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The perils of Millenials

11 July 2016, by Duncan Mitchell

It's always fascinating to read articles about what Millennials want in their workplaces, demand from their employers, and general views on how they're seen as part of society. Invariably, they've been called narcissists, lazy, entitled and people who require constant praise and attention.

It was unusual then to come across two articles recently that made me think “Actually, these seem surprisingly accurate”. Both articles came down to one essential point, to quote the Center for Creative Leadership:

"Millenials, just like the rest of us, want to do interesting work, with people they enjoy, for which they are well paid – and still have enough time to live their life. Which makes Millenials pretty much like the rest of us".

This statement is now supported by a global survey of more than 25,000 Millenials from 22 countries, plus 29,000 people from other generations.

Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson published a book based on their findings – What Millenials Want from Work – which highlights five key characteristics of the Millennial generation.

  1. They're Entitled and Hardworking. They want to have a say, be able to contribute ideas and have a life outside the office. They acknowledge that there will be periods of hard work, but also want that matched with time off to relax as well.
  2. They're Needy and Independent. They want support, feedback and mentoring in their work lives, but they're strategic and looking to grow and develop their skills to be successful.
  3. They want to Do Good and Do Well. They want work that allows them to contribute to society in positive ways and rewards them appropriately.
  4. They're High Tech and High Touch. Just because they're the poster children for technology addiction (supposedly!), doesn't mean they don't value face-to-face contact, conversations and want to be a part of a community at work.
  5. They're Committed and Leaving. They want to stay in our organisations, grow, develop and move up the food chain. But they're also not going to be blindly loyal to an organisation that's no longer giving them what they need.

Looking more widely, these characteristics could be applied to any generation in the workplace. So maybe they're not really so different and scary after all!

So if you really want to know what the Millenials in your organisation want out of their offices, why not ask? I'll hesitate to suggest that it's not a Googleplex office with a slide, sleep pods and a chef on tap – although I'm sure they won't say no if you offer.

Just don't assume that expensive fitouts, fancy furnishings and CBD locations are the difference between Millennials choosing your organisation over another.

Also our approach to designing modern workplaces has changed. It is now the norm to provide a wider range of choice of places where people can work. This allows Millennials (and others) to choose the place to work where they can be most productive.

The focus has also moved from supporting individual work, at desks or in cubicles and offices, to supporting collaboration. Workplaces are now starting to provide many more places where people can meet and share ideas. Again this allows Millennials and others to contribute their ideas to projects and the business.

One area where many workplaces still provide a source of frustration to Millennials is technology. So often the technology used at work is well behind what's used at home.

While the Baby Boomers can tolerate this, partly because they remember a time when they had to work without these technology tools, this often causes Millennials ongoing frustration in the workplace.

My advice is to get Millennials onto the workplace design committee, work with them on staff representative groups... Don't be scared by involving them in workplace decisions. You might be surprised about what they actually want from their workplaces! I suspect that involving them in the decisions will result in better workplaces for everyone.

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About the author

Lives on Asian food. Listens to music that sounds like a washing machine. Once played the clarinet! Dreams of lazy days sailing. Rides a mean mountain bike. Predicts the weather. Avoids crowds and dancing.

Duncan leads our Wellington team and has been the driving force behind our workplace strategy practice since 2003. He continues to challenge how the workplace (physical environment, technology, people and process) can best support organisational performance.

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