3 Ways Millennials Are Shaping the Future of Work

July 24, 2017

3 Ways Millennials Are Shaping the Future of Work

By sheer numbers alone, Millennials have already impacted the U.S. workforce. In 2015, this generation became the largest in the workplace and, today, they account for 50 percent of the job applications received by organizations. Human resources is already playing, and will continue to play, a vital role in managing the millennial impact on organizations—an impact that is certain to continue.

In 2016, Remote.co and FlexJobs hosted the first annual TRaD (telecommuting, remote, and distributed) Works Forum, which gathered thought leaders from business and government to discuss the future of the workplace. One of the Forum’s sessions, hosted by the Washington Post’s writer on the intersection of policy and people Danielle Paquette, focused on the many ways millennials are shaping the future of work, and the knowledge and strategies HR and business leaders need to harness this seismic shift.

It’s not a coincidence that 37 percent of workers in 2016 reported working from home at least some of the time, up from only 9 percent in 1995.

As w prepare to host the Forum again this September, I wanted to reflect on some of the key insights provided during this session by leaders from organizations like PwC, the U.S. Department of State, and others. Here are three ways Millennials will most definitely shape the future of your organization:

1. Millennials don’t just want to work, they want to make a difference.

No matter your organization's goals or mission, Millennials want to be tied to it in some way. Asha Beh, a social media specialist and program analyst at the State Department, believes Millennials aren’t the lazy, entitled crowd they’re often made out to be. Instead, “These are ambitious people; they’re ready to take responsibility and do that work. They want to do more than just busy work. They want to make a difference.”

Organizations need to regularly and obviously tie the work their employees do to overarching business goals and successes. Even the busy work that millennials may want to avoid is meaningful if it means they’re helping to move the organization forward, or make a difference in the world, even in small ways. Make those connections, and you’ll engage not only your millennials workers, but your entire workforce.

2. Millennials are pushing the conversation about flexible work at your organization.

If yours is like most organizations, you may offer flexible work options like remote work and flexible hours, but in a more casual way than as a formalized program. Only 3 percent of companies track the outcomes of their flexible work policies, for example, measuring productivity, retention, performance, and cost savings. But that may be because previous generations were less likely to push the issue of flexible work. Millennials, on the other hand? They’re not staying quiet.

“There is the younger generation, or people who do want more telework options, and they’re trying to push back at the people who don’t want it, and so that’s causing friction,” said Beh. “But I think there’s a way to come up with some middle ground, and maybe they just need to talk about it more.”

Millennials are also encouraging Gen X and Baby Boomer workers to speak up and ask for the flexibility they need. Erin McPike, director of communications at the global start-up incubator and seed fund 1776, said, “I think all generations want some flexibility and need it, and technology enables us all to have these perks.”

And Peter Yobo, an ideation and innovation consultant with PwC Advisory, agreed, adding, “We need to empower our leaders to have those conversations, and our leaders empower the managers to provide those opportunities for our people within the teams.”

Are the leaders within your HR organization, or throughout the wider business, open to having these conversations? HR can play a vital role in preparing and even leading conversations about work flexibility.

3. Millennials are giving HR professionals a new way to encourage a high-performance culture.

Where did Gen X and Baby Boomers complete most of their homework growing up? In school, at the library, and maybe, occasionally, at home with the use of the family encyclopedia and a typewriter. Not so for millennials.

Even the oldest members of this generation began using computers in elementary school, and were able to complete their homework at home on personal computers. In college, most Millennials had full access to their college libraries’ collections from their laptops, and they’re used to completing work when and where it makes the most sense for them.

Then, they started arriving at our largely 20th century workplaces, expecting 21st century work practices, and things started to change. It’s not a coincidence that 37 percent of workers in 2016 reported working from home at least some of the time, up from only 9 percent in 1995. Those are exactly the years when millennials grew up and entered the workforce. They aren’t the only factor in this dramatic shift, but they certainly play an important role.

HR and business leaders have a unique opportunity to use flexible work options to boost productivity and performance. Millennials are experienced in being productive by working flexibly and, often, remotely. And if they feel trusted to work this way, they’ll perform well, says McPike. “As long as people feel that they have buy-in, they will get the work done that they need to get done, on their own time.”

The Bottom Line for HR: The Opportunity Presented by Millennials

Instead of focusing on perceived downsides of Millennial professionals, HR and business leaders should focus on the positive attributes that this cohort brings to work, and how they can be harnessed to make large, long-lasting, and positive impacts on recruitment, retention, productivity, employee health and wellness, business strategy, cost savings, and the entire workforce.

If 50 percent of the applications landing in your inbox are coming from Millennials, it’s time to change the way we recruit and retain workers as a whole.

The Authors: 

Carol Cochran is director of people and culture at FlexJobs and Remote.co, leading online services for professionals seeking telecommuting, flexible schedule, part-time, and freelance jobs. She oversees all aspects of human resources, including recruiting, development, and retention, and provides flexible work, career, and job search advice to job seekers and employers.