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Millennials in the workplace – adapt or die?
August 2017

Millennials (defined as those born between 1984 and 2000) have been getting a bad press recently, particularly in relation to their behaviour in the workplace.  HR professionals are coming across new challenges when dealing with concerns and grievances from disgruntled Millennials which are of a different nature to that which we have historically seen in the workplace.  Is this bad press warranted?  Should we be training Millennials to come into line with long-established work-place practices? Alternatively, can we learn something from Millennials?  Do workplaces need to adapt to the requirements of Millennials to survive?

Author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, suggests that Millennials have been told that they can have everything they want in life and that, in the real world of work, they discover that they’re not special, that they can’t have whatever they want and that this is a huge knock to self-esteem.  He suggests that due to phone activity, adolescents are learning that they get their ‘kicks’ from their phones and that this is addictive due to the ensuing dopamine release.  

They are therefore not learning to form deep and meaningful relationships with friends and don’t have suitable coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.  Millennials have grown up in a world of instant gratification and therefore are not patient enough to understand that job satisfaction and meaningful relationships take time to build, leading to a lack of joy and fulfilment. He concludes that putting Millennials in a corporate environment, where businesses care more about numbers and the short-term gain than people isn’t helping them learn these new skills and overcome the need for instant gratification.  

They blame themselves for this leading to further issues.  He deems that the solution is good leadership and that it’s the employer’s responsibility to work extra hard to build their confidence and create social skills – forming trust with slow, steady consistency. Crystal Kadakia, speaker, author and thought-leader for millennial and multigenerational workshops, paints a different picture.  She believes that Millennials are misunderstood, that the belief that they are lazy and entitled is incorrect.  She states that Millennials are driven by ‘You Only Live Once’ (YOLO), have an entrepreneurial spirit which is enabled by technology, that they don’t want to waste their time doing things that they don’t enjoy and that businesses need to capture their spirit to attract them.  

She believes that they are looking for flexibility and location-free work and that they need to be able to clearly see how they can make an impact on improving productivity to be motivated. She deems the solution to be to engage the entrepreneurial spirit of Millennials and to provide them with a challenging and flexible working environment which is conducive to creative thinking.  She feels that if such steps aren’t taken, there is a risk of Millennial employees engaging in a ‘side hustle’ (setting up their own business). Hadyn Shaw, an author and expert in generational differences, adds a slightly different slant and suggests that it is emerging adulthood that it the issue, not Millennials per se, and that businesses need to adapt to this.  

He explains that the reason for the lack of engagement of Millennials is due to adulthood being entered into in an individual’s late 20s and therefore these employees have freedom, change and choice that baby boomers and generation Xers did not have at that stage of life.

They have fewer financial ties and responsibilities, they can change their mind about things and they can move around fairly easily due to the breadth of opportunities now available, and made more accessible, by technology.  He concludes that the reason Millennials are not engaged is therefore due to their life stage and that businesses need to understand, listen and adapt rather than try to fix. 

In conclusion, it would seem unhelpful and even risky for employers to not attempt to understand and adapt to Millennials and it’s likely that Millennials, who have grown up in a very different world to baby boomers and generation Xers, can add significant value to the workplace. A workplace that shifts its working practices to attract and retain Millennials is likely to be well-placed in the future.  However, the skills required to do this are not new.

Trust is key to creating a good workplace culture, as it has always been, and this starts with communication and understanding. With the right leadership, businesses can take the best of the structured environment which has proven beneficial in traditional workplace cultures and modernise it in a way that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of Millennials.

For further advice on adapting employment policies and practices to support the employment of Millennials, or on any other aspect of employment law, contact Elizabeth Judson, Head of Employment on 01244 310022 or atej@jolliffes.com.

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