Millennial Managers: Leveraging Generational Diversity

The internet loves to pick on millennials. They say we’re lazy, entitled narcissists that continue living with their parents further into adulthood than what is the traditional American norm. We’re either unemployed or underemployed. They say we don’t work hard enough to make our college degrees work for us. We’re too emotional. We’re killing napkins, fabric softener, the department store, casual dining chains…the list goes on. There are many articles guiding Gen Xers and Baby Boomers on how to adjust their management style to suit millennials. But what if you’ve got the opposite problem? What are some of the obstacles that millennial managers face with older generations?

It Happens More Often than you Would Think

Millennials aren’t just entry-level employees anymore. Someone born between 1981 and 1998 is a millennial. Yes, some of the people that fit within that category are still attending universities. But others are well into their careers.

Millenial managers working as a team

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Sometimes the next generation recieves the family business baton from the generation prior. In other cases, the young person was self employed and is expanding their business. Or they’ve created a business from the ground up that needs employees of different backgrounds. Sometimes a Baby Boomer leaves a management role for retirement, and a millennial just so happens to be the one with the right education and skills to take her place.

The stereotype may be that millennials are often unemployed or underemployed, but the statistics show that they’re also more likely to start their first business younger than previous generations. According to a study published by the Kauffman foundation, fifty-four percent of the nation’s millennials either want to start a business or already have started one.

Why Would Millennial Managers hire a Gen Xer or a Baby Boomer?

In the past, our experience with owning an answering service has been this: the more diversified the staff, the better suited we’ll be for our clients. I think that this is a notion that should suit the majority of industries as well. A diverse staff, for us, includes having bilingual virtual receptionists and people of all different experiences and backgrounds that will be able to understand both the needs of our clients, but also the needs of our clients’ clients.

millenial managers working with generational diversity

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People who grew up in different generations were raised with different sets of values. More importantly, older people have more experience in a number of different fields with a number of different managers. These diverse experiences come into play when we’re looking for solutions to make our answering service the best answering service we can be.

Is it a ‘Good Fit?’

We find candidates and screen resumes based on specific qualifications that the potential employee has when we’re looking to hire quality employees. In compliance with our own company morals along with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, we would never hire or not hire someone based on their age, race, religion, origin, etc.

The reason that a millennial would hire someone from a previous generation is the same reason that anyone would hire anyone. They meet the qualifications, seem like they would add value, and would fit well with the current members of the team.

Millennial Managers Have Unique Challenges

Millennial employees are faced with a struggle that generations prior did not have to contend with: managing someone much older than them. Older employees often struggle with reporting to someone who is younger than them because they feel that the younger boss does not have the experience needed to manage. Harvard Business Review did a study on the differences in management style, skills and perceptions between leaders thirty years and younger versus those that are fourty-five and older.

Below are some of the themes from that study.

Trust Issues

Older teammates are less likely to trust a boss younger than them. They perceive that boss to be lacking the experience and knowledge that would deem them worthy of running a team. Workers traditionally worked with a company for many years and were promoted slowly over time. Often what we’ve seen far more frequently recently is that younger, more formally educated workers are stepping ahead of workers who may or many not have been in their industry for longer.

trust issues with millennial managers

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A formal education may get you in the door of the position that you’d like to have. But it doesn’t mean you’ll win the trust and respect of the members of your team. You’ve likely heard the phrase, “there’s no teacher like experience.” That’s precisely the way that older staff feels when some whippersnapper walks in the door and starts barking orders.

Model Behavior

Millennial managers are less likely to be perceived as a role model by team members. Why? The same reason as above. When you can’t trust that someone can fulfill their role properly, you certainly won’t look to them for guidance.

Employees expect to report to someone older than them. That’s usually the case, and they find it easier to respect someone who has years of experience under their belts. They see that person as a role model, and consider that one day, through hard work, they will be the boss themselves.

Unfortunately, when older staff sees someone younger than them in a leadership position, they don’t see that at all. They instead see missed opportunities. They think that they would be in a leadership position if they were younger, more formally educated, or had the right connections. This may lead them to feel resentful. They not only don’t look up to this younger person, they also don’t respect them at all. That’s their way of coping with their newfound sense of inadequacy.

Negative Stereotypes

If you’ve read one negative article about millennials, you’ve read them all. And so have the members of your team. Team members from earlier generations are bound to have some of their own ideas about millennials with all of these negative perceptions floating around. When a newly-hired team leader walks in the door, their age will determine the staff’s first impressions.

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it’s in our biology to make snap judgments about other people. It only takes a tenth of a second for someone to form a judgement about the character of a person, even from a photograph. And, unfortunately, first impressions are lasting impressions that are hard to get passed.


This one may come as a surprise to you if you subscribe to the belief that younger generations are more narcissistic, more overconfident, more immoral, less agreeable, and less emotionally stable. According to Harvard Business’ Review study, millennial managers are generally perceived to be insensitive to other’s needs.

telephone etiquette for receptionists

Why? Team members don’t think that millennial managers have the life experience to understand what others are going through. Older team members are more likely to have established families of their own, with children, elderly parents, and more responsibilities that can take away from work availability. Team members from earlier generations perceive millennial managers as unable to put themselves in others’ shoes. How can they when they don’t have the same kind of obligations?

Millennial Managers May Need to Prove Themselves

Sure, a millennial manager may feel that they proved themselves enough by qualifying for the position. But if they want the entire team to be a success and to be the leader that the team needs, they’ll have to navigate age diversity carefully.

First things first: they’ll need to disprove those stereotypes. They need to exhibit their expertise and authority. Millennial managers should be the first ones in the office and the last ones out. They should be impeccable listeners, and show the team members that their opinions are valuable and important.

We Should Learn From One Another

What Millennial Managers Bring to the Table

Sense of Purpose

Some say that the most defining characteristic of the millennial generation is that they value a sense of purpose over a paycheck. Some would say that this leads millennials to work less or job hop more than prior generations. But there’s also a plus side. As managers, they bring that sense of purpose to the team. They ignite team members to see the value in their everyday work instead of going along with the status quo.


Millennials thrive off of feedback. When you’re managing a millennial, it’s important to check in with them frequently instead of an annual performance review. But what about if they’re the manager?

helping before firing employees

image via Adam Grabek on Flickr

They expect just as much feedback, and they thrive off of it! Millennials want and expect feedback from others, even when in a leadership role. They see the value, accept the feedback, and use it to help improve their performance and management style.


Someone who is willing to adjust their behaviors as a result of feedback is someone who is welcome to change. The Harvard Business Review study showed that their flexibility is ingrained in the generational culture. It states that their lack of experience lends to the courage and confidence needed to implement change. On top of that, millennials also excel at marketing their new ideas.


With youth comes energy, and lots of it. A millennial leader jazzes their employees up about their work. Then they inspire the team to increase their effort and output. Their results-driven attitude is contagious. They are dedicated to improvement and this is an admirable trait.

What Older Generations can Teach Millennial Managers

Social Skills

Millennials weren’t unlocking iPhones before they could talk like the kids of today. But they definitely grew up with an abundance of technology at their fingertips. So they’re pretty tech savvy. Unfortunately, this often is accompanied by lower amounts of face-to-face interactions, thus, less interpersonal skills than those who came before.

Older generations can lead by example in important face-to-face interactions. They’re better at business etiquette, navigating polite behaviors through office politics, and

Institutional Knowledge

Millennials aren’t known for their company loyalties. They’re constantly hopping from one position to the next to rapidly grow their career. With all of the opportunity out there, who can blame them? On the other hand, more than 40% of Baby Boomers stayed at a company for twenty years or more.

With that comes a lot of institutional & industry knowledge. Sometimes managers are cut off from the business as a whole. These managers stick to their small portion of an org rather than understanding how all of the cogs work together to create a successful business. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, understand the nature of the business and ways in which siloed teams can use internal communication for a better company culture.


Tough times, like recessions and a number of bubble bursts (the dot com bubble, the U.S. housing bubble) made for less-than-ideal career situations for Gen-X. That, pared with increased health and longer lifespans of the generation before them, caused for Baby Boomers that came before them to be slower to vacate leadership roles.

Working long and hard for a number of years without the payoff of a promotion ain’t easy. Millennial managers can learna a thing or two about resilience from Gen-Xers.

War Stories

With the years of industry experience, coupled with a few economical and political crises sprinkled throughout, older generations are bound to have some stories. Those stories can add valuable insight to business decisions and maybe grab a few laughs.

Apply this to your small business

Don’t limit your staff to people that are like you. Pull from different age ranges and backgrounds. A diversified staff is one that can bring many perspectives to the table. It’s also a staff that can bring new ideas to the table.