Are today’s workplaces ready for Millennials?

‘‘I am not feeling challenged enough at work’, ‘Work isn’t fun anymore, ‘I want to do so much outside of work!’ If not every day, I’ve certainly heard one of these protests from my ‘millennial friends’ from around the world. Why? The collective contention we as a generation are facing in the current organizational framework is this opaque association with existing management systems and a clear disassociation with workplace standards. Debora Huyler and her colleagues at the Florida International University identify this phase in the organizational development discourse as, ‘unfreezing’ – A time when a change in attitudes, culture and structures is an inescapable urgency in hiring, engaging & retaining.

This transition is playing out amidst an intriguing multi-generational workplace. Presently, we have five generations working together – the Traditionalists (aged 76 – 94) the Baby Boomers (aged 56 – 75), Gen X (aged 42 – 55) mostly in the managerial/leadership roles, Millennials or Gen Y (aged 26-41) currently a majority of the workforce and finally Gen Z (aged 11-25), the new entrants at school or work. 

Additionally, the fabric of these workplace structures is constantly changing too: First, job requirements of different generations are visibly distinct: Baby Boomers prefer experience, optimism, and the willingness to work overtime (Gilbert, 2011), while members of Generation X prefer stability (Levenson, 2010), and Millennials seek meaning in their work (Schullery, 2013). Second, Millennials happen to be the only generation that has entered the workplace with a better grasp of key business tools than most senior workers (PwC Millennials at Work Report). Third, the skills needed in the workplace are slowly becoming more about EQ & less about IQ simply because a lot of IQ is already available for companies at their disposal – Deborah Henretta, former Group President, Asia & Global Specialty Channel, Procter & Gamble. Lastly, employee control and coercion techniques are being considered outdated, and the ideals of coaching and personal expression are becoming intrinsic within organizations – This is mostly due to today’s flourishing workforce of the Millennial generation.

The unique characteristics of millennials demand a contrasting yet well-crafted strategic approach to managing these young workers. In the Journal of Business Inquiry 2017, Russel Calk & Angela Patrick classify different drivers as motivators for Millennials in comparison to other generations. Their inherent curiosity translates into them picking a career that is meaningful and impact-driven and serves a purpose that matches with the bigger picture – first theirs, and then the organization. This means millennials want to be treated as valued colleagues who are given clear definitions of expectations, regular feedback, and a receptive ear by managers about their ideas. Research shows that regular feedback along with praise for a job well done is one of the strongest millennial traits in over 51% of this working group. In the 21st century, most organizations cling to this rigid model of fixed working time & place better suited to the industrial age. Millennials feel constrained by these outdated traditional working practices (PwC Report). There is evidence that these young employees are more productive if they have greater autonomy over where, when & how they work. As the Generation of ‘Doing Two things’, millennials are also looking at work-life balance as a priority. The older generations merely wanted it, this generation demands it. They are confident in their skills to challenge the system, to pursue side jobs; so if they are thinking something they are most likely to express it without fear or inhibition. And, if they are spending most of their day at work, nature & quality of work culture is non-negotiable. The big slide at Google offices or recreational rooms at Facebook is a testimony to this new definition of ‘work culture’. That said, the most imperative precondition for them is the right leader (not manager) – they only stay in a job if the leader they are working alongside – believes in honest and open conversation, and can share insights via a transparent communication policy. This is increasingly becoming the biggest challenge for most corporations today – building teams that champion collaboration & communication. 

For employers to ‘Refreeze’ this change, they must partake in the mammoth yet important task of understanding this generation with revised benchmarking metrics focusing on the needs, attitudes, desires, and motivators for this generation. E.g. Shifting reward schemes from cash bonuses to appraisals or promotions is more valuable for this group, sharing productive & constructive feedback over an informal chat session or ‘Reverse mentoring’, that pairs a new millennial employee along with an existing Baby Boomer, to learn from their existing experiences and strengths to complement each other are some ways for engaging these employees. Employers need to discard the unhealthy practice of micromanagement for millennials. Poking them for everyday timesheets, unachievable sales calls, or working over the weekends (otherwise okay with Gen X) may work against their workflow and eventually lead to burnout. Importantly, HR professionals need to wake up to this unconscious bias from older workers who judge millennials on their work rather than preconceptions – it exists! So taking care of millennials via one-to-one interactions, trust-building exercises & regular informal chats can help build communities of mutual trust & compassion.

The companies that have already been the most successful in attracting talented millennials – Google and Apple are not specifically targeting millennials, but their culture, management style, and approach to recruitment and retention naturally appeal to the millennial generation. And because of that, they can take their pick of the best younger talent around and retain them.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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