Can managers teach “old-fashioned professionalism” to today’s young talent? Yes. But there are few things they need to keep in mind.

For starters, most first-time employees are coming to you straight from school. Remind them early and often that this is a different kind of relationship. You want to build them up and make them better. But this is a job. They are not paying you for the privilege; rather, you are paying them.

In addition, young workers may have been raised by those helicopter parents. Establish early and often the ground rules for your management relationship and how you are going to maintain a regular structured dialogue around expectations and performance.

Remember that today’s Millennial workforce is used to the customization of everything. Remind them early and often that individual accommodation is not the norm in the workplace. Yes, you will try to customize what you can to meet their needs. But it’s more likely that they will need to accommodate you, as the manager. Here’s the good news: you will be paying them for the privilege!


Also, do not discount the fact that young people have become so accustomed to electronic communication that they may be losing the ability to communicate well in-person. Teach them early and often the techniques of in-person and telephone communication—using their voices, their spoken words, their eyes, their gestures, and their tone.

Finally, teach them what counts as matters of professionalism and be prepared to explain that, in the workplace, these are not just personal matters of individual style or preference. At work, these elements of professionalism are all about the employer’s business:

  • Self-evaluation: Regularly assessing one’s own thoughts, words, and actions against clear meaningful standards; and one’s own performance against specific goals, timelines, guidelines and parameters.
  • Personal responsibility: Staying focused on what one can control directly—principally one’s self—and controlling one’s responses in the face of factors outside one’s own control.
  • Positive attitude: Maintaining and conveying a positive, generous, enthusiastic demeanor in one’s expressions, gestures, words, and tone.
  • Good work habits: Wellness, self-presentation, timeliness, organization, productivity, quality, follow-through, and initiative.
  • People skills: Attentive listing, observing, and reading; perceiving and empathizing; effective use of words, tone, expressions, and gestures (verbal, written, and otherwise); one-on-one and in groups; in-person and remotely.