Demystifying Millennials: Three Lessons for Managers


WeWork will soon emerge as the largest renter of private office space in Manhattan, occupying more than 5.3 million square feet across 50 locations. What originated as a small Brooklyn startup in 2010 is now valued at $20 billion.
Earlier this year, The New York Times expounded “the WeWork manifesto,” reporting the company’s “raised expectations for amenities and interior design gradually seeped into the mainstream.” WeWork’s appeal is not just a function of comfortable couches and fruit water, though; it grows from a deeper shift in how today’s younger employee cohorts view their work environments. With its embrace of location flexibility, open offices and collaborative design, many would label WeWork as a uniquely millennial concept. In fact, half its members are between the ages of 24 and 34. The appeal, however, extends beyond a single generation and beyond a single company.

Across corporate America, the millennial workforce’s expectations are shaping the way organizations operate. In my executive coaching and training engagements, adapting to these expectations is one of the management objectives about which I am most often asked to consult. Could these millennial-led preferences benefit employees and businesses of all ages? Following are three millennial-driven employment trends that hold constructive lessons for managing all employees.

A Focus On Flexibility And Balance

When and how America works is evolving, and a growing segment of the workforce does not want to be tied to a desk from 9-to-5 each day. Millennials have been the most vocal proponents of workplace flexibility — including expanded parental leave for both men and women and work-from-home policies.

PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that nearly two-thirds (64%) of millennials prefer to work from home occasionally. This type of workplace flexibility can increase employee retention. Recent research suggests that when companies implement more flexible work arrangements, the tenure of their workers may increase. According to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, at companies that became more flexible over the past few years, 55% of millennials expect to stay for more than five years. At companies that became less flexible, that number plummets to 17%.

The desire for flexibility is not limited to millennials. A Gallup report characterized flexibility as the “most sought-after office feature” among nearly 200,000 American employees. More than half (51%) of the individuals Gallup surveyed reported that they would change jobs for one that offered flextime, and 37% would switch if they could “work where they want at least part of the time.”

In addition to increasing employee satisfaction and retention, these arrangements can positively impact productivity. As Gallup reports: “Employees who spend at least some (but not all) of their time working remotely have higher engagement than those who don’t ever work remotely.”

It is important to note that workplace flexibility encompasses more than working from home. Recent changes at Yahoo! and IBM — which have both scaled back their telecommuting options to facilitate more face-to-face interaction — illustrate that remote work is not appropriate for every employee or organization. Alternative approaches to creating better work-life balance include offerings such as flex hours, generous leave, and on-site childcare. While no singular approach is appropriate for every business, flexibility remains essential to satisfying workers of every age.

Tech startups have led the work-life balance charge with companies like Automattic and InVision offering fully-remote positions and unlimited vacation. However, larger, more traditional companies have begun to recognize the value in workplace flexibility, too. Dell and UnitedHealth Group offer work-from-home policies, for example, and stalwarts like GE and Honeywell have introduced unlimited vacation.

Increased Accessibility And Transparency

In an era when leaders maintain open-door policies and CEOs convene weekly all-hands meetings, millennials are accustomed to accessibility and transparency — even in the formerly secretive realm of salaries.

Sites such as Glassdoor and Payscale, and innovative companies including Buffer and Whole Foods, are advancing the movement by providing broad access to detailed salary information. A survey of businesses conducted by the consulting firm Willis Towers Watson found that more than half of respondents planned to increase pay transparency in the next year. Given the argument that pay transparency could help narrow the wage gap between genders and ethnicities, this is a worthy movement for corporations to embrace.

Another facet of millennials’ desire for increased accessibility and transparency is their demand for frequent feedback. For this generation, circumscribed annual reviews aren’t enough; they seek continuous learning about what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and how they can improve. Regular feedback sessions promote engagement by providing opportunities for employees to raise concerns, ask questions, and receive the real-time information that millennials crave.


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