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Effective managers must be able to adapt their style to lead individuals and teams according to an established mission. Leadership is certainly not an easy assignment, and there has been no greater or challenge than communicating with millennials in the workplace. 

Challenges With Millennials in the Workplace

Millennials have been described among HR circles as difficult, stubborn, entitled, and distracted. As a group, those born around 1994 and later do seem to exhibit similar characteristics that make traditional employment rather challenging. There are a number of factors that have contributed to these traits, and understanding the history may help managers communicate more effectively with millennial employees.


The generation raising millennials came from an era of tough love and did not receive an excess of positive reinforcement. In an effort to create a more emotionally balanced family, they doted on their children. This quickly resulted in passive parenting and created households full of demanding children that literally ran the home. Millennial children were not given realistic expectations about work, life, disappointment, and even competition.


Addiction is more prevalent in the millennial generation than anywhere else in history, and addictive behaviors extend well beyond drugs and alcohol. The age of technology and social media have created a society where everyone appears happy because they present only their ideal selves online. The attention and judgment of others becomes such a strong pull that dopamine is released in the brain when millennials receive new messages or comments about their online status. 


Aside from addiction, the era of social media and advanced technology has created a generation that simply cannot wait for results. They demand instant gratification and behave irresponsibly when they do not immediately get what they want. This level of impatience causes friction in the workplace because millennials would rather forge new ground than follow rules to achieve a goal. 


The ambitious millennial generation believes in purpose. They want to have an impact in this life and are willing to shake things up in order to leave their mark. Millennials care about causes and are dedicated to making changes. This generally leads to innovative change, new inventions, and better practices for recycling, manufacturing, and replenishing the natural environment. 

Leadership Styles

Since their thought processes and behaviors in the workplace threatens to upset the status quo, millennials have managers scrambling to find the best leadership style to implement. Douglas McGregor’s X and Y theories are two leadership styles that are popular among managers dealing with millennials in the workplace. These approaches were created well before the millennial generation but definitely apply and are practiced in many workplace environments. Since these two theories represent two polar extremes, it bears discussion to determine which approach is effective for millennials.

McGregor’s Theory X

This authoritarian management style makes assumptions about employees, many of which have a negative connotation. These leaders believe that their employees do not like their jobs, have scheming intentions, and require strict micromanaging. This was a common management style on assembly lines and piece work factories in the past, and it certainly does not apply in the modern workplace. In fact, this theory is counterproductive when it comes to millennials. They may start a new job with excitement and ambition but quickly feel stifled and become unhappy with their role. They then begin to exhibit the very thoughts and behaviors that managers presumed they possessed in the beginning.

McGregor’s Theory Y

Managers that subscribe to the Theory Y leadership style believe that the best way to reach their team is by investing in their team. Leaders invest in their millennial employees by actively participating in their success. They provide honest feedback by rewarding strengths and revealing areas for development. Theory Y managers create teams that are loyal to company values because each individual feels confident in their abilities and proud of their accomplishments. They are motivated to partner with their employer to achieve a common goal. 

So in conclusion it is clear that this group of emerging young millennial professionals presents a specific and unique set of challenges. Successful leaders seeking to build an efficient and highly effective team that delivers value to the business will adopt McGregor’s Theory Y leadership style. 

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