How Millennials Are Changing the Way People Work

By Bob Nelson

The influx of the Millennials into the workforce is changing many traditional rules that earlier generations of workers have grown accustomed to. This generation of workers has entered the workforce with different attitudes, expectations, and ambitions than those held by their predecessors. They are considered the best-educated generation ever and the first truly globalized generation of workers. They expect positive work culture, work-life balance, meaningful work, and social responsibility.

Perhaps most significantly, they expect to use technology and social media as a matter of course in any job.

Relying on technology more than ever before

Millennials have grown up with technologies that have shrunk the workplace, expanded their horizons, and made them feel comfortable operating in a borderless world. Having grown up with technology, they expect it to be an ever-available tool for all they do and especially when it involves their work. They bring their integral knowledge and access of technology to their jobs and, along with it, increased efficiency in problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. They are quick to apply technology tools and apps to get routine work assignments done in efficient, new ways that their managers may have little or no knowledge about.

For them, the digital workplace also means dealing with colleagues from different cultures in different time zones in a virtual world. There is a universality to the Internet in which everyone has equal access. Thus, they more easily assimilate perspectives from different cultures and backgrounds and are perhaps better able to evaluate contributions based on the merits of the idea as opposed to the background of the person suggesting the idea. The benefits of diversity in the workplace are well-documented, and the Millennials bring a rich opportunity to challenge established notions, refresh practices, and tap into new thinking, technologies, and attitudes.

Expecting a positive work culture

Eight-eight percent of Millennials consider a positive work culture to be essential. For this generation, the workplace is not solely about work; it is a place for social interaction, shared learning, and meaning and purpose in their lives. Workplace culture, relationship-building, and ongoing learning are thus critical to these individuals.

Expecting increased work-life balance

For Millennials, the lines between their work and personal lives are blurred. They are the first generation to have been raised in a 24/7 environment, where people are connected to both their work and social lives at all hours, year-round. The social media revolution has made that possible, and the Millennials for the most part love it.

Issues involving work-life balance are important to Millennials because the boundaries between the two are ill-defined. For Millennials, there needs to be some level of compromise.

As a manager of Millennials, devise creative ways to work with the blurred boundaries between work and personal life rather than get put off by them. If you can show your Millennial employees that your organization offers flexibility and fluidity in the work done, they will be more likely to want to put in the time necessary to do the best job possible for you!

Expecting more from their careers

The issues of career paths, responsibility, and promotion frequently arise in regard to Millennials. Some people say this population of workers is overly ambitious, even impatient. What’s apparent is the significant focus Millennials have on making the most of opportunities and advancing their careers. This tendency can affect decisions concerning job stability and tenure. Members of this generation need to be constantly engaged and excited about what they are doing, and they have a low tolerance for waiting for their next job opportunity to become available (especially if that next job is their manager’s!)

The Millennial definition of a career path differs from the traditional job ladder that older employees are familiar with. With a job ladder, an employee might expect a promotion every five years or so to a higher paying, higher status position within the firm. Millennials, on the other hand, tend to view a career path as a “job lattice” in which they are given a series of varying job opportunities, not necessarily of higher position status or pay, but each one being a learning opportunity that is exciting to them. As it turns out, such a varied career progression suits many in this generation just fine and allows them to develop a portfolio of constantly exciting opportunities to engage and hold their interest and passion.

The task of recruiting and managing Millennials can seem bewildering, especially for managers whose approaches are based on old notions of command and control. Understanding the varying needs of the different generations — everything from communication style to management techniques to organizational structures — becomes important if you want to meet all your employees’ needs. When generational differences are better understood, you stand a better chance of creating a high-performing workplace in which everyone works better together to achieve common objectives.

Employers worldwide are adapting to these behaviors and striving to get the best out of the diversity that characterizes the Millennial generation. Critical to recruiting and motivating this generation is an understanding of their social and cultural drivers, allowing them to be who they are at work.

Valuing ethics and social responsibility

The Millennials bring new approaches to the issue of ethics, the environment, and social responsibility in the workplace. They are more likely than previous generations to want to work for firms that have a good reputation for ethical and environmental responsibility, and they are ready to tell others when their employer is doing well or doing poorly. They are acutely sensitive to the changing fortunes of brands and the way in which social, ethical, and cultural influences can enhance or destroy corporate reputation. Note that

  • 61 percent are actively worried about the world.

  • 72 percent want to make a direct social impact.

  • 60 percent value a sense of purpose in an employer.

  • 81 percent donate to one or more charities.

These stats mean that many Millennials are very attuned to what the company they work for does, and if it doesn’t align with their own personal values, they are less likely to stay. They want to do good work for others.

If your company’s mission isn’t directly tied into that effort, you can ask your Millennial workers if they would be interested in forming a specific committee just to tackle these concerns. Many companies involve the younger generation with much success when addressing issues of corporate and social responsibility. Not only is it a perfect outlet for the Millennials’ values, but it usually impacts companies in a very positive way, both inside the organization and in the public’s eye.