How to Manage Millennials: Treat Them Like AdultsBy Gini Dietrich

Right about this same time of year, in 2007, I made a job offer to a young professional.

He was about to go into his senior year of college and I invited him to join our intern program, which would give him the necessary experience he needed to graduate.

After our typical five rounds of interviews, I called him and made the offer over the phone. He accepted it.

I put everything in a formal offer letter and emailed it to him. Then the proverbial poop hit the fan.

His dad called me to negotiate the offer he and I already agreed to.

His dad.

When I politely told his dad that I would be happy to have that conversation with his son, he called me a few names and hung up on me.

Even though I was really angry, I decided to cool off and let it sit for a day or two before calling this young man to see what was up.

The next day, I was in a meeting—with the door closed—with my Vistage Chair when this young man’s father came bursting in my office, my assistant at his heels, pleading me with her eyes to forgive her.

He wanted—no, demanded—I pay his son a hourly wage equal to $60,000 in annual salary.

Remember, he hadn’t even graduated from college yet.

Back then, we paid our interns $10/hour, no matter who they were or what other experience they had. They also got a public transportation pass and we provided breakfast and lunch every day.

It was more than enough for someone who needed an internship to graduate. There was no way he was getting $60,000.

Thankfully my Chair was there or I’m not sure what would have happened, but we had to call the building’s security to get the man to leave.

And I rescinded the kid’s offer to come work with us.

Are We to Coddle Millennials?

I am reminded of this story every time I read an article about managing Millennials.

According to mass media, we are to coddle them, work with their parents, and give them opportunities the rest of the team—who are older and more experienced—do not have.

Grey Advertising, one of the best in the business (in my opinion), has created a space for Millennials, separate from the rest of the office.

In their New York offices, Grey created Base Camp, a work environment exclusively for Millennial associate account executives. While each employee still works with a separate team on client accounts, the group as a whole shares desk space, attends agency training in group, and learns from one another.

Likewise, IBM has created a recruitment process where parents have a say in their kids’ futures, as they go through the interview process.

While both seem like cool and hip things to do—and they both certainly have been PR coups—it sends the message that Millennials are to be coddled. That they can’t handle themselves as grown-ups like the rest of their colleagues.

What Millennials Want

Earlier this year, IBM did a study called, “Myths, Exaggerations, and Uncomfortable Truths.”

What it found is what we believe about Millennials is mostly wrong.

They aren’t the “lazy, entitled, selfish, and shallow” workers many believe them to be.

Instead, they want financial security and a diverse workplace. They want an ethical and fair boss who shares information. They want a line between work and personal lives, particularly online. They want to work in an innovative work environment.

This doesn’t sound all that different from what the rest of the workforce wants, does it?

Get Advice, But Frame it Properly

With the exception of the story I shared at the beginning, I haven’t had the experience that Millennials are lazy or have helicopter parents.

That said, there have been plenty of job offers that have gone out where I’ve heard, “I need to talk to my parents. Can I call you tomorrow?”

I don’t think that’s a function of Millennials, though. I think that’s a function of needing advice from someone who has been there, done that.

My sister just took a new job and she called me before she accepted to get some advice on salary negotiation, how to tell her current boss, and how not to burn a bridge.

I also don’t think she said, “Let me call my sister and I’ll get back to you.”

Sometimes it’s in how you frame the conversation, as Adam Toporek pointed out in yesterday’s blog post.

Treat Millennials Like Adults

On the contrary, here is what I have discovered about Millennials: If you set the rules, tell them what they are and what you expect, they will succeed.

If you leave it loosey-goosey and let them decide how to work, they will falter.

Not saying everyone in this age group will, but that’s been my experience.

If you need to have your parents help you negotiate your salary or your promotion, that is the first step on your way out the door…and everyone here knows it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Millennial, Gen X, or a Baby Boomer. If you tell me your mom said you deserve a raise or that your parents have stopped paying your credit card bills so you need a raise to cover them—both have actually happened—you can pretty much guarantee I’ll show you the door.

We’ll never be IBM that creates a place for parents to have a say in their child’s career and we’ll never be Grey and separate the younger generation from everyone else.

What we will do is listen to everyone’s challenges and concerns, collaborate for better ways of doing things, and make everyone who works here live by the same rules.

After all, if you treat adults like grown-ups, they’ll act that way…no matter which generation they were born into.

photo credit: IBM Generational Study infographic

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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