Working Well with Others – The Multiple Boss and Chain of Command Problems for Millennials

Conflicts, dislikes, and gripes between and among employees are very common and can be some of the most difficult issues for restaurant managers. We see this in our research all the time. Cliques, in particular, are a common problem in the workplace. They always have been. Millennials, brand new to a workplace, are often lured into cliques or otherwise distracting personal relationships by one social ring-leader or another. As one Millennial put it: “My boss was sort of non-present most of the time at work. I got most of my cues from the other people I was working with. One of the ladies at work, I connected with her right away. She told me who was cool and who to stay away from. I would definitely say we became friends.” When this happens, the young employee’s focus is drawn away from the work and onto personal and social machinations. How can managers deal with this problem?

When Millennials say that their most important relationship at work is with their immediate manager, they have many fewer personal conflicts with other employees at work. We have also found that the busier Millennials are with their tasks and responsibilities at work, the more they tend to build their workplace relationships with colleagues around shared or dovetailing tasks and responsibilities (as opposed to personal matters.) As a result, their workplace relationships tend to be more professional.

As a manager, the best thing you can do is help Millennials anticipate relationship dynamics that are likely to cause conflict and help them prepare for those situations. Our research shows there are several issues that often cause relationship conflicts for Millennials at work. Here are two big ones for restaurant managers: the multiple boss problem, and the chain of command problem.

Issue 1: The Multiple Boss Problem

In many food service organizations, young employees answer to more than one boss. That means they sometimes have to balance competing demands for how they should handle their work while they are at work. When you give a Millennial a directive, it may not always be clear how many other directives he is considering at that point. Are you interfering with the processes or best practices from other bosses? The problem is that Millennials feel as if they are stuck in the middle. Sometimes they try to please everybody and end up pleasing nobody. Other times they try to choose for themselves which information is best, or is priority.

Maybe they choose based on the boss who seems most important to them. Or perhaps they choose the boss they like the best. But this complicated situation often gets them into trouble with one or more of their bosses.

How Can You Help Them Avoid This Problem?

When you give Millennials a new assignment or task, ask for an inventory of all related tasks they may have completed before. That way, if you or another manager becomes aware of a potential conflict in how things should be done, you can help the Millennial resolve it there and then.

If the young employee is receiving two conflicting sets of directives, explain why there’s a problem in advance, and give them standard operating procedures for dealing with it. When they receive new assignments, teach them to first give the assigning manager an inventory of all their other related assignments or processes, so that potential conflicts can be resolved early. When potential conflicts do arise, teach them not to try and resolve the conflicts on their own. Rather, they should contact each competing boss and ask for help.

Issue 2: The Chain of Command Problem

Sometimes Millennials resist their immediate manager’s authority, or find their immediate manager to be unhelpful or unresponsive to their requests. Or sometimes Millennials disagree with the immediate manger’s decisions. In these cases, Millennials might try to go around their immediate manager and seek to deal with their manager’s manager. Obviously, when Millennials end-run the immediate manager, they are likely to encounter increased relationship stress with that manager as well as with co-workers.

How Can You Help Them Avoid This Problem?

Teach them to deal with their immediate manager(s) whenever possible. If they are unable to get what they need from their immediate manager, teach them to request a meeting with their immediate manager and their manager’s manager together. This will raise the gravity of end-running the chain of command lead them to do it only when it’s really necessary.

When Millennials end-run their immediate managers, whomever they try to deal with instead should immediately bring the Millennial’s immediate manager into the loop and make the conversation a three-way conversation. The exception is a meeting requested in confidence, in which case someone from HR should be included.