Born roughly in the decade after 1983 (after Generation X and before Generation Z) Millennials have been part of the workforce for some time now. It’s the first generation to be brought up wholly in the digital age, the so called ‘digital natives’.
We’ve only really started to talk about their impact in the last few years. Their arrival in the workplace was heralded by warnings about their legendary impatience, boundless self-confidence, in your face assertiveness and jaw-dropping sense of entitlement. Some businesses took precautions and provided coaching for leaders designed to teach them how to accommodate this terrifying cohort in practical terms, by explaining what special equipment and facilities they would expect to find in the workplace, as well as considering their pastoral and developmental needs, to work out how to get the best from them.
Pigeonholing an entire generation, born over a 10-15 years period, and labelling it with a set of unflattering characteristics, at least from a work perspective, seems to have become accepted, even if not entirely acceptable.
The oldest of the Millennials are approaching their early to mid-thirties now and with age comes experience and responsibility – the average age to be married in the UK is 30 according to the ONS. They are emerging now as the next generation of leaders, bringing with them a new leadership style that values ethics, transparency, flexibility, collaboration and feedback. So how does this manifest itself in the workspace?
Clearly technology has had a profound impact, both in itself and as a means of promoting connectivity. Having access to great tech is attractive across the generations but gadgets are only as good as the infrastructure that supports them. As a minimum standard this must be fast and reliable.
I’ve touched on connectivity but what about collaboration. It always strikes me as a contradiction that any room full of people brought together to collaborate or socialise will spend at least some of the time glued to a phone. A recent Harvard study showed that in open plan environments the number of interactions among co-workers reduces and the number of emails and text messages increases. I don’t think this sounds the death knell for open plan offices but more likely supports the idea that providing a range of formal and informal spaces to support a variety of working practices is likely to be the accepted standard for a time to come.
Arguably, the biggest impact on the workplace from the Millennial generation is the focus on flexibility, not just in terms of work space character but from the perspective of policies and procedures which are increasingly geared towards emphasizing an improved work life balance. Two of my team are currently on shared paternity leave, which is a fantastic opportunity to spend time with family at an important stage. With planning, this need not impact on productivity or project delivery. Policies like these, coupled with a more flexible attitude to the when and where of working are likely to increase.
Given the amount of empirical research and the column inches dedicated to Millennials it would be naïve to dismiss the unique character differences of this cohort. CBRE’s Live Work Play report found that 69% of Millennials will trade other work package benefits in return for better workspace, a sentiment that underlines the value seen in flexible working policies. In practice many of the changes occurring in the workplace have been underpinned, if not wholly driven by Millennials. In improving the quality of the work place and the way in which work happens inside and outside the office these changes have all been positive.
Now, isn’t it about time we started planning for the Centennials?