Millennials. Gen-Y. The Net Generation. However you refer to them, they are individuals that were born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s and by 2025 will represent 75% of the global workforce, meaning in the coming years they will have a significant influence on how the world is run. As such, it is important for business leaders to understand how Millennials think and behave, especially if they want their businesses to be relevant to the future of their workforce.
As a Millennial myself, I have witnessed first hand a disconnect between how I wanted to work and the workplaces I worked within. Initially I thought it was just me and that I needed to understand how the world of work was and adapt. Yet the more I worked, the more of my peers I spoke to, the more I could see there was something fundamentally wrong.
And this conclusion was not just drawn out from working at one place, it was in fact exemplified by working in a number of disparate roles that included a global marketing role at Jaguar Land Rover, working for a bank at an advertising agency, being part of the leadership team of a technology startup in London and also being a marketing consultant to some major household brands. During these experiences I had the fortune to see how many different businesses operated, yet irrespective of the business I worked with or for, I saw time and again that there was a growing gap between how people of my age group and younger wanted to work, compared to how they were being asked to work in their respective environments.
“Irrespective of the business I worked with or for, I saw time and again that there was a
growing gap between how people of my age group and younger wanted to work,
compared to how they were being asked to work in their respective environments.”
Initially this workplace disconnect came up in conversations between friends who had all started at well respected businesses after University yet found their working environments alien and frustrating. These conversations were then echoed at networking events I attended and started to appear more frequently in the press. It was becoming clear that this disconnect was not just a case of a few mis-guided individuals not being used to the world of work, but a wider problem of a disconnect between the way current workplaces operated and the Millennials that were coming into them.
The thing was, that over the past 10 years, Millennials were only junior members of staff so had very little impact on how things were run, so this disconnect was not really a problem. However as my peers and I started to rise up the ranks and have increased levels of responsibility, coupled with a huge growth in startups being setup and run in very ‘Millennial friendly’ ways, the need to change became ever more apparent.
This is why at the start of 2015 I decided to do something about it by conducting a survey to get some statistics to what was up until then just a series of anecdotes about this workplace disconnect. The results of the survey were compelling. They showed that Millennials had a view of the world that was at odds to the way many businesses operated. Unsurprisingly, the businesses that did seem to have a better fit with the needs of Millennials were those new companies that had either been founded by Millennials (e.g. Facebook) or had only existed in recent years so could write their business model from scratch as opposed to trying to change an existing one (e.g. Google).
“Unsurprisingly, the businesses that did seem to have a better fit with the needs of Millennials
were those new companies that had either been founded by Millennials or had only
existed in recent years so could write their business model from scratch”
However, after looking into the results, what I had read and my personal experiences, I could see that this disconnect between current workplaces and how people wanted to work was not just the premise of Millennials. It was bigger than that. There was a much wider shift happening across people of all ages that was causing them to think in a way that until now has only been perceived as being symptomatic of Millennials. This got me searching for an answer why and after lots of research, I concluded that it was technology that was having such a dramatic impact on this shift in behaviour in the workplace and was not simply a generational thing. And the reason this behaviour change was more noticeable within Millennials at first, was because they had grown up with technology and this new mindset and behaviour was innate, whereas older generations took time to embrace new technology which lead to a lag in their behaviour changing too.
As such, it can be concluded that the changes we are seeing in people and the growing disconnect this is having in the workplace is down to a mindset change and not just an age range. In other words, you do not have to be a Millennial to have a Millennial Mindset. And this is a very important distinction. Too often people try to understand a demographic, when in fact they should be trying to understand a new way of thinking, which has been brought about by technology and the pervasive impact it has had on our lives and how we do things. Therefore, this workplace disconnect is with modern employees as a whole and not with simply millennials, where modern employees are defined as those with a Millennial Mindset that embrace technology, irrespective of their age.
“Modern employees are defined as those with a Millennial Mindset
that embrace technology, irrespective of their age”
Until now businesses have been asking the wrong question by trying to understand Millennials, when in fact they needed to understand the Millennial Mindset. This is because it is this Millennial Mindset that lies at the heart of every modern employee and their embrace of technology that is driving this workplace disconnect. By understanding this disconnect, both modern employees and businesses can help shape what a modern business should look like and make it relevant for a 21st Century career.