How Millennial Work Preferences Can Help You Embrace the Modern Workplace

April 8, 2019

I can’t believe I’m writing about millennials. 

If you’re a member of Gen Y (or someone who’s wanted to hire us), you know there’s been a long-running, semi-obsessive thought experiment over our work preferences. Are they willing to work long hours? Are they entitled? Do I need to buy a ping-pong table??

It feels like employers are stressing out a bit. Common stereotypes have led companies to go all-in on office perks like games, snacks, and “bring your pet to work” policies. 

And honestly, I get it. Multiple studies show that millennials will make up close to 75% of the workforce by 2025, so companies need to start thinking critically about how we work. It’s important to understand who you’re hiring, and if you have to make some generalizations about a group to do that, so be it.

But if you must establish common ideas about what millennials want, you should at least be focusing on the right things. Cool office perks will help attract people, but if you prioritize perks over substance, you’ll have a hard time retaining them.

The truth is, millennials' work preferences actually line up closely with the changes that the workforce is undergoing as a whole. The need to hire them presents an opportunity for companies to look at their structures, policies, and technology usage to make sure it appeals to the way people want to work today.

Millennials in the Modern Workplace

So how does the Modern Workplace tie in?

The modern workplace is all about allowing employees to work on their terms, which is an idea that millennials fully embrace. This isn’t rooted in a sense of entitlement – just the recognition that everybody works a bit differently. There are many different angles to this, so I think it’s useful to focus on 3 keys when it comes to hiring:

  1. Offering flexible work hours
  2. Measuring output, not perceived activity
  3. Making work easy to access

By building some flexibility into your company’s policies, you not only put yourself in the best position to hire millennials – you enable them to be their most productive. 
The ability to work anywhere, anytime is a game-changer for millennials entering the workforce, and the employers that are trying to hire them. 

Offer flexible work hours

It’s no secret that our generation embraces flexibility – in fact, 77% of millennials say flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive for people their age, according to a study by Bentley University. So not only does workplace flexibility help attract millennial talent, it makes us more productive too.  

At first, this can come off like a lack of work ethic, especially to managers that are used to measuring how many hours their employees clock. The problem is that spending 8+ hours at work doesn’t necessarily make someone better at their job. Studies show that being in the office can actually make you less productive.

It doesn’t make much sense to assume that every employee is at their most productive during the same 8-hour period for the same 5 days every week, so why not consider changing things up?

I’m not suggesting that we stop holding people accountable – just that we rethink what we’re holding them accountable for. 

Which brings me to my next point:

Measure output, not hours

In most jobs, we have deliverables that we’re responsible for. Whether you’re hustling to meet deadlines or trying to hit your quota for the month, you always have ways to measure how close you are to reaching goals. 

The illusion of activity can be a powerful thing. It’s easy to look at the busiest people in an office and assume that they must be the most productive. I’m sure there are times that’s true, but being busy doesn’t always equate to being effective.

Once you embrace the idea that set work hours don’t actually drive productivity, you can start focusing on measuring the things that do. Modern workplace technology allows companies to quantify performance in real-time, and use that data to establish best practices.

By focusing on output instead of hours clocked, you give yourself a better idea of what your top performers are doing differently. Once you establish that, it’s easier to give actionable performance feedback to your teams, which is something that goes a long way with millennials. 

Make work easy to access

The fact that millennials want flexible work hours also means that our day doesn’t end at 5 PM. 89% of respondents to the Bentley study said they regularly check work email after hours, while 37% said they always do. 

This is indicative or a larger modern workplace trend, which is that people want to access their work when they’re thinking about it, not just when they’re “supposed” to be working. That’s why it’s important to give your employees the tools they need to work from anywhere, rather than tying them to the technology at their desk.

If you get this right, you’re actually offering the best of both worlds to your employees, millennial or not. Work is more collaborative than ever – in fact, HBR’s data shows that collaborative activities (calls, meetings, emails) have increased by 50% over the past two decades. The problem is that today’s offices also present their own set of distractions, which can eventually lead to collaborative overload and lost time. 

By giving employees the tools to collaborate on projects regardless of location, you open up new doors for workplace productivity. Employees can work wherever they’re able to focus best without losing the ability to communicate with their teams. Instead of dealing with the inherent trade off that comes with open office spaces, workers can lock in on the task at hand while staying in the loop on larger projects.

To Wrap-Up

So much has been written about our generation that it can be easy to only focus on the scary stuff (we’re selfish about how we work, we expect companies to cater to us, and we might leave in a year even if they do). The truth is, Gen Y’s work preferences will push companies to think about how to drive productivity in the modern workplace. This won’t just help them attract and hire millennials, it’ll allow them to create a more appealing environment to work in general.

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