Millennial Managers? Not So Fast

Posted By Terri Williams on December 14, 2016 at 8:48 am
Millennial Managers? Not So Fast

Observers have learned much about millennials as they’ve entered the workforce. Their preferences, including communicating styles, are already shaping the workforce, and millennials are more likely to be involved in political discussions at work – and more likely to find value in healthy debates with their coworkers. How they define and process career advancement also seems to be a departure from the norm.

According to a recent survey released by Manpower Group, climbing the corporate ladder is the lowest priority among millennials. Below are their priorities ranked in order:

28% Make a positive contribution
26% Make a lot of money
19% Work with great people
10% Be recognized as an expert in my field
9% Own my own company
4% Manage others
4% Get to the top of an organization


Why millennials are less interested in management

Managing others and rising to the top of an organization are at the bottom of the list for millennial workers. Nicole Francis, director of the Center of Recruiting Excellence at Manpower, tells GoodCall, “They’re seeking a ‘career for me,’ and see individual skills development as more important to advancing their careers than developing the soft skills needed to manage others.” In fact, Francis says that within the next year, 61% of millennials in the U.S. want to develop their technical, personal, or IT skills, while only 39% want to improve their leadership or people management skills.

So why aren’t millennials as interested in management as previous workforce generations? To be honest, it doesn’t look that appealing. Francis says managers are often viewed as being performance-driven to the exclusion of developing workers, and they are also known to work long hours without much time to refuel.

“Millennials know they have career ultra marathons ahead, they’re already looking toward career breaks at different points in their lives, for reasons such as travel, to look after family, or even to learn new skills,” Francis explains.

Also, some millennials may doubt the qualifications of their managers, many of whom may be seen as stifling innovation. David Kirk, chief revenue officer at CloudApps, tells GoodCall, “This is a symptom of the outdated, industrial-age, top-down, hierarchical, and often siloed, management approach that has resulted in people arriving in management positions that have gravitated there based on longevity of service, rather than merit.”

Kirk says these managers are disconnected, and don’t understand technology, leaving little reason to wonder why millennials don’t aspire to join their ranks.

And although managers have elevated positions and a level of prestige, millennial workers don’t appear to be impressed. J. Gerald Suarez, professor of the Practice in Systems Thinking & Design, and fellow in the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change at the Smith School Business at the University of Maryland, tells GoodCall that these workers are not as driven by positions and titles as the boomer generation. “I believe that’s because millennials think that they can make a difference regardless of their place in the organization,” Suarez says.” So they place more emphasis on skills, knowledge and ability.

“When some people mistakenly label them as not being loyal or maybe even selfish or entitled, it is a misrepresentation of what they really offer,” Suarez explains. “Because this generation is so driven by impact, in many ways, it is the consequences of what they do that gives renewed meaning to who they are.”

The manager pipeline

But when so many millennials don’t appear to be interested in progressing through the leadership ranks, will this pose a pipeline problem? After all, as existing leaders continue up the ranks or retire, new leaders will be needed to take their place.

Francis tells GoodCall that 87% of the organizations they’ve surveyed have not identified future leaders to fill critical roles, leaving many companies unprepared for the business challenges they will encounter in the next few years. “Without future leaders in place, organizations will not be poised to deliver positive business outcomes and results,” Francis warns.

However, the situation may not be as dire as it might first appear. Suarez says millennials are still influencing other employees, so they are actually building a followership. “I don’t think we’re going to have a crisis in management because they refuse to join the ranks of management – eventually they will be in these positions.”

Making the manager option more appealing

While companies can’t do away with management, maybe they can redefine it, highlight different aspects of it, and also provide opportunities for leadership skills to flourish. According to Kirk, “Millennials want to be in an environment where they can learn skills through collaboration without barriers, where collaborating leads to success as a team, where that success is transparent, and both the individual and team contribution is recognized.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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