Millennial Management: Expectations vs Rules vs Standards

person using smartphoneOne of the most common areas for corporate conflict is mismanaged expectations between generations. Imagine that a Baby Boomer who grew up in a workplace where working remote only existed in dystopian novels, and then Millennials begin demanding work from home benefits. Such demands will start to create a rift between different levels of employees due to Adam’s Equity theory (our initiate sense of what is fair). However, on deeper analysis: is work from home a privilege or a rule that the corporate should have? Or is it an expectation that manager should uphold? Or is it a preference that Millennial’s have that should be disregarded? In order to bring fairness in these thorny workplace issues, knowing the difference between an expectation, standard or preference is an extremely useful tool in management. Once you are able to identify what the request is, the diagnosis will be much easier, action straight forward, which will assist in your ability to maintain a healthy culture.




An expectation is a high level, value based characteristics that usually don’t change. They are rules of engagement with other employees and internal clients. Examples: be honest, focus on solutions, accept accountability, communicate regularly and excellent service. Hence, communicating with team members on the weekend is an expectation not a rule. Setting the expectations is a matter verbalizing what you expect from your direct reports on a behavior standpoint. The team does not argue over expectations and usually openly communicated. Managers will usually reinforce these behaviors through employee accountability measure. Often these are implicit which creates an enormous confusion in the workplace.




These are rules and procedures that everyone needs to follow. These tend to change with circumstances and are quite rigid. For instance: dress code, computer use policy, time start at work or when to show up to a meeting. The interesting thing is that standards are usually derived from values. For instance, expectation: we are going to deliver great customer service to our clients. The standard: we will respond within 24 hours of a client and be on call the weekends. The standards get all the attention, but they are motivated by the expectation to have a great customer experience. In order to keep all of these standards in check, large procedure and policy manuals are created to document the standards.




Preferences are subtle things that we keep to ourselves in the workplace; an easy way to think about these are our pet peeves. Things such as: people should make eye contact, people should stand up straight, people should not look at me for too long of a time, people should always say please or thank you. Interestingly these pet peeves is that once an individual moves into a manager position, the manager will need to be able to separate their preferences from the group expectations. However, these two usually commingle creating conflict. The tricky thing about preferences is that, the preferences vary from person to person and do not have to be aligned with team deliverables in contrast to expectations.


Now reflecting on the first section with younger employees demanding work from home privileges, is this a standard, expectation, or a preference? For standard, is there a work from home in any of the rule books or policies that the company has internally? If yes, then it’s a standard. What about expectation? Is work from home a behavior based characteristic that does not change? Well, no. What about preference? Is work from home a pet peeve that companies have because of technology advancements? If work from home is not a standard then it is a yes to a preference. In this case, it would probably be best that the manager recognizes this and be able to talk to employee to correct these preferences or go to Human Resources to have standards/policies put in place to assist with these new changes.


Hopefully in that short example you will be able to uncover a bit more about the subtle nature of the workplace in order to avoid conflict to maintain a healthy culture. Knowing each other’s expectation can go a long way in keeping workplace cohesion.

Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.


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