‘In Loco Parentis Management’ — Five Steps to Effectively Managing Millennial Employees

This article is the third in a series of six. It is excerpted from Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials by Bruce Tulgan

1) Care About Your Millennials

When I say, “care about your employees,” I’m not saying you need to love your employees as if they really are your own children or let them come live in your basement. But you may need to usher them through these early stages of their working life and into the next. Help them make the transition.
Don’t be alarmed. You don’t need to relate to this person’s deep inside thoughts, feelings and spirit, or even inner motives. In my view, you shouldn’t even try unless you are a trained therapist or pastor. Just care enough to help this person succeed at work, at least whenever this person is working for you. One Millennial recently told me, “I need to work for people who know who I am and what I’m doing, and who seem to care. I’ve had bosses who didn’t even know my name. But right now I’m working for this woman who is very busy, but she really connects with me, eye-to-eye kind of, asks me questions and really listens. She’s taught me a lot already.”

2) Don’t Pretend

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you should actually pretend to be a parent to your employees at work. In fact, you shouldn’t pretend anything. Millennials have giant BS detectors, especially around authority figures. You have to be authentic to succeed with them. So focus on the authentic common interest between you two, which is the work at hand, and on playing very well the real role you have in their working lives: that of a manager.
You are running a workplace. The relationships at work are transactional relationships. I promise you, none of your employees would be showing up to work every day if you were not paying them. So treat each person and the relationship with respect. But don’t hesitate to take charge and tell them what to do. You are paying them to work very well, very fast, all day long. Make that fact explicit, keep a spotlight on it, and never try to camouflage it.

3) Give Them Boundaries

The Millennials you manage want freedom to maneuver at work. They want some latitude when it comes to their schedule, where they do their work, whom they work with, what they do, and how they do it. The problem is that every task, responsibility, and project has parameters that constrain every employee’s freedom.
But as much as they love freedom, Millennials also gravitate to structure and boundaries. For one thing, they don’t want to waste their time. Don’t forget, since they were kids, Millennials have been hyperscheduled by overbearing adults. One Millennial describes it this way: “The last thing I’m looking for is somebody telling me, ‘Yeah, do it how you think it should be done,’ but then it turns out she already knows exactly how she wants it done. I don’t want to beat my head against the wall trying to figure something out if you’ve already got it figured out. I definitely am interested in putting my personal stamp on things, but if that’s not going to happen, tell me up front.”
If you want to give Millennials more freedom at work, the biggest favor you can do for them is establish clear boundaries and give them a structure within which they can function with some autonomy.

4) Help Them Keep Score

Think about a video game that a Millennial might practice and practice, beating one high score after another, set by himself. He wins every time, and nobody has a reason to feel bad. That’s the kind of competition Millennials are looking for: they want to compete against themselves in a safe environment where they can try over and over again to improve on their own performance benchmarks. When it comes to competitiveness at work, this is what one Millennial had to say: “I’ll do whatever they want me to do. Just tell me someone is keeping track of all this stuff I’m doing. Tell me I’m getting credit for it, that I’ve been racking up points here like mad. Tell me someone is keeping score.”
When Millennials know you are keeping track of their day-to-day performance, their measuring instinct is sparked and their competitive spirit ignited. Keeping close track of their work tells them that they are important and their work is important. The process motivates them to perform because they want to get credit, score points, earn more of whatever there is to earn.

5) Negotiate Special Rewards in Very Small Increments

Today we live in a world in which relationships are governed by an increasingly short-term and transactional logic. Millennials have never known it any other way. Segmented as a market from birth and armed with credit cards, they have been taught to think of themselves as customers in virtually every sphere. Even in their roles as students, most Millennials think of themselves as buying and consuming the learning services sold by schools.
By the time Millennials arrive at the workplace, short-term transactional thinking is second nature to them. They are still thinking like customers. Plug into Millennials’ transactional mind-set. Stop paying them and start buying their results, one by one. The more you trade results for rewards, the more reliable their performance will be. The smaller the increments you buy in, the more effective it will be. The critical element when it comes to rewarding Millennials is letting them know that rewards are tied to concrete actions within their own direct control.


About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]; you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website.