Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Millennial mantras

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
How to make Millennials work with (rather than for) you.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

I remember my initiation into the network agency system as a young pup. The rulebook for success was quite brutal. Maintain systems above people. Accept your place as a small part of a very big machine. Deliver your work with minimal supervision. Obey your boss, manage your subordinates. Deliver your objectives first, be good to people later – if you can afford the luxury. Make sure that personal and professional never mix. Maintain a casual demeanour but follow work rules in a super rigid manner. Recognise the Darwinian system of upstaging your rivals instead of foolishly trying to collaborate with them.

Loyalty and adherence to ‘the system’ was rewarded by a steady stream of increments and promotions that came with the precision of a Swiss watch.

After a good eight years of growth, I had more than enough of ‘the system.’ I decided to jump on to a start-up instead. I suppose the rebel inside got the better of me. I wanted something more entrepreneurial and challenging. My former colleagues thought I was on dope. I considered myself a maverick.

Enter the Millennials
In the start-up, we started hiring lots of Millennials to build a hot young agency. So here came these bright young pups, who followed a very different work mantra, which was often difficult to digest. I quickly realised I was dealing with a different breed.

Here are some typical Millennial to Generation X (me) conversations:

“I was late because of some personal issues I face in the mornings and I expect you to be understanding.”

“There is an amazing social event happening outside the office, so I am leaving my work to attend it. I will be very sad if I missed it. I think you should also participate with me.”

“I need my daily pep talk, once more, for the third time. I am feeling a bit down.”

“I have a nice business idea I want to pursue to help the company, will you support me?”

“Smile! You are on live Facebook broadcast and you are looking exceptional, hogging your messy desi breakfast.”

“Why do you expect me to deliver the final product in one go? I feel far more comfortable developing my work in many stages – and seeking your constant feedback every step of the way.”

“I would like to collaborate with as many people as possible for this project, rather than follow your approach of getting the job done with the smallest possible team for the sake of efficiency.”

“Why don’t you participate in helping me achieve my personal goals?”

“I don’t have time to talk right now, as I am with some people. Can we have an extended chat on WhatsApp instead? It’s perfectly fine to WhatsApp after 10:00 p.m.”

“I think it’s time for me to leave as I have been around for over two years now, but I may come back after my journey of discovery.”

Here I was thinking I was the maverick!

These Millennials would break the golden rule of keeping personal and professional distinctly separate with complete impunity. At first glance, they even appeared to be lazy at the workplace. What gave them a right to be so different from us Generation X’ers?


I also feel that it is critical for the business leaders of today and tomorrow to galvanise the Millennial workforce towards shared goals. There is little point in declaring war against a whole generation which now constitutes the majority of the workforce.


On the plus side, I certainly feel Millennials are more entrepreneurial than we were at their age. As a young pup, my mentors conditioned me to shun start-ups with a passion. Hence, I only discovered the joy of entrepreneurship much later in my career. I also feel that Millennials are more collaborative, and more socially aware than we were at their age.

I can also understand why they would be more precious about their personal lives as the corporate world no longer serves them the same comforts my generation took for granted. Their reality is quite different to what it was for Generation X’ers. Their world is a lot less certain than ours was. For example, a good education is no longer a guarantee of good employment.

I also feel that it is critical for the business leaders of today and tomorrow to galvanise the Millennial workforce towards shared goals. There is little point in declaring war against a whole generation which now constitutes the majority of the workforce.

The secret for getting the best out of them is to get them to work with you and not just for you. Senior leaders need to lead them by inspiration and through shared goals and not by the outdated carrot-and-stick approach.

So here is my new revised rulebook on how to make Millennials work with you.

Don’t blame Millennials for your poor hiring choices!
Avoid judging a whole generation because of a few bad hires. Millennials may ask for more flexibility than Generation X’ers, but this does not mean they don’t believe in office discipline or good work ethics.

Convince them on the WHY
Millennials do not like to be treated like cogs in a machine. Make them a part of your vision; make them feel as if they are part of something big and important. They will reward you with their loyalty and with their dedication beyond working hours.


It is time to replace the old carrot and stick approach with a more modern concept of a shared destination, with shared goals. Motivating Millennials is more than just paying them a good salary. It is about galvanising their motivations to help you achieve your goals as a leader.


Embrace their entrepreneurial spirit rather than trying to crush it
Encourage creativity, encourage initiative. Guide the process to avoid redundancies and set some rules to make it work for the company. Make sure to keep them focused on the big picture.

Participate with them to help them achieve their personal goals
Personal goals matter a lot to these people. For example, I helped motivate one of my colleagues in his weight loss goals by joining him on long eight kilometre runs. A scene out of Rocky! I remember participating with another Millennial to encourage her in her passion for yoga. Quite painful, but genuinely helpful.

Remember that technology is a friend, and not the enemy
Millennials feel a lot more comfortable communicating through social media and technology than we did in our time. Don’t shun the long, immersive group chats on WhatsApp. They help. Don’t be afraid to let Millennials teach you a trick or two. Learning should never stop.

Millennials need feedback and encouragement, again and again
If you are attempting a fire and forget approach with Millennials, it will not work. They like to share their work with you in stages, asking for your feedback in order to make the finished product better. They also seek pep talks and encouragement along the way.

Collaborative rather than competitive workplaces work better for Millennials
Encouraging office cold wars is not helpful. Too much competition between colleagues can poison the workplace and make Millennials lose their workplace satisfaction very quickly. Don’t worry, Millennials are motivated to deliver results without the intense competition.

For Millennials, working for someone is a temporary arrangement. A stepping stone towards achieving something bigger and more satisfying. Working with a leader is quite a different proposition. A far more mutually productive and longer term proposition.

It is time to replace the old carrot and stick approach with a more modern concept of a shared destination, with shared goals. Motivating Millennials is more than just paying them a good salary. It is about galvanising their motivations to help you achieve your goals as a leader.

Afzal Hussain is Chief Operating Officer, Pirana and Director Strategy, M&C Saatchi World Services Pakistan.