New technologies are remaking the workplace just as the Millennial Generation overtakes the workforce from Generation X and the Baby Boomers before them. This transformation of the business world is reshaping the nature of work and ushering in a need for updated management strategies.
The Millennials -- born from 1980 to 1999 -- surpassed Generation X in 2015 to become the largest share of the American workforce for the first time, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census bureau data. In fact, one-in-three employees last year were Millennials aged 18 to 34.
Millennials are the first generation to grow up exclusively on computers and smartphones, so they enjoy a special relationship with technology. Some studies indicate that this generation may even be rewiring their brains through extensive multi-tasking, such as by text messaging while listening to music and also performing their work duties, according to The Millennial Generation Research Review by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Millennials tend to combine self-interest and ambition with a desire to make the world a better place. Nearly half of Millennials (44 percent) would leave their current employers in the next two years if given the choice, according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016. Fully two-thirds of Millennials would leave their current employers by 2020 if given the choice.
Given such high potential for turnover, businesses have a strong incentive to provide an inviting work environment that attracts talented young employees to stay on staff and thrive. That doesn’t mean every company must allow pets in the office or put a ping-pong table in the dining area. But it does mean that managers should actively engage their employees to understand what policies and procedures are not working for the Millennial mindset.
What’s new and different about Millennials?
For Millennials, the lines between the personal and the professional have been permanently blurred. The days are over for separating one’s work life from home life, or even maintaining some basic level of work/life balance.
In large part, these changes are due to the ubiquity of mobile smartphones and digital communications. Millennials have become accustomed to getting their personal messages in the workplace. Companies that hope to retain their best talent can no longer enforce bans on personal messages at work. At the same time, Millennials feel comfortable taking business messages on mobile devices at home or on the go. The boundaries between work and home are not so much porous as they are nonexistent anymore.
Millennials are also easily frustrated by bosses who equate employee performance with the number of hours spent at an office desk. This dynamic is causing many workers to request new metrics that better gauge their effectiveness.
Managers are also finding it harder to enforce a strict nine to five work schedule. More employers are adopting flexible schedules to accommodate working from home, or they’re giving employees flex-time to attend family events and personal activities outside the office.
Of course it is important to provide clear instructions for project goals and deadlines. But once those guidelines are in place, managers should give employees some leeway -- for instance, to work at the local hipster coffee shop, if that makes them feel more productive. Of course such allowances require that people consistently meet or exceed their performance targets.
Millennials also aren’t satisfied with standard annual reviews. They prefer more frequent informal feedback from their managers, just as they expect rapid replies to their text messages. They also believe that their merit deserves to be rewarded with timely career advancements.
Managers can benefit by encouraging Millennials to leverage their innate grasp of technology at work, and not just by troubleshooting computer problems for colleagues. Workers should have an ability to test out new apps, or to suggest new ways of organizing shared information through cloud-based services. Leaders need to consider the adoption of new technologies that will enable the business to become more efficient and competitive.
Rethinking ways to motivate Millennials.
To create a strategic people plan, it is critical to grasp both the personal and professional aspirations of Millennials. Such a plan can be customized with metrics and perks that recognize and compensate for generational differences. At the same time, it can be productive to team Millennials with older Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to cross-pollinate their different backgrounds and abilities.
The hiring process provides an excellent opportunity to highlight attractive benefits while detailing the specific goals expected of each new employee. At the same time, job interviews give employers a format to root out specific concerns for younger workers, such as the need to streamline bureaucracies or reevaluate the merit review process.
Salesforce.com founder and CEO Marc Benioff famously created the 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model that pledges one percent of founders’ equity for philanthropic donations, one percent of employee time for community volunteering, and one percent of company products and services for nonprofit donations. Many Millennials have been drawn to work at Salesforce.com because of Benioff’s visionary program.
Companies should also consider adapting their reward strategies. Some cash bonuses might be shifted into opportunities for skills training, employee certifications or other advancement programs. Rotational assignments or cross-training trips to other offices can create exciting new challenges that broaden the experiences of younger workers.