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Managing Mashup: How to Be a Boss to Different Types of Workers

Jada A. Graves

There are micromanagers, passive managers, inexperienced managers, know-it-all managers--and lest we forget--good managers, too. And similarly, there's no such thing as a prototype of employee. Departments are staffed by a variety of personalities with different skills and working methods, so managing them all can't be uniform. Here are some general tips for being an effective boss to various types of employees:


1. Explain everything. Don't assume anything. "Even if you think it's something obvious, you should still spell it out," says Alexandra Levit, the author of "Blind Spots: 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success." "From fallacies to how to dress to how to deal with higher-ups, sit down with them and spell it out word for word."

2. Patience is key. Adjust your expectations and expect a learning curve. "Sit down and talk to the person about their background so you can get a realistic picture of what they're expected to do," Levit suggests. "There's no substitute for having been in the business world. They're going to make mistakes."

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1. Explain how things work. "To be an effective manager, it helps to understand some of the forces that shape a generation so that you can motivate them," says Phyllis Mufson, a career coach and founder of Catalyst for Personal & Professional Growth. For instance, Millennials grew up with manuals for everything, and often respond well to detailed instructions on how things should work and what hierarchies to observe. According to Levit, you'll receive a better work product if you explain to them specifically what's expected instead of expecting them to know.

2. Lighten up. Gen Y has also learned different productivity techniques that don't always include standard work shifts or communication methods. When possible, try to encourage them to use the methods that facilitate quality work for them. "If you're not too rigid on how assignments are completed, you're going to get the final product and motivation you're looking for," Levit says.

Baby Boomers

1. Defer to their experience. These employees might sometimes resist different methods for producing work, but it's partly because they may have an established system that works for them and still assures quality. Don't count their methods out. Also, "older people want you to show an interest in their work and show respect, but they also don't want to be tracked closely. They know their jobs well and don't want you in their hair," Mufson says.

2. Uphold the gold standard. Stereotypes about these employees--that they're averse to technology--are just that, stereotypes, and shouldn't affect how you set department-wide goals. "We also grew up with the Internet, and even if we don't know all the latest devices, we're still motivated to learn," Mufson says.

Some boomers are working flexible schedules as they phase out of the workforce, or are only working as part-time consultants, so be sure to be transparent. "Make expectations very clear, and make sure that you keep them abreast of changes and educated on the new ways of doing things," Levit says.

[Read: 5 Challenges of Telecommuting and How to Overcome Them.]


1. Think flex-time, not face-time. The cable guy will arrive at 11 a.m., and day care lets out at 3:45 p.m. Personal obligations don't mesh with traditional office hours, and there will be times during the traditional workday when a remote worker is unavailable. "Focus on results. It's not about the time they're logged in, but the quality of the product," Levit says. "If it's coming to you well-done and well-timed, then don't nag them."

"Be explicit about how your expectations and specify areas where you need reporting. Explain how you want to be communicated with, in what situations, and how frequently," Mufson says.

2. But still meet face-to-face. Check-ins are still important between colleagues and between employee and manager, so be sure to set dates when telecommuting employees show up in the office. "If you never meet with those you work with, you can't ever get a true sense of how they work, and vice versa," Levit advises.


1. Lead by example. Overachieving is often an affliction of those early in their career (who have yet to burn out from their frenzied pace), so they're probably still impressionable to the work environment you set. "You'll have to teach them to pace themselves, and help them prioritize," Levit says.

That could mean not sending less-than-urgent emails at 7 p.m. on Saturday or asking for progress reports while you, yourself, are on vacation.

2. Manage on the defensive. As mentioned, burnout is a chief worry with such an employee, so you might have to have an honest powwow about sustaining quality work over time. "Show them that you value their efforts, but also discuss with them your concerns about their pace," Levit says. "Give them suggestions for how to modify the way they work."

[See: 17 Signs You Might Be a Workaholic.]


1. Don't jump to conclusions. You might not like conflict, but you can't avoid having a sit-down with a shirker. But before you reprimand, keep an open mind for diagnosing the issue. Unproductive employees might slack on responsibilities because the responsibilities weren't made clear, or because they feel under- or inappropriately utilized.

2. Maintain a firm line. Being receptive to an employee's backstory doesn't mean you don't still have department objectives. Levit suggests phrasing a conversation about goals by asking, "'How can I help get you to the level where I need you to be?' Then put together a clear plan with them so that they'll be able to do well going forward," she says.

If goals still aren't met, you can't be a softie. "You can't make someone motivated if they simply aren't," Levit says. "It's not your responsibility to employ them."

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