Stop the turnover

what project managers need to know about managing millennials


By Sam Alkhatib, PMP


I once worked with a fresh graduate who had just been hired for an entry-level project management position at my organization.

The young project manager soon found that the real-world application of project management principles was quite different from the hypothetical textbook scenarios she learned about in school. Still, eager to rise to the challenge, she spent countless hours learning from the mentor the company had assigned her. After a year and a half, she began to feel she had mastered the art of project management. But her enthusiasm for the project and the team started slowing as she felt she was no longer gaining new skills. Soon after, she left the company, citing its lack of skill development. Her manager felt betrayed and swore off hiring new graduates.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Millennials—those born between the early 1980s and mid- 1990s—are noted for their high job turnover in many parts of the world. In Australia, for example, employees between the ages of 25 and 35 switch jobs about every two-and-a-half years, and younger millennials switch even more often. This trend can understandably frustrate managers. But given that the generation is becoming largest group in the workforce (it already is in the U.S.), managers must understand what motivates—and matters to—millennials. Doing so can improve retention rates and ultimately save time and money.

Millennials have no intention of waiting for the world to come to them—they want results now.

To effectively supervise millennials, seasoned project managers should keep the following in mind:

  • While professional success has traditionally meant following a predetermined work path, this doesn't seem to apply to millennials. Their view is that life is better without predetermined order.
  • Hierarchical reporting structures often don't have the same level of importance to millennials. They tend to choose more collaborative approaches over titles and formality.
  • Success for a millennial is not measured in dollars, but rather by the accomplishment of a bigger goal. The young project manager at my company saw success as continuing to learn new skills, not a pay raise or title bump.
  • Millennials have no intention of waiting for the world to come to them—they want results now. For my former co-worker, once she felt she had mastered the skill set needed for the project, she grew impatient and left.

In just about any workplace, having a good mix of veteran workers and new grads is optimal.

Based on experience, my organization began to implement two changes to the work environment to boost retention of millennials:

  • Create open work spaces that promote a collaborative environment. The company began replacing its old work cubicles with a new type featuring low partitions that encourage teamwork.
  • Implement a challenging and varied employee development program to satisfy millennials’ continued thirst for knowledge.

Share Your Thoughts

No one knows project management better than you, the practitioners “Getting it Done.” So every month, PM Network shares your expertise on everything from sustainability to talent management and all project topics in between. If you're interested in contributing, email [email protected].

In just about any workplace, having a good mix of veteran workers and new grads is optimal. In project management, a team that is made up solely of seasoned project managers faces the risk of missing out on exposure to new technologies, while a team of millennials faces potentially high turnover and project disruption. For these reasons, experienced project managers need to embrace the tech-savvy ways of millennials to help drive productivity and innovation, while focusing on skill development and collaboration to round out the experience. PM

img Sam Alkhatib, PMP, is an engineering manager at Cupertino Electric Inc., San Francisco, California, USA.




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