Adapting your business to the millennial generation

June 8, 2017
by Lawrie Breen

Here’s a really interesting statistic I saw recently: according to research by PwC, by the year 2020 millennials (i.e. those born after 1980) will make up over 50% of the global workforce. That’s a massive cultural shift and as a business community I’m not sure that we’re ready for it.

It’s true that we’re in an era of massive change driven by technology. We’re also going to see a massive shift in mindset with the arrival of the millennial generation as the dominant player in the employment market.

The millennial worker

You’ll hear many different opinions on the millennial generation. There’s the view that as employees, they can be a little difficult to handle. In reality like any generation in the workforce there’s good and bad generalisations: What is interesting is that there’s plenty of research that shows that they’re motivated differently than the Gen X and Baby Boomers that came before them. Here are a few examples:

  • They’re not as focused on money and title; they’re more interested in a sense of pride and achievement in their work.
  • Millennials are willing to move jobs more rapidly. This is the ‘loyalty lite’ approach: If the role isn’t giving them what they feel they need, they simply move on.
  • Millennials are far more likely to want to work for brands and businesses that align with their values. Hence the rise in recent times we’ve seen where business actively promotes their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. It’s all in the name of gaining the attention of millennials.
  • They want flexibility. It’s often said that millennials are the first generation to truly adopt a work/life balance. They shun the 9-5 workday and are happy to work remote and at odd hours.
  • Most of all: They’re digital natives who grew up with technology and see it as the norm.

It’s true that the older generations often find it hard to relate to our new colleagues in the workforce. But as the change is already well on its way…who needs to adapt to suit the other, millennials workers or us in the business community?

Attract the best talent

For me business should approach this as a glass half full opportunity: its not about whose approach to work is right, its about combining the best new talent with your existing skill base to maximise the benefit for your business.

For example: being a technology business, having additional tech skills across the board is an advantage. We brought on a new finance person recently, given the role it’s obvious the skills we were after. But we found out the person we hired also had SQL coding skills. So beyond her 9-5 accounts role, we’ve now added additional development skills to the business.

I also find they approach problems differently. Another example happened recently when we had an issue with one of our 3D printers internally. We were shipped the wrong supplies: Rather than find a manual workaround one of our younger techs built a different bracket to overcome the problem using the 3D printer! It’s amazing how the millennial generation has a different approach to problem solving.

How do you get your business ready?

Firstly, be open to changing your management approach. Be clear in what you want done but at the same time be open to collaboration with your team. Invite them to have an opinion and for it to be heard. Remember that millennials approach problems differently so encourage them to challenge the way the business is thinking.

Secondly, be flexible in your approach. Do you really need to chain your staff to the office 9-5? Mobility makes it easy to work anywhere.

Thirdly, be prepared to embrace technology. This generation is the first set of digital natives, they live and breathe technology and see it as part of everyday life. Embrace that and use it re-examine the way you do things.

Lastly, it’s not a choice of old vs. new. My advice is to pair your new starters with the best of your existing team. If you can blend the two working styles successfully then you’ll get the best of both worlds!


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