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Dude, where's my desk? The effect of millennials on the workplace

Posted by Hannah Price | 4 min read

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By 2025, millennials (also referred to as Gen Y) are expected to make up roughly 75% of the world’s workforce. This generation approaches work in a radically different way to the generations before them, leading to a ripple effect of change in workplace trends and operations.

What can we do? Adapt or fail. If leaders and managers want to win over the stereotypical millennial (and, due to the large percentage within the workforce, they probably do), it’s time to make some changes in leadership style.

Can’t we just wait for them to grow-up? No. If you wait for this to blow over, you’ll be left in the dust. Millennials aren’t going to become their parents.

“The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing. They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for millennials to get older and start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen.” – Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017


The good news.
These changes are achievable. You don’t need to overhaul your business to survive. Small tweaks in operations and leadership style can have a large return.

3 disclaimers about millennials

Before doling out advice, I want to make three disclaimers:

  • Even though I refer to “millennials” as a collective, I don’t think you can or should paint everyone with the same brush. You can make informed assumptions based on research and trends, but not everyone born 1981-1995 is going to fall neatly into the millennial stereotype. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: how you interact and work with each person should be based on the individual, not their age.

  • Even if a twenty-something does fulfill the millennial stereotype perfectly, that doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them different. Don’t judge, dismiss, or make negative commentary on millennials based on the traits of their generation. There’s strength in diversity; “millennial” shouldn't be a derogatory term.

  • There’s a reason I used the word “effect” in the title of this post. It turns out that the things millennials are looking for in the workplace are also commonly sought by other generations. It’s possible that millennial behaviour has become a symbol of workplace expectations for the entire 21st century workforce, not just that of twenty-somethings.

3 ways to make the most of millennials

All that being said, based on research (from the likes of Gallup and Pew) and anecdotal evidence, here are three things that the stereotypical millennial is looking for in the workplace:

#1. Feedback

It's been said that millennials prefer frequent and timely feedback. Unlike in the past, when employees could rely on annual performance reviews, this crowd is looking for immediate constructive feedback and recognition for good work.

Good news: It doesn’t have to be big; millennials aren’t necessarily looking for monetary rewards. They’re looking for simple and genuine verbal feedback. Thankfully, technology has created an environment where we can respond to employees quickly and easily. Whether through email, chat, or text, the tools exist. We just need to use them - the employee engagement results can be huge.

Check out: Jostle and Bonusly

#2. Flexible working environment

The 9-5 work environment is dwindling. This doesn’t mean that millennials are work-shy, but that they place a higher emphasis on work-life balance. Flexibility is key.

 “All employees benefit from having flexibility regarding their work, but millennials desire this even more than other generations do.” Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017


Good news: It’s easier than ever to offer flexible work. Many millennials don’t balk at using their own laptops or mobile devices for work, which means that they can work at anytime, anywhere (job type permitted). There’s also a lot of software out there that makes tracking work and project co-creation easy.

Check out: WorkzoneTrello and bamboohr

#3. Development opportunities

Many millennials want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They’re keen to contribute to company goals and make a difference, but they want to understand and see the impact of their work.

Good news: Providing role clarity isn’t complex. Give millennials a clear outline of their place within the company and goals to contribute to, and they’ll go far.

Check out: 5 ways to establish role clarity 

Conclusion

Ready or not, this generation is here. They’re here to stay. The face of the workplace has already changed forever. Ultimately, millennials want the same respect that you did when you first began working. Provide them with the support and environment they need and reap the rewards with a satisfied, engaged, and empowered workforce.

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