a baby boomer with a Generation Y manager, remember that they're more receptive to your input if it's framed as an innovative idea, not a condescending complaint. "There's this concept of learning how to delicately manage your boss," McDaniel says. "A good millennial boss is coachable. You don't have to tell them, 'You don't know what you're doing.' Instead, find an artful way to encourage them to draw from the experiences that you yourself have had. Try saying, 'When I've done things this way, I've been successful.'"
You Gen Xers value self-reliance -- born some time between the early 1960s and early 1980s, you came of age in the latchkey kid era -- and your working style tends to reflect this. This is something for your collaborative Generation Y boss to keep in mind. "Most people manage the way they want to be managed, but the Golden Rule is a horrible management rule," Karsh says. "Millennials like to work together, but Generation X are independent workers. They like to have assignments and expectations set, and then being left to themselves to complete the tasks."
If your younger boss tries to accommodate your preferred working style, then you should also compromise and adapt some of his or hers working modus operandi, which means, you might find yourself occasionally engaging in some groupthink. "It's important for any employee to be flexible," McDaniel says. "Find a way to support your millennial boss in the way that they like to work. Find a way to complement each other's strengths."
One example of this: "Millennials sometimes struggle to make unpopular executive decisions, but they do like to be involved in the decision-making process," Karsh explains. "You could help by politely pushing your manager a little more toward making a final decision."
There can be tension when one of your peers has been put into a position of authority, particularly since "millennials value equality more than hierarchy," as Karsh says. "It can be frustrating to have one of their peers promoted above them, and they'll probably want an explanation from higher-ups for why [it happened]."
Aside from this, Gen Y workers tend to have a harmonious relationship with a Gen Y boss. "It could be a beautiful match, because they probably feel similarly about working methods," Karsh says. The like-minded colleagues have to recognize how these characteristics affect a person in a management position. "Millennial managers feel that to be successful, they must also share 'the why' behind what they're doing as a manager," McDaniel says.
- Aaron Schock