Millennials Drive Change in Workplace

By Kathy Gurchiek Aug 21, 2013
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Much like how the Baby Boomers are reshaping retirement, the even bigger Millennial generation is causing organizations to rethink how work is accomplished. Employers can benefit by listening to Millennials, said Joe Weinlick, vice president of marketing at, a job board and career-advice website.

“If we think about what Millennials care about,” such as corporate culture, workplace flexibility, making a difference and being appreciated, “they’re the same things that are important to everybody.”

The difference is they’re more likely to voice their thoughts and to change jobs if they aren’t happy, he pointed out.

“The Millennial generation is pushing organizations to the work world many of them want,” said Terri McClements, vice chair and U.S. human capital leader at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), in a news release. PwC recently published NextGen: A global generational study, examining its own Millennial and non-Millennial employees.

The report, released April 2013, is based on 300 interviews, 30 focus groups and 44,000 anonymous Web-based surveys conducted around the world in 2011 and 2012. PwC did the research in partnership withthe University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and the London Business School.

Gen Y Works Hard but Differently

PwC was prompted to conduct its research when it started noticing some shifts in the needs and attitudes of its employees as Millennials joined its workforce. By 2016, 80 percent of its workers will be Millennials; so “it was a business imperative to get it right and to figure out what drives them,” Anne Donovan, human capital transformation leader for PwC U.S., told SHRM Online.

As with any generation, competitive pay is important, but Millennials’ so-called soft demands of flexibility, transparency, collaboration, supervisor appreciation and support are just as important, according to Donovan. It’s not a matter of simply throwing more money at them.

“If they don’t get [balance and flexibility] from us, they will go out and pursue it from somewhere else,” she said. “We definitely found Gen Y wants to work just as hard as anybody else. They just want to work in a different way.”

Being attuned to Millennials’ needs doesn’t mean catering to them, says Jacqueline VanBroekhoven, consultant for Oklahoma-based Hogan Assessment Systems, in the upcoming October 2013 issue of HR Magazine.

“Focus less on the ‘characteristics’ society has ascribed to the emerging Millennial generation,” she advises in an article by Kathryn Tyler, “and more on policies and practices that support the changing demands being placed on our workforce.”

Bridging the Generation Gap

Millennials’ desire for flexibility, for example—being able to adjust their start time or work late or on weekends—transcends generations, PwC found.

In fact, 64 percent of Millennials would like to work from home occasionally and 66 percent of non-Millennials would like to sometimes shift their work hours, the study revealed.

Boomers and Generation X, Donovan said, “are going to be more empowered now that the Gen Y group is standing up and saying, ‘I have to have [workplace flexibility].’” Teamwork and transparency—especially regarding decisions about their careers, compensation and rewards—are important to non-Millennials, too, just not to the same degree as for Millennials, PwC found.

Generations can learn from one another in the workplace, noted best-selling author Don Tapscott, whose books include Growing Up Digital (McGraw Hill, 2008).

“We’ve got these old models of work and of talent and of management and a new generation that has a very different culture, and they’re sort of bumping up against each other,” he said in a SHRM Online video interview. “Humility is important for [Millennials and the older generation] to understand that they can learn from each other.”’s Weinlick said employers should ask themselves, “‘Do we want to look at how we can attract and retain Millennials, or should we be looking at what we can learn from Millennials that we can apply to the broader workforce?’ Maybe we dress casually now and have flex Friday … but how much have most companies shifted [in their practices]?”

Use Policies to ‘Brand’ Organization

Cultural fit is highly important to Millennials, various surveys have found. In fact, more than 50 percent of 230 HR managers and recruiters said it is the main indicator that Millennials will stay at a company, according to an online survey that and Millennial Branding, a Generation Y research and consulting firm, conducted in July 2013.

However, two of the most powerful documents in HR’s domain that convey an organization’s culture—job descriptions and the employee handbook—“are almost always wasted opportunities,” Weinlick said.

The job description is a company’s first branding opportunity to explain and be honest about its culture, but it often sounds “like records and forms,” and the employee manual often reads like legalese instead of a document that lays out what it means to work there, Weinlick said.

He cited an advertising company whose handbook describes the organization as a “factory of ideas.” The document is upfront, telling employees they will work long hours and give up a lot of nights and weekends, but “in a very motivational way” and as a place where ideas are welcomed from everyone.

HR professionals should listen to what Millennials are saying and convey these very real needs to organizational leaders, Donovan stressed.

“We do have to pay attention to what this generation is asking. It’s important to them, and they are the future,” she said. It’s up to HR to “help our leaders understand why it’s important” to listen to what they’re saying.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News​​

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