The Millennial Generation: Workplace 2.0

In my previous entry, I continued a series on the Millennial Generation and their view of business, work and career.  I reflected on the desire of Millennials to be entrepreneurial, to experience flexibility in their work arrangements, and to perform meaningful work. Here, I make a few observations based on that data and some recommendations for the future of the American workplace. I do intend to prescribe as much as describe, and by doing so, open up the possibilities.

A Few Observations

  • Could it be the case that Millennials already have moved into the future of the American workplace, and corporations and businesses are slow to catch up? If they already see themselves as contract workers and entrepreneurs with little expectation or desire to work for one employer for very long, then should corporations and businesses begin to change their hiring policies to reflect that change? Will it mean less institutional knowledge? Perhaps. But there is an upside: less benefits costs, more flexibility to hire and fire, and retained loyalty to specific managers or corporations over time, but just not in a full time way.  (For example, I have worked for one corporate client for over two years, have strong institutional knowledge of that client, but yet work for other clients as well, where I also am developing institutional knowledge). It may mean that corporations need to worry less about benefits for full-time workers and provide much more incentives for contract workers to remain loyal to the company to ensure institutional knowledge without the obligations that accompany full-time employment.
  • If Millennials in large percentages do not promise tenure and respect for process, does this bode well for older workers in the short term who employers may prefer in hiring to those Millennials that challenge the status quo?
  • Law, labor relations, health care laws, and labor and employment laws will have to be reexamined and refashioned to align with the changing face of the American workplace and worker.
  • The studies of Millennials often do not seem to account for the ideas and experiences of the non college educated worker, the government or service industry employee, or the manufacturing employee in small towns or rural areas where the nature of the work demands consistent and scheduled hours. For example, how does the DMV or McDonalds function if every future worker just decides they need a little time off in the middle of the day for a work out or to tweet a Twitter? It seems to me that there are some contexts in which the Millennial may just not be a suitable fit if Millennial workplace views and habits don’t shift as they grow older. If that’s true, does that cause us to have a different view on how our nation’s immigration laws could encourage workers who wish to do these jobs to stay?
  • There is an open question as to whether Millennial attitudes toward work/life integration are a matter of maturity or a matter of generational DNA. In other words, will they decide, as they grow older and have family responsibilities, that a paycheck matters more than purpose, or that health care benefits associated with a full-time job are more important than wine tastings at work? It’s hard to say. If I had to guess, I would guess that it is in their DNA, and their demand for work/life integration is here to stay. Why? It’s not because they are lazy. It’s because they see the writing on the wall. The future is in entrepreneurship and innovation, and that happens in the context of freedom and autonomy, work and life integration where both mutually support each other.
  • Workplaces for the modern employee will define clear objectives and achievable results, mentor employees to achieve those results, then provide the autonomy and incentives for the modern employee to achieve them. Purpose, passion and freedom will matter more than processes, regulations and manuals.

Some Recommendations

  • Review hiring practices to determine whether interviewers are gauging the entrepreneurial instincts of Millennial recruits.
  • Even within process-driven jobs, are there some dimensions of that job where Millennial employees could be given more discretionary ability or more autonomy? Consider special projects as a way to capitalize on the entrepreneurial instinct and reward high achieving employees. If Millennials love to travel as part of their work responsibilities, examine ways to shift more travel jobs to Millennials.
  • Review hiring and procurement practices to determine if more jobs suitable for Millennials could be classified as 1099 contract worker status.
  • Clearly define goals and objectives for the Millennial employee, and ask the Millennial employee to provide the company with their own.
  • Work with Millennials to form an action plan for their own career and advancement at the company, reviewing this periodically and providing a lot of feedback along the way. Ask the employee to provide an action plan for how they wish to accomplish the company’s objectives for their position.
  •  Company events are no substitute for company culture. A picnic once a year won’t substitute for a workplace where no one ever has fun at work and where having “a life” is seen as an impediment to work.
  • Negotiate with the Millennial worker on flexible hours to meet mutually agreed upon goals, and don’t deny time off for the “big stuff” like funerals, weddings and family graduations.
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