One Generation Is Transforming The Work Landscape — The Millennials
The way work is done today is very different from how it was done, say, thirty, or even twenty, years ago. The changes are not yet ubiquitous, but the future is coming fast and they will start to be felt by more and more business organizations soon. Among the factors that are bringing about these changes to the workplace and the nature of work itself is the generation that in a couple of decades will account for the majority of the workforce: the millennials, the people born in the period between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.
Let’s start with an example. In the past, products and services were advertised on TV, radio, the print media and on outdoor billboards and similar. Today, no business, if it wants to be competitive, can afford not to have an active presence on social networks. And who’s the person that made social networks a must for businesses by turning his college creation into an inseparable part of people’s lives? That’s right, Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984. The advent of social networks is currently rewriting the rules of the advertising game, it’s changing a whole industry, shifting its focus from quantity (of the target audience) to quality (of the relationship a brand develops with each of its customers). Content marketing, which is all the rage at the moment, and which in essence means that advertisers are trying to combine their promotional messages with other information that would be interesting and relevant to their audience, would not have been possible without the evolution of the digital channel. In fact, advertising is not the only industry that is being changed by the millennials and one of their most defining qualities — tech-savviness.
Technology is reshaping almost every aspect of our lives and millennials are spearheading this transformation. More millennials than any previous generation are using smartphones and being active on social networks and that’s putting things very crudely. In fact, another defining characteristic of millennials is mobility. This generation is one of the main drivers behind business tech such as cloud computing and trends such as bring-your-own-device as these things allow millennials the freedom to work from anyplace rather than be stuck in an office. Work flexibility is important for Gen Yers and they are making it important for their employers, too. In a large-scale international study carried out by PwC in 2011, 41% of millennials said they prefer to communicate with their co-workers over a digital channel, rather than face to face or over the phone. This suggests that they feel more comfortable online and are pushing cloud and BYOD further — in the same study two-thirds said that they believed the use of their own technology at work made them more efficient workers. Work flexibility is becoming a growing trend as more and more employers come to terms with the benefits it could bring them, both in terms of savings on office space and in terms of the happiness of their employees, which makes them more productive.
One other thing that millennials have more or less forced business leaders to acknowledge is the need for a balance between work and life. In fact, not so much a balance as integration. Not having to sacrifice their personal time for the job seems to be among the priorities of this generation, although it’s combined with a certain impatience and ambition to advance their career as quickly as possible. Though it may sound paradoxical at first glance, think about the word ‘integration’. Millennials want to be able to work hours that suit them personally, letting them balance between their personal and professional life better. Nine to five straight is not their option of choice. Given that they are constantly connected — they are the most connected generation, except for the one that’s coming after them, the Gen Z — and they want to be able to set their own work schedule as much as possible.
Millennials are also much more sensitive than previous generations to diversity and all kinds of inequality. In the PwC study, more than 50% said the company they work for is encouraging diversity in theory only and there are no equal opportunities in practice. This higher sensitivity, coupled with a much more flexible mindframe turns millennials into game-changers. Forbes’ latest “30 under 30” list, which honors thirty famous people under the age of thirty in each of 15 different fields, from business, finance and science to arts, sports and food, featured actress Olivia Wilde for her business initiative Conscious Commerce. The firm pairs enterprises with charitable causes, aiming to make business more engaged in helping others by donating part of their profits to one cause or another. The list also includes a young medical scientist, Divya Nag, co-founder of a company which has made a breakthrough in an area that has been problematic for medicine until now. The area is that of medicines testing on human cells and the issue is that most types of human cells die when put in a petri dish to test a new drug. Nag’s company, however, has devised a technology that can turn any cell into a stem cell, which is then transformed into a specific cell, for example, a heart cell. This technology has the potential of making medicines testing much cheaper, more efficient and quicker.
It’s worth noting that Wilde and Nag are by no means the only women on the list. The Finance category, for instance, features four high-flyers, including Goldman Sachs managing director Lucy Baldwin, Berkshire Hathaway financial assistant to the chairman Tracy Britt Cool, Blackstone Group principal Katie Keenan and JPMorgan Chase vice president Carryn McLaughlin. The Food category, for its part, is topped by Meg Gill, co-founder of brewery Golden Road Brewing — a field not traditionally associated with women. The lack of role models has been identified by a number of gender equality advocates as one of the main challenges for young women today. With just 23 female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list and an overall picture in which women in executive positions are in the minority, it’s hard to find someone to look up to when it comes to pursuing a successful career. But here are the millennials and they are changing things.
Basically, what the millennials are doing is challenging stereotypes on a massive scale. There is no boundary to their imagination and they don’t want to do things the way their parents are doing them. Millennials are driving innovation everywhere, both as participants in the research and development process and as consumers, too. The idea of a driverless car as the office of the future could not have popped up if there wasn’t this drive toward remote, flexible working. BYOD would have probably gained traction much more slowly if it wasn’t for the millennials who want to be constantly connected via their own smartphone or tablet. Funny enough, this generation could very well be driving better enterprise security, too, as they are more negligent when it comes to data and device security. They forget their passwords and lose mobile devices with unrestricted access to company data. Well, this probably makes IT sweat, but whoever said that innovation is always the product of conscious, well-meaning effort?
If there is one single word that should be associated with Generation Y it would be flexibility. Flexible mind, flexible work hours, flexible projects. But it would be unfair to associate just one word with a whole generation, so let’s throw in innovation, caring and entrepreneurship. A survey by Boston Consulting Group released in 2012 segmented the millennial generation of the US into six distinct groups and it would be interesting to take a look at each of them. The biggest group, making up 29% of the total, was dubbed “Hip-ennials”, a predominantly female group whose distinctive characteristics were charitability, global awareness, hunger for information and cautious consumerism. The second group, 22%, is entirely made up of women, the “Millennial Moms”, who are family-focused, confident and tech savvy, and spend a lot of time online. In contrast, the “Anti-millennials”, 16%, who were found to be mostly concentrated in the western parts of the US, are resistant to change, locally minded and conservative. Another smaller group that the BCG identified are the “Gadget gurus”, who make up 13% of the total and are predominantly male. This group basically overlaps with the stereotype of the digital native. The last two and smallest groups, each accounting for 10%, are the “Clean and Green Millennials” and the “old-School Millennials.” The former are driven by causes, they are charitable and have a positive outlook, while the latter are more cautious in their consumption and they are not so Internet-dependent.
It seems that the majority of the millennial generation does indeed fit the description of being caring, innovative, flexible and entrepreneurial. This last one is especially important — a survey by oDesk found that 72% of millennials are ready to quit their job in order to be independent and a whopping 90% think that entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, it’s not just starting a company. These attitudes have a very strong potential to empower those who are now held back by thinking they should play by rules that are quickly becoming obsolete.
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