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Employee Culture: what can millennials teach us about the modern workplace?

John Stevens | September 3, 2019

It can sometimes seem that so-called ‘millennials’ – basically anyone born between 1981 and 1996 – have a slightly unfavourable reputation when it comes to their position in the workplace. All too often, we read reports that this group has a poor work ethic and an obsession with screens, or we hear older generations bemoaning them as easily distracted and entitled. The truth is, there is very little evidence that holds up these assertions. Indeed, there is much that we can learn from millennial workers that could benefit everyone - particularly when it comes to employee culture.

Here are some of the ways that millennials are shaking up the workplace, and the lessons we could learn from them to improve our own experience at work.

 You don’t always need to be in the office

Most people over the age of 40 will be familiar with the traditional working day structure of spending the hours between 9am – 5pm (or later for many) in the office. However technological developments, particularly over the last 10 years or so, have increasingly enabled us to work remotely and, as a result, more flexibly.

Millennials fall into the category of ‘digital natives’: people who were born into a world where the internet already existed, and for them, the ability to work flexibly is inherent in their understanding of the workplace. They expect to be able to fit their jobs around their lives, and their lives around their jobs. And, if managed appropriately, this could be no bad thing. We are increasingly seeing businesses offer flexible working as part of an attractive benefits package – and recent studies have shown that flexible workers take less leave and are more productive. So, just because you may not always see younger workers around the office as much, this is not evidence that they are work shy.

Staring at your phone isn’t always bad

Millennials have a reputation for being screen-addicted – and it is true that whilst most of us have now adopted and embraced smartphone technology to some degree, younger people are more likely to automatically turn to an app for anything from ordering food to managing their finances. And whilst it could be argued that smartphones could cause a distraction in the workplace, the fact is, technology can also offer many benefits to improve employee culture.

At the most basic level, smartphones and tablets are increasingly offered as part of employee benefits packages – they enable flexible working, and there are countless apps that provide channels for professional communication across large companies, designed to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing. We are also finding that many businesses are now choosing to adopt online platforms for their reward and recognition programs, enabling staff to access their benefits from PCs, tablets and phones, which can have a big impact on engagement levels.

It is true, of course, that there are risks involved with becoming too reliant on technology, and there are countless instances where you can’t replace good old-fashioned face-to-face communication. But by labelling all screen-time as a bad thing, you could be missing out on efficiencies that younger colleagues take for granted.

Bringing a social conscience into the workplace

Millennials are often purported to have a greater social conscience than their baby boomer counterparts – indicative perhaps of the more socially challenging times they have been born into. Greta Thunberg, 16, (and so technically a ‘post-millennial’) has recently become the poster-girl for social activism to combat climate change; at the age of just 15 she began protesting outside the Swedish parliament, demanding action to address this increasingly urgent issue. And whilst Greta is an extreme example, when it comes to climate change activism, it is fair to say that younger people are leading the charge.

Millennials can therefore be an incredible force for good in the workplace. They are more likely to highlight ways in which organisations can create more environmentally sustainable practices and introduce a greener employee culture – for example, by reducing single-use plastic throughout the office, introducing paperless processes, or reviewing energy efficiency; and studies suggest that younger people are also more philanthropic. A recent poll of 288 entrepreneurs from three generations whose businesses have annual revenue of $1 million or more, carried out by the charity fund Fidelity Charitable, found that millennials were more likely to volunteer and give philanthropically than Gen Xers and baby boomers. We are seeing this shift reflected in trends in employee recognition: businesses are increasingly finding that offering staff the opportunity to give something back can help them foster a sense of pride in themselves, whilst also demonstrating the social conscience and values of the business.

It is easy to criticise younger generations, and it is human nature to be threatened by change. But sometimes change is good – indeed, often it is critical. Like it or not Millennials are having a real impact on workplace culture – and businesses need to adapt.

To find out more about how you can help your organisation adapt download our free e-book Employee Recognition for the Modern Workforce.

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Topics: Culture