Much has been written about Generation Y (aka the Millennials). You know the depictions–an intuitive use of and affinity for digital technology, a lack of a desire for the “markers of adulthood” that previous generations had sought to achieve. But do you know the hard facts?
Millennials are here already and will be a force in the next 20 years. By 2025, 75% of the US work force will be Millennials. Employers need to take notice now and look deeply at how millennials work, communicate, and interact. They also must navigate the differences between the Gen Y Millenials and all previous generations and understand how these differences apply to their workplaces.
Much of the initial reaction to the ways Millennials work has been negative–they’re frequently cited as “lacking loyalty” and thinking that normal rules don’t apply. They’re coddled, having been told for years that they could do whatever they set their minds to, which translates to an expectation to rise through the ranks of organizations quickly, without paying their dues. This Inc. Magazine article paints this picture vividly.
However, this negative outlook on the Millennial generation may be wrongheaded (if not truly mistaken). If Millennials are more averse to structure and strict regulations, then rethinking company policy on the workplace may be in order. If companies provide workplace flexibility, according to Forbes, Millenials are just as hungry to work hard and advance.
Gen Y has grown up with seamless digital technology in which time and physical limits are minimized. Work can happen remotely, and cubicles and strict hours simply are not necessary. A Millennial worker has no problem putting in long hours as long as the work can be done from their laptop in their favorite coffee shop.
Where does this put corporate culture, though? Is it possible to embody a collaborative, defined corporate culture with this kind of brash individualism?
Well, rather than pin individualism and a new kind of work environment on Millennials, let’s just look at the facts. This study from global hiring firm Elance, reports that in the next five years, 54% of companies predict they’ll have an online workforce. As the physical workplace melts away, Millennials are actually more adept at collaborative work. With Millennials, there’s often less emphasis on individual achievement and advancement and more focus on collaboration in numerous ways, including digitally and across global boundaries.
The workplace is changing, but it still requires a multifaceted workforce that can bring different skillsets and different approaches to the table (no matter where they reside or how they work). It also requires a different concept of employee engagement and employee retention in order to keep a diverse workforce engaged and fulfilled.
In some ways, that answer remains similar to what works with Boomers and other generations who make up a big part of today’s traditional work environment. If company leadership can understand and develop staff on an individual level, create collaborative teams where innate preferences and learned skills mesh to form a strong team, and create clear goals and business objectives that get results on time, then Millennials or Generation Y workers can thrive no matter where they are or when they’re working.
Ultimately, this understanding hinges on pinpointing the individual. Millennials can be characterized as a generation, but in reality, the thinking and behavioral preferences that truly drive the work they do are innate to human cognition and behavior. A Millennial intern with an Analytical preference will approach things similarly to an Analytical manager from the Baby Boomer generation. Their tactics and technology may differ, but the way they think about work is the same. Employers who understand this fact and provide an environment where employees can excel based on their unique brains and work styles will be those who can get ahead.
It all comes down to the brain. To form productive work teams, especially when those teams may never physically meet, is a challenge unless you have deep knowledge of how team members think and the ability to match workers based on what drives them, how they express their ideas, and where their skills lie.
The Millennial workforce is already here, and it’s here to stay. It is up to world-class organizations to create an environment that will foster high productivity and recognize that no matter where and how people work, they need to feel fulfilled and challenged.