ASK THE OD PARTNERS : How Do We Coach and Mentor Millennials?

Reflections and Thoughts by Jean Lee

General Manager, Organisation Development


More commonly known as Millennials or Generation Y, others have also called them the iGen or Generation Me (GenMe). This is the generation born between 1980 to 2000, who grew up in the with the Internet, iPods and the threat of Global Terrorism. Through the generations, employees have faced the same challenges of developing skills, enjoying one’s job, being successful, and achieving a fine balance between work, family and personal life. What varies by generation is the way employees approach these challenges as a result of changes in personality traits and work attitudes across generations.

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The sum of these factors has amounted to the fact that GenMe employees generally have high expectations for meaningful and fulfilling work, and are eager to receive constructive feedback and be promoted quickly. Yet the increase in GenMe’s selffocused traits — including having better self-esteem and even being mildly to extremely narcissistic — have also meant that they have unrealistically high expectations that are mismatched with the realities of the workplace. How then as leaders, do we come alongside them to coach and mentor them so that they can truly achieve optimal levels of growth and performance in the workplace?

“Life is stressful as it is.  Let’s not be so tensed!”

GenMe employees expect to have flexibility. They see that life has a great deal of its own stress and so embrace ways to make living less structured and more convenient and enjoyable. After all, as they say, YOLO or “You Only Live Once.”

“Your advice won’t work because you aren’t me.”

Contrary to the popular and generally well-received intentions of ‘helping you speed up by giving you the solution’ of the older generations, GenMe needs to be engaged and involved in the problem solving process, co-creating solutions which they are proud to call their own and which are current and specific to their circumstances. With these in mind, we can now look at how to coach and mentor GenMe.

Don’t just shape culture, be mindful of the climate too.

You may have great conviction on the culture that you need to shape that will not only be the main source of corporate identity, but also govern the organisation’s way of life and identity. Keep in mind, however, that your day-to-day actions to influence the climate in which employees work is equally important.

Research has shown that GenMe has a higher external locus of control. This means that they have a low expectancy of their ability to control events and outcomes associated with their lives. While they are a highly self-focused generation, having an external locus of control may be a coping mechanism to preserve their self-esteem — when things go wrong, “it’s not my fault.”

Ultimately, this heightened sensitivity towards the environment around them can result in a huge drain of their energy when it comes to fulfilling their roles at work. As leaders, we need to be aware of how our GenMe employees are being affected by their surroundings and be deliberate in influencing a climate that supports the desired culture.

Be a pacer,  not a beacon.

While you were comfortable having your leader being a beacon and going ahead of you to guide you from a distance, GenMe does not work that way. They need you to come alongside them, pacing them and inviting them to analyse situations together and to influence environments hand-in-hand. So don’t go too far ahead, just enough for them to stay synchronised with you.

My final advice would be for us as leaders to understand that putting these principles into practice might feel unnatural since they are counter-intuitive to managerial styles we are used to. However, as we regulate our own expectations and become pacers to GenMe employees and intentionally shape the climate at work, we will be the best coaches and mentors that we can be to them.

Source: Twenge, J. M. and S. M. Campbell. “Generation Me and the Changing World of Work,” in P. A. Linley, S. Harrington, and N. Garcea (2009). Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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