Millennials in Charge: How They’re Changing the Workplace

For a long time, baby boomers have been the largest generation in the workplace. But the next big generation – those born after 1980 – will soon surpass that group.

As millennials move into leadership roles, what will their management style be?

They’re expected to bring a striking change in corporate America, with a focus on collaboration and transparency.

Hey, what happened to the ladder?

Millennials – aka Generation Y – are changing the rule book.

Previous generations of boomers (born 1946-1964) and Generation X (born 1965-1980) have dutifully followed the traditional top-down corporate structure.

But Gen Y is demanding something different.

You may have noticed some companies are adopting a flat organizational structure. This means fewer titled roles and a more democratic approach. The corporate ladder is sometimes giving way to a corporate “lattice.”

In small organizations, this is easier to do. Larger companies, or those with a traditional bent, will have a harder time flattening – or “delayering” – their company.

Because flattening means fewer management positions, leadership will emerge in other forms. Millennials often believe you don’t need a title to be a leader – it can come from heading a project or campaign, or even taking an active role on your team.

In their minds, anyone can be a leader if they have the desire.

This may be a painful change for some industries, such as oil and gas, where a traditional hierarchy is heavily engrained. It also may cause some heartburn for other generations who are used to looking to someone with a title to make decisions.

Let’s take a vote

With the millennial leadership brand, it will be less about one person’s final say and more about collaboration.

Tradition calls for involvement on a need-to-know basis.

But this style of command and control doesn’t work for millennials. They want openness, collaboration and transparency across the company.

The millennial model has no hidden agendas or secrets, and encourages open access to meetings and information.

Millennials are digital natives

Millennials are the first generation to have access to digital technology their whole lives.

Technology has helped accelerate transparency because it cuts through levels of bureaucracy. Soliciting input from the entire organization is easy because there’s a way to contact anyone, anytime and anywhere. No more running it up the chain of command.

Millennials are used to collaboration and getting input from all parties. They grew up in a culture where they had a say in everything from dinner to the family’s vacation destination.

They are more inclined to inspire people, whereas Gen Xers and boomers are more inclined to persuade. Millennials will carry the torch, but they want everyone to be enthusiastic and 100 percent on board. The motto will be: Succeed or fail, we’re all in it together.

Millennials ooze inventiveness

Trying different methods of accomplishing tasks comes naturally to a millennial.

For example, a millennial wanting to fill a position may look across the organization rather than take the traditional approach of tapping the next in line.

They are more conceptual than practical. They’re risk-takers who are not worried about making mistakes or failing – that’s not on their radar. This generation was raised being told everything they did was wonderful and everyone contributes to the cause. There were no all-stars on their youth sports team, and everyone received a certificate for participation.

Millennials aren’t afraid of futuristic concepts. Boomers and Gen Xers may see that as an impractical waste of time, because they prefer to deal with what is, rather than what might be. But being free to play the “what if” game can be a catalyst for great creativity and may produce something very valuable.

The only constant in life…

A desire for new experiences satisfies a millennial’s thirst to be challenged. It also means they don’t shy away from change.

Millennials thrive on fresh goals and challenges to keep them motivated: new products, new campaigns, or a new organizational chart. And they’ll impose those desires on their employees.

This could be met with an initial pushback by boomers and Gen Xers. Trying new ideas, a need for change and getting buy-in from everyone could be seen as indecisive or a lack of experience by these two groups.

But millennials will dismiss it and move on. They’ll lead the march for the rest of the organization and encourage people to develop and make changes.

If people don’t like change, have stagnated or failed to embrace technology, then they’ll likely be pushed out.

But it’s not about age with millennials. It’s about skill set, passion, energy and excitement for the workplace.

Off the clock? On the clock? Just get the job done

Although Gen Xers brought work-life balance to light, the idea doesn’t make sense to millennials. It’s not two different planes to them.
Work doesn’t shut down at 5 p.m., and life events happen throughout the day.

Have a doctor’s appointment at 1 p.m.? Go. Want to be home to supervise the painter on a Monday? Do it.

They won’t be looking over your shoulder. If you’re productive, they’re not going to care where you are – or what you wear.

With more millennials taking leadership roles, it’s imperative that businesses have the right employees in place to move gracefully into this new era. To help you find the best employees for your business, download our guide Aberdeen Group Report: How to Recruit and Retain Top Talent.

7 responses to “Millennials in Charge: How They’re Changing the Workplace

Shane Murphy

Excellent insight here Bonnie! The Millenial generation certainly has a different take on most everything, just as all generations did when they were coming of age. What’s fascinating about this go-round (at least for me) is that I’m a Gen-Xer who has always skewed counter to norm – and now that counter is the Millenial expecation.

I’m lucky to have a pretty balanced team between Gen-Y, Gen-X, and Boomer. They’re all remote workers and balancing the needs of each generation has proven (over time) to be easier than expected by implementing the Gen-Y (counterculture) thinking into the team.

Strangely, the Gen-Y’s have the hardest time adapting to it – they were poisoned by being raised with Boomer and Gen-X expectations, then having it reinforced by education through college!

I hope your thoughts get a lot of eyeballs – because this isn’t where business is headed. We’ve been here for a few years now, just more legacy walls need to be shattered to make it the norm.

Insperity Blog

Thank you, Shane! You clearly take the time to thoughtfully assess the generational aspects of your team and how the individuals work together toward business goals. We greatly appreciate your sharing your insights here. Hope your comments get a lot of eyeballs as well! 🙂


I am of the belief that millennials have it right.The old mentality of how to run a business does not work and it shows. You want your workers to be happy and productive? Give them flexibility, growth opportunities and life work balance.

Insperity Blog

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Valeria.

Bill R

I have read several informative articles like this one and appreciate the insights. However, as an entrepreneur for most of my professional life, I have yet to see an article address the millennial’s perception of the responsibility for costs often associated with collaborative leadership. For example: I have repeatedly experienced millennials entering the construction and service industry expecting compensation packages on par with seasoned professionals and owners based on the perception that everyone “is supposed to be treated the same without regard to skill set, years of service, or level of responsibility.”

Insperity Blog

Thanks for reading, Bill. Interesting to hear about what you’ve seen throughout your experience as an entrepreneur – thank you for sharing your insights.

Bobby Hoffman

Sounds like millennials are just like everyone else. What they need are strategies because the are still figuring out life and lack experience. Beside that their motives and goals are like all…humans.

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