The ways millennials are changing the workplace

Just how true are millennial stereotypes?

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They’re often derided as being lazy, selfish and entitled and their suspected poor work ethic is often berated. Countless articles have been written on the topic and most of them negative. But how true are these stereotypes? What changes are this demographic bringing to the world of work? 

Societal shifts
The Industrial Revolution empowered individuals to start businesses and organisations. Patterns set back then still inform how we work today yet the Information Revolution has given individuals power, letting everyone compete with larger organisations. 

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To illustrate our point, let’s use bloggers as an example – often held up as a clichéd emblem of the millennial generation – to illustrate this power shift. Solo writers and content creators can now compete with traditional press and media organisations by using the internet to self-publish their work. Expensive equipment used to be necessary to create content but now most people have access to smartphones to record, photograph and publish. This has democratised publishing by removing barriers to entry – giving everybody a platform, which has pros and cons.  

This shift has significant implications for the workplace. It means the traditional ways of doing things can be bypassed and circumvented. Millennials are the first digitally ‘native’ generation entering the workplace who’ve grown up using digital technology and the internet. They’re bound to bring new ideas and ways of doing things into the mix. Many job roles in this generation didn’t exist five years ago – change is happening fast. 

So is this negative press due to a fear of change? It’s certainly not warranted and here’s why. 

Let’s take a look at some of the ways millennials are changing the world of work. 

Job hopping 
It’s now rare to have a ‘job for life’. People used to stick with the same profession for many years, whereas millennials are more likely to move around regularly to gain broader experience at different companies. Two years is regarded as a benchmark for an acceptable length of time to hold a job before seeking out a new position to push their career forward. This can be criticised as selfish, disloyal and individualistic, but it means a more fulfilling career and arguably, proves millennials are engaged at work. 

It’s not only the time spent within specific roles that has decreased, but the longevity of corporations too. The typical lifecycle of a corporate business has drastically shortened – currently, most businesses anticipate a shelf life of 10 years, as opposed to 60 years in the 1950s. 

Employers who complacently believe their millennial employees are lucky to have their jobs risk not making efforts to challenge and develop their team. This will likely see the millennial cohort of employees leave for other jobs or to build their own firms, sometimes in direct competition. Retaining employees now requires a structured strategy, moving far beyond the promise of just the odd pay rise.

Company values
Salary is a big factor, but equally important are company values. Millennials want to work for businesses that reflect their own values. If employers want to inspire loyalty in their millennial workforce, they need to align with their values and create an ongoing dialogue so they can evolve. Values important to millennials include: 

  • flexibility 
  • positive company culture
  • corporate social responsibility
  • professional development opportunities 

Rethinking hierarchical structure 

Strict hierarchies at work dictated that you’d have to answer to the person on the next rung up of the ladder. Workplace structures are increasingly flatter now and lines of communication can be more open with senior staff. This Forbes article on ‘holacracy’ (flatter power structures) explains it – millennials want a democratic workplace where everyone’s voice can be heard. 

Mentors not managers
Softening the hierarchy doesn’t mean millennials reject input from more experienced colleagues – quite the opposite. Constant feedback and a collaborative approach is something they value highly at work. Some large companies including Accenture, Deloitte and Adobe have scrapped annual reviews in favour of continuous appraisals. Millennials don’t want to sit at a desk doing the bare minimum until five o’clock, they want to make progress and push their careers forward. Having a mentoring programme is another big factor in millennial employee retention. 

The rigid 9-5 office hours were born in 19th century socialism. Other aspects of the workplace have changed beyond recognition, but bums-on-seats for eight hours a day is a concept many of us still know. Millennials are demanding more flexibility in terms of where they work. You might imagine a freelancer in pyjamas or sipping a flat white in a coffee shop 🙄, but research shows employee engagement increases when workers are given the flexibility to work outside the office at least some of the time. The flexibility to bring a dog to work is a big draw for millennial staff and outweighs most other incentives. 

The Times published an article blaming the ‘work-shy’ millennials for the NHS’s staffing problem, criticising them for being reluctant to work full-time – an example of the clash between rigid traditional work norms and millennials disrupting them. 

The nuclear family with its male breadwinner and housewife are increasingly relics of days past, so millennials demanding flexibility to juggle careers, childcare and caring for relatives seems like a natural progression. This is not just a millennial issue but a societal shift – more flexibility is good for everyone and is essential for the future of work.

You might think free avocado toast, a beer fridge and duvet days are the perks that might motivate millennials. In fact, the most wanted fringe benefits are similar to those valued by older generations too – sensible perks such as good pensions and health insurance. Perhaps we shouldn’t place so much emphasis on the generational differences as we all desire the same securities and comforts on a basic level. 

Flexibility used to be seen as a perk but millennials see it as essential. Given we are all at our best at different times of day and in different environments, denying flexibility no longer makes sense and risks impacting the bottom-line. 

Multi-hyphenates and side-hustles
Most millennials entered the workplace post-2008. Starting work after the financial crash means this generation have no nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ when companies had big budgets and limitless expense accounts. Millennials are aware of the instability and unpredictable flux in the job market, so many are choosing to future-proof themselves with multi-hyphenate careers (having more than one job or income stream). 

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Some are increasing their own financial security by gaining an extra income stream through a ‘side hustle’. Emma Gannon’s book ‘The Multi-Hyphen Method’ goes into this phenomena in depth and is an interesting insight into millennial attitudes to work. Having side projects and designing your own career advocates continual skill development.

Millennial or not, we’re seeing rapid changes in the workplace, aided by technological advancements and we need to develop ourselves perpetually to stay relevant. Instead of focusing on the arbitrary age bracket, we should consider the impacts every generation has in the workplace and look for opportunities that benefit everyone positively. 

Let us know what you think on twitter @crocstar