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Managing Millennials, from a Millennial

Managing Millennials, from a Millennial

How to provide growth opportunities for the next generation of scientists

by Melissa Tucker
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Millennials are taking over the workforce. By 2025, this generation will make up most of the workforce (about 33 percent) in the United States, as estimated by Bureau of Labor Statistics data and depicted in Graph 1.1 Many articles have been written about this generation. As a millennial myself and in clinical laboratory management for going on six years, I’m here to tell you there is no reason to freak out. We are not aliens. Instead of expecting the millennial generation to mold to the current workforce structure, leaders should take on the challenge to adapt to this group of individuals with different ideas and priorities by restructuring our workforce and workplaces for the better.

Who are millennials?

Millennials were historically defined by a birth date between 1980 and 2000. However, the Pew Research Center has redefined millennials as having a birth date between 1980 and 1996.2 This redefinition is due to key events that occurred during the developing years of the millennial generation, such as but not limited to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Iraq war, and election of the first black president.

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The millennial generation grew up in a world where typewriters were still a thing (yes—I had one) and computers were just starting to make their mark on the household. Dial-up was the only way to connect, and AOL was the major player on the internet. Atari was being replaced by Nintendo in the gaming industry. Millennials took road trips without wearing seat belts. Cell phones had yet to properly take over the world. We were given a ribbon for showing up for anything. In school, creativity was fostered through project-based learning. Standardized testing was utilized but not relied upon nearly as much as it is today.

Graph 1. Projected US Workforce in 2024 by Generation in Percentage. Estimates based on Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Today in the laboratory, the millennial generation is in the age range of 22 to 38. They are new graduates, and they are experienced workers. They are bench techs, supervisors, managers, and directors. They have a voice, and they want it to be heard and utilized. They want to understand the bigger picture and to connect their own work to the mission of the company. They seek meaning and connect with companies that show humanity. They strive for happiness through work-life balance.

Learning to lead

Millennials are looking for mentors—not managers—to lead them. They are eager to grow and learn. Because they grew up in an era of immediacy, many are impatient and thrive on short-term goals. In order to keep millennials engaged, dish out projects like calibrating pipettes, checking the reference laboratory bill, and verifying thermometers. These types of projects offer millennials a “behind the scenes” look into the functioning and regulatory aspects of working in the lab. They also make for great additions to a resume.

Related Article: Why Training Means a Lot to Millennials

Another way to provide growth opportunities for millennials is to constantly remind them of the bigger picture. Assign them to shadow someone in a different department or at a sister laboratory. Then ask them to present what they learned and ideas for how to improve a process in the department at the next staff meeting. This allows them to bridge the gap between departments and also provides them with a different perspective when they are communicating with those in other departments.

Work-life balance

Unlike previous generations, millennials are constantly connected to their work through email and social media. They like it this way! Millennials want to be able to check their work email from home or work on online continuing education courses when they find themselves unable to sleep in the middle of the night. Because of this constant connectivity, millennials appreciate working schedules outside traditional eight hour shifts. Don’t be afraid to try out a new scheduling system! Twelve-hour shifts are typically a big hit with this generation because they give them four days off each week. Self-scheduling is another way to increase employee satisfaction among millennials. Self-scheduling gives them ownership of their work and workplace. Not only does it allow employees to work around their life schedules, but it also gives them some flexibility in their teammates for the shift. In addition to increasing employee engagement, self scheduling has been shown to increase retention and recruitment and decrease absenteeism.

It's not all about the money

Don’t get me wrong—everyone desires to be compensated fairly for his or her work. Keep in mind that millennials have a large student loan debt to pay off. With this generation, company values are also important, and sometimes they will even choose a position that pays less because of values (I know I did). Just look at Warby Parker and TOMS. Millennials have invested in these companies because of the values they market to consumers. In order to connect with millennials, the vision and values of a company need to align with their own ideals. So, as leaders, we need to connect the work to the mission of our company. The first step in connecting the mission is knowing the mission. Incorporate the mission statement into huddles, shift changes, staff meetings, rounding, orientation, and training. Set the expectation with staff that they know the mission and how their work contributes. Connect agenda items, process changes, and performance improvement initiatives to the mission by explaining the “why.”

Millennials like to have ownership of their work. Ask them for their opinion on processes and equipment that affect their work. Allow them to submit anonymous suggestions via a suggestion box, and communicate the results of the suggestions (whether or not they are implemented). Provide them with opportunities to speak their mind. Have frequent (at least monthly) informal or formal meetings with them to ask for their opinion instead of just saying you have an open-door policy and waiting for them to come to you to provide the feedback. By giving them ownership, you are also building brand ambassadors, which will set up the company as a whole for success.

Work family

Since millennials are constantly connected to work, they think of it as their home away from home. You may have heard the term “work husband” or “work bestie.” Many employees spend more time at work than with their own families. Team-building activities and bonding, both at and away from work, are important for building this culture. Form a department committee, and encourage department staff from all shifts to participate. Set expectations at the first meeting. Give them responsibilities such as setting up social activities outside the work environment, planning lab week, organizing birthday celebrations, and conducting teambuilding activities at staff meetings. If you are utilizing a suggestion box, have the department committee give their decisions on implementing the suggestions and sending them to the manager/director for approval. A committee such as this is a great way to also bounce ideas off another when implementing a new process or strategy. You will find that these members are your most engaged staff.


Participation ribbons. Stickers for good behavior. Millennials were constantly recognized growing up. And not just for a job well done or for winning. Millennials were recognized for merely showing up. They expect the same at work. And while they appreciate peer-to-peer recognition, they are not good at providing this and expect most of the recognition to come from above. So, for this generation, constant feedback is key. On the bright side, recognition does not have to be a formal and decorated thing. A quick “way to go” in passing will brighten up their day. Constant recognition is hard and something I find myself constantly working on. Schedule recognitions during monthly rounding sessions. Add a recognition report at shift changes, huddles, and staff meetings. Recognize employees for taking on extra tasks or reaching milestones. Start a recognition board where peers can quickly recognize each other, and put it next to the time clock or where huddles occur. Have the leadership team nominate someone regularly for company awards. Set expectations that leads and supervisors who are down in the trenches with the staff will make a certain number of recognitions each week. Block out time on your calendar to write recognitions.

Millennials are here to stay. Instead of figuring out how to work through them, embrace
their differences. This is an exciting time for leaders and companies as they learn to adapt, retain, and grow this generation of employees.

Note: Please recognize that this is a generalization of a generation and not all employees in this generation will fit these characteristics exactly. Also, I have implemented many of the provided tips in my own lab with great success.