Many of the leaders I work with find members of the millennial generation particularly challenging to manage. Often perplexed and frustrated by what they perceive as impatience, unrealistic expectations and lack of loyalty, leaders struggle to engage and retain these members of their workforce.

Among the most common criticisms I hear is that millennials are demanding, short-term focused, self-centred and opinionated. Tending to stay in one role for only two years on average, this ‘opportunity hunting’ generation can also create a staff turnover nightmare for many leaders.

While challenging to lead, getting it right is essential to any organisation’s ability to attract the best and brightest future leaders. Born around 1982 to 2004, it is estimated that by 2025 millennials will make up 75% of the workforce.

Despite the poor rap they often get, in my experience, this generation is just as likely as any other to make a positive contribution to your business. The key lies in your ability to engage both their hearts and their minds. Like any other generation before them, millennials hold expectations and behave in ways unique to them.

Getting the best from millennials takes an understanding of these seven common characteristics. Millennials tend to:

  1. Ask why – before they ‘get on board’

    They want to understand what you are thinking and why you are thinking it before they will sign up for the journey. Helping millennials to see why anything they are asked to do matters, is vital to keeping them engaged.

  2. Want to make a meaningful contribution

    Having an impact on the world through their work is particularly important to this generation of worker. Millennials want to know they are making a worthwhile difference and are more likely to choose to work for an organisation that does something they believe in.

  3. Value freedom and autonomy –independent minded, millennials want to be empowered

    Holding them accountable begins with empowering them to take full ownership of their job. Millennials expect you to give them the opportunity to drive, free of unnecessary oversight and direction. Establishing clear boundaries within which they are free to operate is critical to achieving balance between providing the freedom they want and supervision or coaching they need.

  4. Be optimistic

    Positivity is among the most endearing characteristics of the millennial generation. Having grown up in times of dramatic change and advancement, millennials live with the philosophy that practically anything is possible. They live in the moment and believe you should enjoy all aspects of life, not just work.

  5. Want and respond well to change

    This is a generation who have seen advances in technology older generations imagined only possible in the realms of science fiction. Consequently, they expect change, become restless and move on quickly if things slow down. The need for constant stimulation is a very real challenge.

  6. Expect to be appreciated

    Acknowledgement is key to keeping millennials engaged. If they believe their talents and efforts are recognised, they will work harder. Less materialistic than other generations they typically respond well to being thanked with a pat on the back and ‘step up’ opportunity. Bring an attitude of give and take to your relationship with millennials and they are more likely to do the same in turn.

  7. Have a short attention span

    The way you communicate is key. Not at all inclined to read lengthy emails or newsletters, this is a group who expect information to be delivered in bite-sized pieces they can readily digest. It’s important to keep having conversations but also leverage online forums to connect and deliver your message. Keep the content fresh – millennials will only visit your company intranet if it’s dynamic, regularly offering new information and features.