Millennials bring much to the workplace: curiosity about everything, strong technical skills, the ability to collaborate easily, and an acceptance of diversity as a fact of life. But too often their managers struggle to make the most of their abilities, leaving everyone frustrated.

Defined as people who were born between 1981 and 1996, Millennials today range in age from 25 to 40. However, the people who manage them tend to be Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) and Gen Xers (born 1965 – 1980). Effectively managing the Millennial workforce requires avoiding three major mistakes rooted in these generational differences.

Mistake #1:
Throwing Millennials in the deep end and expecting them to swim

People often manage — and parent — as they were managed. Many managers today came up in organizations where they were provided little structure or formal goals. They were expected to “figure it out” on their own, they prided themselves on being able to work through complex challenges with little direction, and they enjoyed ambiguity. Even as children they often had large blocks of free time and were left on their own to fill their playtime.

Millennials however have been described as the most structured generation. As kids, their days were programmed for them, going directly from the classroom to after-school activities. Their jam-packed days accommodated their working parents’ schedule, but it left little opportunity for freeform self-directed play.

As a result, Millennials need structure in their work assignments, leading some managers to complain about how time consuming it is to manage them. It can be frustrating to have to spell out exactly how to do something, especially when you’re barely conscious of how you do it yourself. But as a manager, you want to help them learn to create their own structure and not rely on constant handholding. To help them devise an effective approach to assignments, outline how you structure tasks at a high level, integrating any ideas they have to make the process better. By collaboratively creating this template of the process, they should be able to use it to create their own structured approach to assignments.

Mistake #2:
Providing vague goals and little feedback

Along with structure, Millennials want clear goals and ongoing feedback on how they are doing. With clear goals, they know what is expected and can be more self-directed. While managers often think of feedback as pointing out what can be done better, Millennials want positive feedback — recognition of what they’ve done well and encouragement that they are on the right track. Managers who no longer feel the need to be recognized for their work will have to be more conscious of what their younger staff need.Mistake #3:
Ignoring their ideas and excluding them from learning opportunities

Millennials expect their leadership to be transparent and open to their ideas. “Be quiet and listen until you are older” doesn’t work for them. They feel they know a lot and deserve to be included. And they do know a lot, but they can be impatient when it comes to having their ideas accepted. With more tempering of how and when they give feedback to senior management, their fresh ideas can help improve the workplace. Give them “stretch” projects that challenge their abilities and provide development opportunities. Making mistakes will help them realize that they still have many things to learn.

With their desire for more work-life balance, relaxed dress codes, and flexible work schedules, Millennials will always challenge the status quo. Now that the COVID pandemic has forced many to work from home, leaders who initially resisted these unconventional ideas have come to see the merits of working in more comfortable clothes and taking the dog for a walk in the middle of the day. They are finding greater connection with their family and gaining perspective on the relative importance of work.

We can all learn a lot from people who are different from us. It requires a willingness to let go of how we developed, how we were managed, and how we achieved success so that we can embrace possibilities for growth and learning.