Controversy continues to rage over levels of skill and talent among the generation known as millennials: individuals born between the early 1980s and just after the turn of the 21st Century.

In an article at Australian newspaper The Chinchilla News, experts have said that millennials have poor life skills, with educationalist and author Michaela Launerts saying, “There's been a very steep decline in interpersonal skills, and it means that regardless of their school results, young people are going to struggle to get a job.”

Launerts explained: “Body language and creating a good first impression shape how someone sees you. I think most young people lack the concept of what body language is … They're so used to being able to filter themselves before they post something online that they get stuck in a kind of real-life stage fright.” She added: “I’ve spoken to teenage girls who are more frightened of eating in public than putting a provocative picture of themselves online. That's so frightening to me.”

On the flipside, a far more supportive article at the Seattle Times indicates that millennials are tired of being blamed for social ills, and believe that they’ve been “handed a broken system” by their forebears. Psychology professor Cheryl Kaiser adds that her millennial students are “creative, unrestrained by convention and willing to take risks”.

What value can millennials bring to organisations, and how should they be managed?

The Institute of Leadership and Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Is this really about millennials, or inter-generational conflict? If you think that someone’s most defining characteristic is their age, then our research has consistently shown that this isn’t the case. There are so many other factors that influence behaviour – for example, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, social class and level of education. If we look back at the 1970s, the people who are now complaining about the allegedly poor social skills of millennials were at that point the long-haired hippies who were labelled irresponsible and anti-establishment. So I think that sometimes we get this out of proportion.

“Of course,” Cooper notes, “millennials have been subject to huge changes in terms of our technological development – indeed, the way that they talk to each other is always changing because of their reliance on digital methods. Are they coming into the workplace with new and fresh ideas because they’re young and enthusiastic, and they’re not bound by notions of ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’? Yes, absolutely. Are they different to generations that preceded them? Yes, because they haven’t been part of world wars – they haven’t even been part of the Cold War. As a result, their whole frame of reference will be different.”

She adds: “At the heart of this, there’s the imperative to develop and nurture people’s talent irrespective of their age. Our research shows that the flexibility of mind that millennials bring to the workplace is highly valued by the over-50s. And turning to this idea that millennials want constant praise and feedback – well, what’s so bad about that?

“Let us celebrate millennials’ freshness, enthusiasm and energy – and understand how all of those qualities can be contagious. If open-minded leaders channel that newness and freshness into their organisations, then it is likely that they will maintain an innovative and creative edge than competitors who are perhaps warier about what millennials have to offer.”

For thoughts on the line manager’s role in developing individuals, check out this learning item from the Institute