Parent and Child RobotsThere has been a lot of advice on how to effectively work with Millennials.  It tends to center around giving the Millennials what they crave—praise, feedback, awards, structured mentoring and training, opportunities for development, and exciting, life-fulfilling work.  Experts on Millennials tend to get this information by surveying Millennials about what they want.  However, in my experience as a consultant, while people often tell you what they want, they rarely tell you what they need.

Millennials may want a high level of guidance, but what they often need is to develop independence.  I say this because the leaders I work with frequently express frustration around having to spend too much time “hand holding” what they call “high maintenance” employees.  Because Millennial workers tend to demand more guidance and feedback than previous generations of employees, today’s managers are struggling to get their work done.  By giving Millennials what they want, managers may be creating a vicious cycle where no one gets what they need, including the company.

Here are three simple questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are “hand holding,” and three tips on how to stop.

  1. Are you giving your employees more instructions than you think you should have to?

“How do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” Asked the employee to his boss at the café.  We both looked at him as if he were speaking French.  But, no, he was American and he was most definitely speaking English.

Managers often tell me that their younger employees aren’t able to move forward with their tasks without precise instructions at every step of the way. In fact, they seem to have difficulty working independently and taking a project and running with it. Managers also comment on the lack of creativity of the new generation of workers. They seem to expect to be told exactly what to do and how to do it—sometimes to the point of managers wondering if it would be simpler just to do the work themselves.

Solution: Teach your employees how to be more independent.

Give your employees a task and keep them busy for a day;

Teach your employees to work and you empower them for a lifetime.

Instead of telling the café employee how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his boss told him to figure it out.  (He actually said, “You’re kidding, right?” But that wasn’t the constructive attitude I wanted to promote in this article.)  In the end, I was quite pleased with the sandwich and the employee learned a new skill.  Chances are, your employees are working on more complex tasks.  In either case, you can help them learn by asking them how they think they should go about it and what the consequences would be of taking that approach.  You can guide them through the thought process to give them the tools to be able to do it on their own the next time instead of running back to you for instructions.

  1. Do you feel compelled to give your employees more praise than is warranted?

One doctor relayed his experiences of giving feedback to residents. He said the young residents were so accustomed to being told how wonderful they were that when he gave them negative evaluations, they left his office in tears. Millennials aren’t used to making mistakes. In attempts to raise self-esteem, parents and teachers have showered them with honors and trophies and greater-than-perfect GPAs. Managers may be the first to tell them that they have made a mistake.  When you sense that your employees are fragile, it is natural to want to make them feel better by giving false praise.  But that isn’t helping anyone in the long run.

Solution: Talk to your employees about the importance of honest feedback.

No one likes to hear that they did a bad job.  But you can help people welcome the opportunity to develop by having a culture of honest feedback where it is okay to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.  Millennials really want to develop.  That is one of their top priorities.  Give them the chance to truly develop their self-awareness, resilience, and skills at the same time.  Explain to them that this will help them and it is part of the process of improving.  You can also role model it by accepting honest feedback from them.

  1. Do you have to reassure your employees more than you think is necessary?

In addition to praise, managers complain that younger workers often need constant reassurance that they are on track. Managers complain they don’t have time to give the up-to-the-minute feedback these employees seem to expect. Research shows the majority of Millennial workers constantly desire to know how they are doing.  They want to know whether they are working fast enough and are doing their tasks correctly and they’d like to have feedback as often as every day.  If a manager gave feedback to every team member every day, there would be no time leftover to get other work done.

Solution: Encourage peer feedback so you don’t have to do it all.

Teach your employees how to give honest, constructive feedback so that they can give it to each other.  If you teach them coaching skills too, then they can help each other come up with solutions to problems without involving you unnecessarily.  Your team members will develop in the process and feel much more empowered as a result.

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