Managing millennials – a podversation with Rebecca Christianson

Introduction to Rebecca Christianson – Thrive People Consulting

Rebecca’s been building her own people consultancy for some time now. She’s an Executive Coach and an expert on innovative People & Culture practices as she worked as an internal P&C senior leader and Executive for over 15 years. She coaches senior leaders to focus on mind-set shifts to thrive, using a strengths-based and neuropsychology approach. She has a psychology background and is endlessly curious about people.

Rebecca also partners with People & Culture teams to provide strategic advice on developing a People strategy, undertaking culture and capability assessments to enable organisations to understand how their change effort are progressing and is experienced at resetting People and HR teams. She is super passionate about harnessing the power of Millennial leadership capability and that is why we are here today.

Managing millennials – introduction

The focus of this blog is on working with and leading millennials. Now I just want to say before we get into this that it is of course true that categorising people in big groups like ‘millennials’ can be problematic if we end up making sweeping assumptions about literally everyone in that group just because they happen to be categorised in that way.  What we know though is that the social/economical/technological/political context and experience that people born between say 1980 and 1996 was different from those who came before and after. And that context may well have had a shaping effect on those people which makes a difference to the way in which they engage with work, in general, and with big individual differences of course. With that health warning delivered, over to Rebecca…

Paul: Who are Millennials?

Rebecca: Millennials or Gen Y’s are those currently aged approximately 25-41 years old. US and UK age ranges vary for this cohort.

From a career journey perspective, they range from those who have a few years work experience up their sleeve to those ‘old millennials’ like me who have been in senior leadership and Executive roles at a young age for the last 5-10 years.

Paul: Why is it important to be having this conversation on Millennials now?

Rebecca: Millennials now comprise of 25-40% of the workforce and research tell us that we will be 60-70% in the next 10 years so our voice will only be getting louder in the workplace.

I have worked across multiple sectors in Australia, the UK and Europe in senior P&C roles and I have experienced first-hand the frustrations Millennials have with the current working world. They are demanding that we shift to the new world of work.

They are voicing their dissatisfaction and showing it with their feet by leaving organisations in droves. According to US research, the average tenure for someone under 40 is 3 years, whereas for those over 50 years it is 10.1 years.

Paul: How are their work expectations different from other generations?

Millennials often want some of what other generations want, however there are 4 differences in this cohort of people:

  1. They have very high expectations of an organisation and their leader – they voice these confidentially and frequently
  2. They have a stronger loyalty to their self first – they have seen their parents be dispensable by organisations and therefore put their needs first.
  3. Shorter timelines against which they want their needs met – they are more impatient and want changes to take place quickly.
  4. The confidence to move if their needs are not getting met – they back themselves more and are willing to move to an organisation they believe values them more.

Rebecca: What are the strengths of Millennials? How are they unique from other generations in the workforce? What does the research on strengths tell us about Millennials though?

Paul: In 2017, Strengthscope undertook extensive research on workplace strengths with an expert statistician, using a sample of 47,000 employees from our Strengthscope® database.  Strengthscope® measures 24 work-based strengths divided into 4 categories: Emotional, Relational, Thinking and Execution strengths.

Strengths are universal. Strengthscope® strengths were found to be consistent across countries and regions. Across 26 countries and 5 geographical regions, differences in scores across 24 work-related strengths were found to be negligible. This tells us that the strengths Strengthscope® measures are universal and not affected by people’s country of origin.

Generations don’t differ. Across 6,000 baby boomers and 11,000 millennials, no meaningful generational differences were identified. This means for all the talk of workers changing markedly from generation to generation, what energises and strengthens people is actually consistent over these generations…people are not changing, at least not as fast as the world around them.

Rebecca: Despite there being no statistical difference in the strengths across generations, millennials have much higher expectations that their strengths be utilised in their role and will often leave if this is not the case. They want to feel happy and energised by the work they do.

Paul: Why is taking an employee experience (EX) approach with engaging and developing Millennials important? What is EX in simple terms? How have you used EX principles to co-design people solutions in the workplace?

Rebecca: EX is adopting principles from customer experience. Put simply taking an EX approach is treating your employees like important customers, segmenting them, understanding their needs and designing bespoke people solutions. It includes the co-design of initiatives to increase ownership and engagement.

I use an EX approach when designing leadership programs – ask the leaders what they want to get better at and ask their direct reports what they want their leaders to dial up to help understand what topics to cover in the program. Doing this engages everyone in the process, it is not pushing content onto learners and is a great part of the communications strategy to promote the program. Leaders love being asked and you receive much better feedback on the programs.

Paul: If I am a Millennial, what can I do to be more effective within organisations? What are my ‘watch out’ or development areas?


  1. Emotional intelligence – they are still learning about themselves as they are earlier in their career, they are learning their strengths and how to be more agile by dialling their strengths up and down.
  2. Increase their ability to influence and have impact – they cannot just influence through technology. They need to learn how to have more patience with those who are resistant to change and learn how to take people on a journey. They are easily frustrated and can give up on people, or ignore key people in an organisation due to their perceived negativity on an issue.
  3. Organisational savvy – they need to better understand how to balance being very values focused and also understanding organisational context / politics. They have a tendency to ‘fight’ the organisation / management on decisions they disagree with and demonstrate activism behaviours. They need to learn how to stay true to themselves, but be practical and willing to compromise on matters.
  4. Under value role consolidation – they love the buzz of the learning curve in the first 12 months of a role, then often want to change roles soon after the 1 year mark. They don’t understand the value that comes when you are nailing a role as you can mentor / coach people in your team which helps develop key skills to be a manager in the future.
  5. Impatience – this is an overarching trait that can be a barrier across many of the areas I have mentioned previously. As Simon Synek said, anything truly meaningful in life like career satisfaction and strong relationships take time to nurture.

Paul: If I am a leader/HR leader, then what do I need to look out for with my own assumptions / judgements?

Rebecca: Seeing Millennials as too relaxed, or non-corporate = actually they want to work in authentic workplace without the corporate nonsense and façade. They want their leaders to be real and care about them.

Seeing Millennials as lazy as they often won’t work long hours = actually they value their work life balance, they have many interests outside of work and won’t sacrifice their wellbeing for a job / organisation like has been the case with other generations.

Seeing Millennials as too honest/critical – they actually have a desire to improve the status quo.

Paul: Rebecca, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights into working with, and managing, millennials. It’s been fascinating, revealing, real and practically very helpful too. Thank you! For more from Rebecca, please check her article here.

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