Millennials, now the largest segment of the workforce, don’t want to manage.
Although Generation X (those born just before the Millennial generation, roughly between the early 1960s and the late 1970s) dominates the C-suite now, Millennials are the next in line. Except that many of them do not want to be there. Studies in the last two years by Addison Group and Manpower show that they rank managing others below other priorities, like developing skills.Nevertheless, there is enormous pressure on Millennials to jump in the leadership pipeline. And there are, it turns out, ways to encourage them to do so.
The average age for a specialist moving into a management job is getting younger, says Amy Lynch, a generations expert, consultant and author of 38 Killer Solutions You Can Use to Crush Gen Conflict Now. One reason is that Generation X is a relatively small group – in the U.S., there are only 60 million, compared with 80 million Millennials – meaning there are not enough of them to take all the senior management jobs as Boomers retire. So, Millennials are expected to fill the gaps. In addition, “Millennials’ technological abilities move them up faster,” comments Lynch.
How about “No”
Lynch works with many Boomers who are trying to identify young talent to nurture but find it frustrating: “They’ll say to me ‘I want this Millennial to step up, but she doesn’t want to.’” The problem usually is that what a Boomer defines as “stepping up” (i.e., working longer hours, displaying greater loyalty) is not what most young workers are willing to do. Boomers are looking for certain leadership behaviors that “just aren’t in the Millennial brain,” she explains.
Protecting their personal time is a priority of Millennials, stresses Lynch, and a big reason why so many shy away from management positions. While Generation X looks for work-life balance when they have families, the younger generation wants more time in general, even when they do not have children. They know that managing means more work and more hours at the office. “When Millennials look at the managers above them, they don’t ask themselves ‘do I want your job?’, they ask ‘do I want your life?,’” she adds. The answer, it seems, is frequently “No.”
Another factor driving Millennials away from leadership is the difficulty in managing multiple generations. The way older generations work often frustrates them. Boomers, for example, prefer structured, agenda-led meetings, but Millennials are “more collaborative and networking-oriented. They’ll skip around from point A to point D,” says Lynch. They are also used to collaborating across many platforms – online chat, email, meetings, social media — whereas Boomers and Generation Xers are not. It means that older colleagues fall out of the loop very fast, and the disconnect can destroy teamwork and productivity.
Lynch sees it at large companies across all industries: many Millennials are simply not interested in being in charge of others. Rather, they want to be in charge of their own careers, as freelancers or employees with an “I work for me” mentality, and to have the flexibility that goes with that. “When you get in the leadership pipeline, you give up some of that freedom,” explains Lynch. “If you are happy doing what you are doing, why would you want that?”
Adding to that is the fact that companies do not offer employees job security like they used to. According to Lynch, Millennials question whether they should get on the leadership track if there is no guarantee the company is going to invest in them for the long term.
So, where will tomorrow’s managers come from if no one harbors ambition for those jobs? The problem may be partly solving itself. One effect of Generation X leaders is that organizations are getting flatter, claims Lynch. Fewer levels translate into fewer management spots to fill.
But for those positions that will not go away, Lynch argues that companies need to identify and nurture Millennials who show an interest in managing people. In fact, she has witnessed great success in organizations that do just that. It might mean allowing younger employees to work in a variety of lateral jobs along the way. “Millennials are more likely to move sideways than to look for a career ladder. They value experience more than money,” she comments. Shared management jobs is another solution that may appeal to Millennials, offers Lynch.
As for the long view, she sees Millennial CEOs presiding over “fluid” organizations, where jobs, even management-level ones, are not strictly defined. “There will be more cross-functional roles.” It indicates that managing in the future will look very different than it does now.
Kate Rodriguez is a freelance marketing copywriter based in Munich. She has over 20 years of professional experience in public and private organizations. A former international trade analyst for the U.S. government, she also worked as a university career coach, specializing in international career search. Most recently, she was employed at Experteer as a customer service agent and online marketing manager.