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How Millennial Managers Prepared Us for the New Hybrid Workplace

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As the workplace continues to evolve, it’s important to recognize an entire generation of managers who have prepared us for the new world of work.

Inspired by an upbringing that supported their unique characteristics, ideas, and activities, millennial employees and managers have been pushing the envelope of corporate America for years. The contentious arguments and heated debates we’ve had inside of offices across the country in the early 2010s may have actually set the stage for a transition to pandemic and post-pandemic work.

Brad Karsh and Courtney Templin have studied millennial managers and the companies who utilize them most effectively—Zappos, Groupon, Southwest Airlines, and Google—during their research for Manager 3.0.

What they discovered about millennials still holds true today as talks of a new hybrid workplace and a full-time remote workforce emerge in news articles and over Zoom chats between executives.

Millennial managers helped today’s companies navigate unprecedented times and adapted the workplace to the needs of employees. Karsh and Templin share how millennials have impacted the workplace by tweaking the ideas and structures that they didn’t think worked anymore and deliver some insights into why they’re perfectly positioned to lead the new hybrid workplace:

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Millennials tore down the ladder

Millennial managers brought down the corporate ladder. To them, it wasn’t about looking up at a boss; it was more about working together as a group to solve problems.

For millennials, it was never about the hierarchy ladder. It wasn’t about busting your tail and working countless hours to move up a rung on the ladder, to climb slowly toward the top. For millennials, that sounded exhausting and unfulfilling. Millennials turned this career ladder—where the only way was up—into career scaffolding. You can take the ladder up toward management, but you also can take the parallel route for a career transition. You can go up, around, or across to try out different jobs, and you can even take the walkway down for less responsibility. There are different options to fit different people at different points in their lives. It’s not the “up-or-out” burn-out idea of the corporate ladder.

Millennials broke down the walls

Millennial managers broke down the walls—figuratively and literally.

Millennials did not want obstacles that put “walls'' in between levels or groups of employees. This generation does not understand or see any benefit in bureaucracy. Why go through a ladder of people or jump through hoops to try and reach a decision? Millennial managers will just say come directly to me, and I will answer your question.

Millennials saw bureaucracy or gatekeepers as a waste of time. Productivity is all about accessibility. Millennial managers have an open-door policy because if their employees need information now, then they want to provide that. Their team members feel free to pop by their desk to ask questions or bounce ideas off of them because “closed doors'' or bureaucracy hinders the free flow of information and stifles productivity.

Millennials broke down the mahogany desks and doors to the corner office, and they created open workspaces. No one has to wonder what happens at that big, executive meeting, because now the conference room is behind glass doors. The physical space is transparent just like the culture.

Millennials also broke down the walls between people. Millennials embraced the idea of finding similarities among people that open you up to the differences that surround you. Millennials grew up with diversity, so it’s like second nature.

Millennials communicated on the fly

Millennials made business communication much more casual. Many millennials believed that long, four-sentence paragraphs in emails would never be read, and most important things can be said in 140 characters or less.

Since technology is so innate for this generation, millennial managers tend to communicate via technology rather than the old-fashioned face-to-face meetings. Technology helped millennials communicate, learn, and manage on the fly—allowing them to listen to TED talks on their way to work or send an email or text about a project on the weekend. And they assumed that everyone else was connected as well. As managers, this generation will continue to communicate on the fly and expect their teams to do the same. Communication—anytime, anywhere.

Millennials worked where and when they wanted

Millennials were all about flexibility. Life isn’t solely about work for millennials, and they wanted work to work with their schedule. Flexibility is one of the most important perks to millennials, and they made sure to pass that perk along to their teams.

There will always be some jobs that are tied to a workplace, but more and more industries got creative with how they could offer their employees flexibility, and millennials championed this cause.

Millennials advocated for play at work 

Millennials staked their claim in the workforce by saying there was no reason why work and play couldn’t coexist. Millennials wanted work to be enjoyable, and that didn’t just mean pool tables and happy hours. It also meant they wanted work to be rewarding, to be meaningful, and to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

Millennials argued that if people were having fun and being themselves, then everyone would be more creative and productive. As a manager, they make sure their team is enjoying work. Their mantra is to work hard and play hard. “Playing” ranges from spending time chatting with colleagues, celebrating someone’s birthday in the break room, eating group lunches, and working on projects together.

Entering a New Era of Work

These are just a few ways millennial managers shook up the workplace and rewrote the rules of management. Now, much of the business world has accepted their beliefs as fact and are putting plans in place to adapt their workplaces for the future of work.

Will you approach the innovations and alternative ideas proposed by Gen Z with as much resistance now that you know how pivotal millennial managers were to preparing us for this moment?

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Brad Karsh

BRAD KARSH is President and Founder of JB Training Solutions and JobBound, companies dedicated to helping professionals succeed. A workplace and generational expert, he has appeared on CNN, Dr. Phil, and CNBC, and been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today.

Courtney Templin

COURTNEY TEMPLIN is the Chief Operating Officer at JB Training Solutions, and a Millennial herself. She sits on the board of the Chicago Society for Human Resource Management, where she leads the Emerging Leaders Initiative.

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