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You need to be flexible when managing millennials in the workplace.

If you’re a manager, there’s a good chance you manage a millennial. According to Pew Research Center—and data from the U.S. Census Bureau—millennials make up 35 percent of the American workforce. When you view that workforce as a pie, millennials own the largest slice.

Pew defines the millennial generation as anyone born between 1981 and 1996, but definitions vary according to the source. In our recent People Management Study, we defined millennials—otherwise known as Gen Y—as employees between the ages of 24 and 41.

The purpose of our study was to uncover common traits of great (and not-so-great) managers. To this end, we asked 5,103 people to answer questions about their bosses. We found a correlation between millennial employees and a desire for flexibility.

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Millennials want a flexible working environment.

Twenty-two percent of millennials who rated their managers “great” (a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) said those managers were casual with rules. In comparison, only 13 percent of Gen Xers and 12 percent of baby boomers with great bosses said their bosses were casual with rules. This tells us that young workers have less patience for rigid workplace policies than previous generations.

When millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers identified other traits of great managers there was less of a generational gap. The biggest divide was flexibility.

Our findings support what Deloitte discovered in its seventh-annual Millennial Survey. Researchers gathered information from 10,455 millennials across the globe. All were college-educated and working full-time. One major takeaway was clear: for millennials, flexibility is key to loyalty—and employee retention.

Survey respondents ranked aspects of working at an organization such as “opportunities for continuous learning” and “reputation for ethical behavior.” Fifty percent of millennials indicated that “flexibility” was very important to them.

Chart showing that millennial workers want flexibility

They also found a link between flexible working arrangements and millennials’ desire to stick around. Of those who planned to stay at their current job for at least five years, 55 percent said their company is more flexible now compared to three years ago. Of those planning to quit within two years, only 35 percent noted an increase in company flexibility.

The takeaway: Companies who offer more options for where and when employees can work see less millennial turnover.

Managing millennials in the workplace means providing many casual seating options

Flexibility can reduce millennial turnover—but it can’t be a free-for-all.

The data shows a need for managers to be flexible with rules, and for companies to be flexible with working arrangements. But, boundaries must be set. There’s a thin line between freedom and chaos.

It’s okay to be casual with some rules, like letting someone take the occasional last-minute vacation day instead of giving two weeks notice. Certain rules need to be followed. For example, businesses in the financial services industry should create and enforce rules around BYOD to protect company data.

Allowing tech-savvy millennials flexibility shows you care about providing work-life balance. Yet, it’s important to communicate clear expectations around what is acceptable and what is not. A company culture that’s built upon transparency and communication is good for employees of all ages.


Erin heads up content marketing at PI. Her claim to fame? She's the only Erin Balsa on LinkedIn.

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