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How the Millennial Generation Will Change the Workplace

Gen Y's economic prospects are not good, and they will change the workplace.

By 2015, 75 percent of the world’s employees will be young people (ie., the Millennial Generation or Gen Y). The prospects for economic prosperity for this generation are not particularly encouraging, and yet Millennials have high and positive expectations.

If we could point to one trend that paints a rather dark picture, it is the coming boom of large numbers of young males with few prospects for economic success. According to a Bank of America/Merrill Lynch report, market turmoil is coming in 2015 due to an underappreciated huge male youth boom (ages 15-29), and the problem is there aren’t enough jobs globally to employ them (180 million in India, 170 million China, 160 million in Africa). The reports goes on to conclude that the more angry young men there are to fight over opportunities and marriageable women the greater the negative impact on economic and social structures.

At the same time, Millennials are optimistic and connected. According to Erica Dhawan, an MBA student at MIT and MPA at Harvard, specializing in Gen Y, and a featured speaker at the recent World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland: “Technology has convinced Millennials that a single person’s voice can make a difference.” She goes on to argue that Millennials want to be coached, not supervised and mentored formally by older generations.

Josh Bersin, writing in Forbes about Millennials cites a study by Deloitte and a similar study in India which shows nearly 50 percent of the Millennials in the studies are already in leadership positions, and “most companies are discovering that supporting and retaining this talent requires a new way of doing business.”

Some key findings Deloitte’s third annual Millennial Survey of nearly 7,800 Millennials from 28 countries across Western Europe, North America, Latin America, BRICS, and Asia-Pacific about business, government, and innovation are:

  • While most Millennials believe business is having a positive impact on society and increasing prosperity, they think business can do much more to address society’s challenges in the areas of most concern: resource scarcity, climate change, and income inequality;
  • 50 percent of Millennials surveyed want to work for a business with ethical practices;
  • Millennials say government has the greatest potential to address society’s biggest issues but are overwhelmingly failing to do so;
  • Millennials believe the biggest barrier to innovation is management’s attitude;
  • Millennials believe the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance, with a focus on improving society among the most important things it should seek to achieve;
  • Millennials are also charitable and keen to participate in “public life”: donate to charities, actively volunteer, and be a member of a community organization.

Deloitte concludes, as a result of the economic pressures to flatten organizations, they must build “corporate ‘lattices” rather than corporate ladders for Millennials. These young people in their 20s would like new jobs and new assignments every 12-24 months and won’t wait for 3-5 years for a promotion. The study also points to Millennials' preference for organizations that have open, transparent and inclusive leadership styles; and they thrive on fairness and performance-based appraisals, not tenure and seniority. Millennials would prefer to have access to a number of peers and other leaders, rather that be limited to working with one leader or manager, and finally; Millennials thrive on innovation and change.

The Pew Center’s massive new report on the state of affairs for the Millennial generation is full of contradictions about them. For example:

  • Economic conditions for Millennials are atrocious, with high unemployment, yet they are the most optimistic of any generation;
  • Millennials are the most technologically connected generation in history, yet also the least trusting of generations;
  • The Millennial generation have the most number of single parents, yet has the most negative attitude toward single parents;
  • The Millennial generation is the most educated generation in history and the deepest in debt for their education;
  • While the economy has been the most prosperous in history, the Millennial generation will not likely live a better standard of living than their parents;
  • While Millennials are more liberal than other generations on gay marriage, marijuana use, and immigration, they are not liberal on abortion and gun control;
  • Millennials want universal health care but oppose Obamacare;
  • Millennials say they care about the environment, but don’t consider themselves environmentalists;
  • Millennials have few attachments to traditional political and religious institutions.

The Millennial Compass Report completed by the MLS Group and the Ashbridge Business School in the U.K. recently completed a study entitled Truths About the 30-and-under Generation in the Workplace. The study highlights issues of relevance to today’s employers, with the some conclusions that may be startling to some.

As many experts have observed, Millennials are very different from previous generations. The Millennial Compass Report, which surveyed 1,293 employees in the U.S., India, China, the U.K., France and Brazil shows that Millennials “are focused on achieving through personal networks and technology; having good work-life balance; and getting high levels of support from their managers. They don’t want to be tied to an organization, a timetable, or a hierarchy, and they’d rather avoid the stress they see their senior leaders shouldering.” Other conclusions of the report that are noteworthy:

  • Millennials are ambitious to move up in their careers. More than 40 percent of this generation expect to be in a management position within two years.
  • Millennials say they have a strong work ethic, but redefine the term to include good work-life balance;
  • Loyalty to the organization is not a particularly strong value for Millennials. Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed say they plan to depart from their employer after two years;
  • While Millennials worldwide say they expect to be in senior management positions and/or running their own companies within a few yeas of graduating, and international experience was not of high importance;
  • Millennials want to view their boss or manager as their “friend,” viewing them more as a peer, coach, or mentor. Millennials are not concerned with titles, and strongly admire those with experience or knowledge over position or power;
  • Millennials believe their skills are better utilized than those whose managers are from the Baby Boom generation. Millennials want a manger who is very supportive, on their side, and has their best interests at heart.

These reports underscore a number of Millennial studies in recent years, with particular reference to Millennials’ different attitudes and expectations towards work and careers compared to the current dominant Baby Boomers. Also clear is Millennials' definition of loyalty to the organization and expectations for frequent career or job changes. Millennials have a very different perspective and expectation of the role and behavior of managers, seeing them more in an encouraging, coaching, and peer capacity, something that is currently at odds with the current generation of Baby Boomer managers who see their role as one associated more with power and position.

It’s becoming clear for these reports and the current socio-demographic changes occurring that both businesses and governments will need to pay a lot more attention to structuring the workplace and social policy to better adapt to the realities of the next generation.

Follow me on Twitter: @raybwilliams

 

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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