They’ve been accused of killing the credit card, print news, doorbell, mayonnaise, cereal industries (as well as divorce)*, and now, looking at their attitudes towards workplace culture, it might be safe to say that millennials are well on their way to “killing” the workplace as older generations know it.
Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – have been driving change at the workplace since they first entered the labour market about 20 years ago. As new entrants into the workforce, they started pushing organisations to rethink the way they work if they wanted to retain talent. Today, with millennials entering managerial positions (the oldest millennials turned 38 in 2019), that tentative shift is being cemented as they back policies that would have been unheard of at a workplace run by earlier generations.
What’s in: remote work, learning at work, reskilling opportunities, skilled freelancers filling skill gaps, flexible teams, continuous feedback, transparency and collaboration. Among the things on their way out are the traditional 9-5 office routine and annual performance reviews (which millennials are known to particularly dislike as they prefer regular and continuous feedback from their managers).
By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. With 48% of younger generation managers director level or higher already, change is coming whether the old guard wants it or not.
Here are the four biggest ways in which millennials are changing the traditional workplace – for the better.
Remote work, flexible timings, sabbaticals that allow millennials to maintain a work-life balance are changes that millennials (and technology) have brought to the workplace. In fact, millennials aren’t even likely to consider a job if it doesn’t offer them the option of working remotely, said an SHRM report, suggesting that organisations must embrace flexibility if they wanted to retain younger talent. But this is one area in which millennials clash with colleagues from older generations, it said. Maybe this is why even as remote work is slowly getting common, 57% companies lack a work-from-home policy, says an Upwork study. Time to wake up and smell the coffee, we say. The workplace is changing for freelancers too. If they were earlier seen as low on the list of priorities, Upwork predicts that by 2028, freelancers, temporary and agency workers will comprise 24% more of departmental headcount as compared to today because millennials, will be in positions to make these decisions, view such workers positively.
Some would argue that millennials are the most opiniated generation. That is possibly true given the fact that they grew up in the age of social media. Texting, tweeting, face timing – this is an instant communication generation. They also cannot wait 12 months before receiving feedback at work; they want it now. Companies must adopt a 360 degree feedback system if they want to attract and retain millennials, suggested a KPMG report.
It seems consistent feedback does boost engagement among millennials and also leads to higher performance. A 2016 Gallup survey said millennials were the least engaged generation at work, with only 29% of millennials engaged at the workplace as compared to baby boomers (33%) and Gen X (32%). But their engagement levels rise if their manager holds regular meetings with them. Of engaged millennials, 44% said that their manager holds regular meetings with them, and 20% said no. It estimated that millennial turnover due to lack of engagement costs the US economy $30.5 billion annually.
Millennials value managers who coach them and help them build on their strengths.
Twenty-eight per cent millennials and 27% Gen Z say they plan to leave their organisations because of dissatisfaction with development opportunities, said the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey. From this, it can be inferred that companies that help millennial employees with learning and development are more likely to retain them.
Millennials are also known to reverse mentor – they are helping older workers (baby boomers and Gen X) expand their skill sets so that they can keep up with changes in the global workplace. Reverse mentoring has a number of benefits: It helps organisations retain millennials at work; it builds trust between generations, which is always good for the organization in the long run, and it also allows each generation to learn from the strengths of the other.
Professional services network Deloitte, which has conducted a series of studies on “what millennials want”, found one point has stood out consistently: Millennials believe that the business success of an organization should be judged by factors other than just financial performance. These factors include making a positive impact on society and the environment, being responsive to the employee’s needs, and flexibility and diversity at the workplace.
Millennials understand diversity to be a term that includes race, gender, sexual orientation as well as different perspectives.
Diversity seems to lead to loyalty with a Deloitte study saying that though millennials do not list it as a top priority, 69% millennials working for employers perceived to have a diverse workforce more likely to want to stay five or more years than those who say their companies are not diverse. The study said that millennials see diversity as something that can boost business and professional performance, but are aware that often the top management pays lip service to it.
“Millennials will change the world decisively more than any other generation,” wrote Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, in the introduction to the 2016 How Millennials Want to Work and Live report. “Millennials are changing the very will of the world. So we, too, must change.”
Organisations that want to attract and retain talent will be wise to heed his words.
* There’s another perspective though: Millennials didn’t kill the economy. the economy killed millennials.
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