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How Millennials Are Changing the Notion of Work

“Working 9 to 5,” is the title of a song from a movie of the same name. The movie plot entailed three women who decided to get even with a horrific boss, but that’s not really the point. The large office was filled with people, including the boss, who came to work at 9 and stayed until 5, taking a half hour lunch, and doing this 5 days a week. People were not considered productive unless they were present 40 hours a week. And executives? They might work 10 to 12 hours a day, sacrificing family and social life in order to get ahead, prove their worth, and live the American work ethic.

This is still how many corporations and organizations operate today, but, gradually, things are changing. A new generation, the millennial generation, is moving into positions of leadership and management, and their concept of “work” is very different.

Who Are Millennials?


Roughly, millennials are people who were born between 1981 and 1997, currently 18-34 years of age, who are moving strongly into the workforce today. In fact, more than one in three workers today are millennials, and that’s about 75.3 million people. I’m one of those numbers and probably you are too.

A couple of other notes about this generation — they are getting married later, they are less likely to be homeowners, and many of them are living in or moving into urban areas, not suburban. Clearly, their concept of the American Dream is not that of their parents in the Generation X or Baby Boomer age groups.

The Millennial Concept of Work


Millennials are often called the “lazy” generation, and there are many reasons given for this.

They have grown up with technology and are thus more sedate; they are more self-centered and believe they are somehow entitled to a good income, even if they don’t work 10 to 12 hours a day; they pursue their other interests — hobbies, social activities, and family — more than they pursue working to climb the corporate ladder. Their parents wring their hands, wondering how America can remain “on top” with a generation that doesn’t value work and career as the most important elements in their lives.


Millennials, however, do value work, but the work must have a purpose that coincides with their values, not the values of corporate leaders of former generations. Here are 13 millennial approaches to work that may drive their current workplace leaders a bit nuts, but I strongly believe result into a better enviroment all in all!

1. Millennials want social responsibility.

They want to work for organizations that have a “stake” in the well-being of society in some important way. They want corporate executives and boards of directors to be environmentally conscious, to be involved in the support of charitable organizations, to support health, education, and the arts in important ways. Bill Gates is a hero to them. Robson Walton (Walmart) is not.


2. Millennials will not connect to autocratic work environments.

They prefer a democratic, “team spirit” environment in which everyone eats at the “adult table.” They have ideas and they want to be heard and valued for those ideas. (That was among the top reasons why I hated my office job)


3. Millennials hate layers of antiquated management.

Having several bosses up the line is frustrating and often confusing. They want a single person to whom they are accountable, and that person should not be someone who enforces company policies and employee guidelines that are antiquated. Millennials have difficulty understanding the logic of a rule that forces them to be physically present when they could take their laptops to the local coffee shop, and be just as productive.


4. Millennials insist upon being evaluated on productivity, not time spent.

Antiquated company policies speak of a “work day” in terms of hours, not in terms of tasks completed. If, for example, a given task is completed in four hours and no more can be done until other members of the team finish their portions, why should you stick around, for the sake of appearance?!


5. Millennials value the concept of “lifestyle” business

Where passions and profit can be combined. One of the many heros in this regard is Tim Ferriss, an entrepreneur who gave up 12 to14 hour work days of a corporate lifestyle to make money off of his hobbies — writing, physical fitness, and food. His first book, “The 4-Hour Work Week” speaks specifically to millennials because it insists that by working smarter not harder, we can accomplish twice as much in half the time. He has written three best-selling books based upon his work philosophy and hobbies, speaks to audiences all over the world, and takes what he likes to call “mini-retirements” every so often.


6. Millennials find entrepreneurship highly attractive.

They like the flexibility of work life that entrepreneurship offers, as well as the opportunity to operate in an inclusive, democratic organization.


Another hero is James Khezrie, founder of Jimmy Jazz clothing. Here is a young man who had a passion for clothing, opened up a store featuring casual wear for young people and now has over 170 stores all over the U.S. as well as an online retail site. Although his business has grown exponentially, Khezrie has maintained a democratic team spirit among his corporate staff and within his stores, in which everyone is valued and involved in decision-making.

7. Millennials are looking for different kinds of benefits.

Benefits to previous generations included a retirement pension, fully paid health insurance, paid sick leave, and job security. Millennials are looking for a friendly, relaxed work culture, a lack of corporate bureaucracy, an end to micro-management, a very cool office space, and the right to bring their pets to work.


8. Millennials want to be able to work from other places.

Armed with their devices and all of the latest technology and apps, Millennials believe that they can be just as productive on a beach with Wi-Fi access as they can be in an office space, perhaps more. This desire relates to #3 above, for, again, they should be evaluated on their productivity not on their physical presence.


9. Millennials value family

They want a workplace that does as well. They are looking for maternity and paternity leave; they are looking to leave the office for quality family time on evenings and weekends. They also value friendships and social outlets; they want to pursue their hobbies and interests.


10. Millennials want to continue to learn.

They just don’t want to do it in traditional ways. If they need to develop new skills, they know how to get the education/training on their own, because they are independent, autonomous learners. They also appreciate having mentors rather than supervisors.


11. Millennials want flexible work hours

At least to accommodate family responsibilities. It’s not so much finding a balance between work and life; it’s a matter of putting work in the back seat and life in the front.


12. Millennials work to live, not the other way around

They have grown up in households in which both parents have worked long hours both at the office and at home. The driving philosophy of their parents was that they lived to work and that’s not what millennials want.


13. Millennials will lead very differently

When they are placed in leadership roles, they will tend to throw out the “rule books,” and opt for relationship building first. They will design opportunities for play at work as well.


14. Dress codes?


Millennials now outnumber Generation X’ers in the workplace. They make the “establishment” nervous; they insist upon finding smart ways to work, so that work consumes less of their time; they don’t mind working hard, they just want to work differently. They need to have and to give reasons for everything that is to be done. The time for them to assume leadership roles in organizations is coming, and “work” will look very, very different when they do.

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