With four generations in the workplace, one management style no longer fits all. Millennials (Gen Y) are the fastest growing segment of the workforce, and perhaps the least understood. Where Baby Boomers and Gen Xers seek job security and structure, Millennials crave feedback, coaching, and flexibility.

I asked Lindsey Pollak, a leading expert on training, managing and marketing to the Millennial generation, why are “feedback” and “flexibility” in the workplace so important to the Millennial generation?

One reason for this desire is that Millennials have grown up with technology that has provided instant gratification and the ability to work from anywhere. When you’ve grown up with the ability to press a button and have access to every piece of information in the world, then you expect that at work. Millennials have also become used to the instant feedback of Facebook and other social networks, so they come to the workplace expecting similar feedback on their work. In terms of flexibility, Millennials know that technology like mobile phones allow them to work from virtually anywhere, so the idea of working 9-5 at a desk in an office doesn’t make a lot of sense. None of this is to say that Millennials shouldn’t learn to thrive with a bit less feedback or that there is value to being in an office with colleagues for a certain number of hours a day, but I do think it helps to explain where their preferences come from. — Lindsey Pollak

Management style and corporate culture

“Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace,” a survey conducted by PwC, found that Millennials tend to be uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures and find information silos repugnant. They also tend to like rapid progression as well as constant feedback. “In other words, Millennials want a management style and corporate culture that is markedly different from anything that has gone before – one that meets their needs,” the report said.

The U.S. Bureau of Statistics projects that by 2020, Millennials (one of the 76 million people) will make up 40 percent of the workforce. By 2025, 75 percent of the workforce. Though the statistics are staggering, it will become a workplace reality, and the best time to implement change begins right now.

Multiple generations

According to the Corporate Learning Watch, the Silent Generation (also referred to as Veterans) prefer a management style that respects their experiences and knowledge. Boomers like flexible work schedules and crave new learning skills. Xers prefer to work independently and place a high value on their personal lives, and Millennials work best in teams, require frequent feedback and have a strong desire to work with the latest technologies.

I am a Boomer. and I certainly do like flexibility in my work schedule and I’ve always been an enormous bookworm. The Silent Gen guy in the office next to mine had to become his own boss because he could not hack working under a “young snot” (his terminology, not mine!)

I’ve also worked in the mental health field and observed consistent conflict in the generational divides. As a Boomer, I would sometimes become miffed at the Silent Generation’s need for hierarchical control and rigidity. But, the one item that stood out was Gen Y’s inability to part ways with their digital devices even when company policy demanded that they do so.

Pollak has some thoughts about which generation has the most difficulty “adapting” to the new workplace and why. “While all generations have pros and cons, I think my fellow Gen Xers are in the toughest spot,” she said. “We are sandwiched between the two largest generations in history — Baby Boomers and Millennials — so we really never had our ‘moment’ to make the workplace ‘ours.’ We had to adapt to the Boomer style and preferences early in our careers and now many Xers are being asked to adapt to Millennial preferences. That is a tough place to be.”

In its March 2014 report, “Millennials in Adulthood,” Pew Research calls Millennials “digital natives, the only generation for which these new technologies are not something they’ve had to adapt to.”

Communication protocols

Many companies utilize a “blanket communication” style, such as companywide email or intranet communication  where Boomers and Traditionalists may prefer the phone or face-to-face communications, and Millennials may prefer texting over other forms of communication. Should companies provide communications that cater to the different generations in the workplace or should they expect each generation to adhere to companywide communications that are already set in place?

I think the wisest companies provide as many communication options as possible, both for employees and for customers. I know this can be expensive and complex, but we are in the midst of a multigenerational workplace and customer environment, so this must be done. People have different communication preferences and if you are a company wanting your key messages to be received, you have to provide options, including in-person, phone, email, text, live chat, video and more. — Lindsey Pollak

Because Millennials are comfortable with constant communication, the old companywide read-your-email-rule may not apply.

Changing the workplace

Kevin Grubb, who is an ambassador for NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) and a Millennial, believes that there’s a lot in play when we talk about generations in the workplace. Here shared three thoughts about how Gen Y is changing the workplace:

  1. Calling for more frequent feedback. While this applies to varying degrees among my Millennial friends and I, we all generally agree that more feedback and communication about goals and performance is a good thing. The old once per year performance review is not enough. Feedback doesn’t mean formal conversations every week. Rather, I’m referring to things like periodic check-ins with supervisors, conversations with peers, and thoughtful assessments and data collection to evaluate work. It’s not because we’re needy; it’s because we want to do a good job. If we’re veering off of the path, we’d like to know it soon so we can course correct. If we’re on the right path, then we’ll make sure to keep moving ahead.
  2. Fully integrating technology into work. Every generation understands that technology is part of work today. Millennials have grown up with it, so we’re always quick to think about how technology can help us do our work smarter and faster. People often talk about the concept of “co-mentoring,” where an employee from an older generation helps the younger employee learn about the work culture and processes and the younger employee helps the older employee manage technology and new tools at work. This is so smart, and I see it happen every day among my friends and Millennial colleagues. We bring technology and other generations bring experience.
  3. Less assumed loyalty. I realize this may seem negative to some, but I think it’s just a fact because change has been a constant in the life of a Millennial. Also, Millennials have seen people get laid off because of business circumstances and seen others leave jobs voluntarily because of life circumstances. With more access to media, we all hear and read more now about what other employers are doing to reward employees and, of course, that can be attractive. Many factors are at play in this change, but at the heart of it is this: if someone’s not happy, they’re not likely to stick around if they have another option.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit TechPageOne. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.