Today, Millennials make up the majority of the workforce. Our needs and desires (many of which differ from generations before us) are, naturally, impacting the workplace. Coupled with that is the fact that remote work is becoming increasingly popular, and even necessary. It’s clear that organisations if they haven’t already, need to rethink the way they operate if they want to survive. If employers want to keep their workforce happy, it’s imperative that they start changing the way we work.
How do millennials work?
There have been loads of massive changes to our personal and professional lives over the last decade. Emerging tech has brought us as many new challenges as it has blessings. As millennials, technology dominates every aspect of our lives. We feel, sometimes, more at home on the internet than we do in our real lives. As a result, we’re so accustomed to looking at screens that it’s no wonder 41% of us say, when it comes to work, we prefer to communicate electronically rather than face to face or even over the telephone.
Millennials are also a group with a strong sense of purpose. More than any generation before, we pride ourselves on living with intention, and this extends to the workplace. According to Advita Patel for Smarp, “a job is no longer just about a paycheck; for Millennials, it’s very much about purpose, with 75% saying they want their personal values to align with their company’s values and are even willing to take a pay cut to work for a value-aligned company”.
In addition, and this should go without saying, millennials want to feel valued for their individual contribution to an organisation. It’s no longer good enough to be a cog in a well-oiled machine. We want to be connected to the rest of it on a personal level. We require ongoing conversation and access to information in order to feel that we’re working in a system that appreciates us.
“The way Millennials communicate (texting, tweeting, liking, face timing, etc.) is now real-time and continuous,” writes Patel, “This dramatically affects the workplace because millennials are accustomed to constant communication and feedback”. Now that we communicate using devices at our fingertips, it’s possible for millennials to work like this remotely. In fact, often it’s preferred.
And that brings us to our next point. The world has become so much smaller – so much more accessible, that we want to move around in it. For many millennials, nothing feels quite as depressing as having to commute to the same office every day, staring at the same four walls for nine hours, and then commute back home. We want the freedom to move around without losing the job we could have done just as easily from our laptops as from the office.
Finally, Millennials value diversity. Deloitte’s research on Millennials found that 69% of employees who believe their senior management teams are diverse consider their working environments as motivating and engaging. Unlike generations before us, we crave being exposed to different cultures and opinions, and seek this stimulation in our work lives as much as our personal lives.
So, How should organisations adjust in order to adapt to the millennials working for them?
Changing the way we work
Author Simon Sinek, on his blog, writes the following:
The “secret” to helping different generations thrive in the workplace isn’t a secret at all: We don’t need to treat any one generation differently than the next. We just need to treat people like, well … people.Simon Sinek
The way millennials work need not be different, if only previous generations had created a work culture that wasn’t toxic. Employees have traditionally been treated more like items of furniture than like people. Our generation is the one that’s getting fed up with it. The pandemic gave us an excuse to restructure the way we work – but what does, or should, that change look like?
Aidan Harper, a researcher at the New Economics Foundation and co-author of The Case for a Four-Day Week, believes the pandemic has proved that things like working from home and flexible hours are actually possible. A company won’t collapse if its employees are, instead of responding to emails from a bland cubicle, doing so from their apartments – or even from a beach in Bali for that matter.
Basically, the pandemic let the remote work genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no getting it back in. According to Oscar Rickett, for Vice, “once something is done, it becomes possible, and scare stories about the world falling apart without workers chained to office desks become less effective”. This extends beyond the location of the work, and into the time we spend doing it.
In fact, companies that have switched to four-day work weeks (previously only an unrealistic dream) have often seen spikes in their productivity. It seems when millennials work for organisations that value their free time, they’re a lot more motivated to do a good job. This is something organisations will have to keep in mind if they want employees to work at their maximum capacity.
Sinek believes that the desire for shorter work weeks, remote work, and in general, more free time, is a broader issue. “It’s not really about flexible scheduling and working remote, it’s about recognizing that people have priorities outside of work. It’s about feeling that the organization you work for cares about those priorities—things like your family, your health, and your life—as much as it cares about its own”.
Resistance to a changing workplace
And yet, despite the obvious necessity, changing how we work will not be easy. Rickett writes that “any radical restructuring of our working lives will face stiff resistance from wealthy business owners and their political allies, who have been the big winners of the pandemic and who have had a large hand in shaping a culture in which work is fetishised above all else. Shorter working weeks will be dismissed as being bad for business – companies will say they can’t afford to pay people the same salary to work fewer hours”.
But capitalism can change the way it operates. In fact, it’s done so before without having the walls crumble in on themselves. It only takes a handful of the large organisations running the world to start implementing changes that smaller organisations will emulate.
Rickett concludes, “this battle will go far beyond whether policies like a four-day week can be adopted. It will go deep into the fabric of our culture and society. It will involve recognising…that there is nothing natural about a world in which people die because they can’t find work, or because they work too much. That there is nothing natural about a world in which people spend the majority of their time doing tasks they find pointless, and which benefit no one around them. That there is nothing natural about a world in which people are unable to spend time with their friends and family”.
We’ve seen that it is possible to work shorter hours, for companies that appreciate their employees, and that have values that align with ours. Companies that are doing so are out there, thriving. This is the kind of environment that makes millennials work harder, and better. It’s only a matter of time before larger organisations catch on and start making changes, or risk losing the largest portion of their workforce – the millennials – to the competition.