The Changing Work Force

Introducing the Millennials: Who are they,  what do they bring to the workforce and what are their expectations of their employers, colleagues and organizations?

We’ve all experienced Millennials in our day-to-day environment (those born 1980 – 1995).  News reports indicate there are approximately 80 million Millennials in America: they are the 20-30 year old bank tellers, police officers, retail clerks and sales reps in business. They are also our newest doctors, teachers, and early to mid-level managers and supervisors throughout America. Once thought of as new recruits, the Millennials are now moving into positions of trust and responsibility in our workforce and changing some of the ways we do business. As such, it is important to understand how they think, what their work habits are and most importantly, what their expectations are, to make the most of this talented and innovative resource.

You may wonder, “What do the Millennials have to offer that is so different from other generations such as the Baby Boomers?,” says generational expert Annika Hylmö, Ph.D., founder of The Insight Generation. “Millennials bring to the workforce a natural ability to work in teams, to work virtually, and to work and think creativity. They are very fast at gathering information online and have the capability, second to none, of maximizing the potential of technology. They also bring a sense of fun and excitement to the workforce and a sense of seamlessness in getting things done.”

While these qualities are generally positive, she notes that there are some boundary issues that come with the Millennials.

“Millennials have an openness in sharing information that translates into a desire to share information with anyone at any time. They tend to be very inclusive in information sharing, whether they are doing this online with large groups or in a workplace.”

She explains that this is, in part, due to the technology with which they have been raised – technology which allows for sharing of information via attachments, an expanded sense of ‘openness (in terms of rating everything from a restaurant to a professor) and the ability to download anything at the push of a button. As a result, there is a sharing of information that could potentially jeopardize certain aspects of an organization’s privacy.

One very distinct quality about Millennials, says Hylmö, is the way in which they view organizational hierarchy.

“Their tendency is to want to overstep hierarchal boundaries. For example, a Millennial will think nothing of contacting the CEO of their company, who may be ten levels above them, with a thought or suggestion - then become frustrated when they don’t get a response.”

On the positive side, she notes that Millennials are very good at bringing people together and embracing community and diversity. She adds, “They have a very open mentality when it comes to inclusion and are able to easily interact with others across cultural and age differences.”

Another quality of Millennials is that they bring flexibility to the workplace in regards to their work hours. “It’s not uncommon for Millennials to want to work from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., taking breaks to go to the gym or out to dinner with friends during the work day,” observes Hylmö.

Capitalizing on that expectation, the Google and Yahoo campuses, which employ a large workforce of Millennials, have campuses equipped with cafeterias offering free or low cost food, gaming areas and arcades, basketball courts, workout rooms, onsite services like hair dressers and yoga classes, and comfortable lounges where employees can chat or take a nap.

“The result of having these amenities,” says Hylmö, “is extreme loyalty to their brand.”

In return for their dedication, she notes that Millennials expect to be treated as valuable additions to their organizations and to be treated as equals by their co-workers and employers.

“They believe their work experience should be fun and that they should be allowed to play an essential role in the very fabric of the business. The ‘Big Picture’ is very important to them. They need to understand how everything fits together and what their piece is in this equation. They want to work for an organization that is a recognizable brand and a brand that their friends will recognize.”

While Millennials can be found in all types of business structures, Hylmö observes that they work best in a matrix system rather than the traditional silo structure. She defines a matrix as having a natural interlacing and interconnection between departments which results in individuals knowing one another across the organization. In a matrix system, Millennials get to move from project to project within the organization rather than staying in the same unit. This produces the opportunity to enjoy close relationships with clients and, in fact, everyone external. As a result, Millennials see their colleagues and bosses as their friends and equals and expect to be able to hang out with them after work.

While some of their values may stretch the boundaries of traditional organizational policies, she points out that it is important to recognize the value Millennials bring to the workforce.

“Millennials are a unique workforce that are a great asset to companies that want to be around for the long run. They are a tremendous resource to organizations that want to stay relevant to their customer base. When treated with understanding, support and acceptance of their integral values, the Millennial can be the bridge to the next generation in business.”

For those who would like to maximize their relationships with Millennials, now so prevalent in our workforce, Hylmö offers these suggestions:

· Millennials are most happy when they receive support and appreciation for their efforts. They also work best when they have opportunities for growth experiences.

· To stay interested and involved in their jobs, they want to relate to what they do and take ownership of this experience.

· Similar to playing a video game, Millennials want a similar involvement with their jobs - an almost seamless sense of an experience where their work and life are interwoven.

So the next time you see a Millennial furiously texting people they know using the social media, realize that they are a walking billboard for their brand. If they are happy with their place of employment, they can be a powerful sales tool. If not, their texts and tweets could be generating the opposite effect - and that’s just one reason to take the Millennials seriously.


Annika Hylmö, Ph.D., a Generation X’er, is principal consultant at The Insight Generation. Pat Kramer, a Baby Boomer and corporate copywriter, is founder of Writer For Hire, a Los Angeles – based writing services company.