Based on my experiences with Boomer managers who lead groups of Millennials, pharmacies and bars near their workplaces are wonderfully profitable because there is so much cross-generational stress to be soothed. I’m often asked not how to manage younger workers but how to manage the stress of managing them. Here are some suggestions.
1. Don’t manage. Lead. If you focus on getting the group to follow you i.e., do what you tell them to — and you measure your success solely on the basis of how well they follow — you will lose 50 percent of your stress. Why? Managing means bringing people together in harmony and with great attitudes to get the result. Leading means getting people to follow regardless of how they feel. The stressor and weak spot of most Boomer managers is caring about how people feel. If you grow up and realize that Millennials feel nothing about you, the job, or the company, you’d be off medication in a week.
2. Demand the result. Give up on the means. “Do it my way,” is a Boomer cry destined to cause high blood pressure and endless resentment. Instead, say, “Here’s the result I want. Get it by whatever means are useful.” The Millennials’ favorite torture is to ask Boomer managers how they want something done and follow the instructions exactly whether the instructions work or not. If the Boomer outlined the process he’ll be driven witless with additional questions or — more likely –the grapevine would report that “he thinks we can read his mind.” It’s a lose/lose passive aggressive game.
3. Stop expecting traditional participation. If no one asks questions or makes suggestions in a staff meeting that is not an indictment of you. Let it go. Reward those who offer ideas and feedback. Don’t punish those who don’t and don’t stress over their “non-participation.” The latter has become a legitimate work style.
4. Ask direct questions and give (very) direct feedback. ”What are you doing now?” not “What did you have in mind?” “I need it on Friday at 5 p.m.” not “When can you finish the project?” Save yourself the stress of wondering if something is being done by asking questions. Subtlety is a lost cause and comes across as lack of directness. When giving feedback never ask, “How else could you have done this?” Say, “Stop. Do it this way.” You will be known as a clear-thinking, articulate manager.
5. Reward and/or punish for results, never intent. Managers of all ages are most stressed by employees who never complain but produce sporadically. One day the employee is on target, the next day in LaLa land. Fire these people, especially older workers. Millennials are looking at the elderly slackers and sniggering that their managers are even less capable than had been thought. “If I can see that old guy screwing up, why can’t my manager — and he earns way more than I do!” There are no gentle hypocrisies in workplaces with many millennials — or even with just one.
Finally, cross-generational stress is in the eye of Boomer managers. Some feel less stressed because they’ve learned to block what they don’t want to see. This is a great, if rarely employed, strategy. A true Boomer has trouble not poking at anything he/she doesn’t like. Hence, I am betting on bars and pharmacies rather than Boomer managers changing their ways. Still, change could happen.
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