August 27, 2012


shockingOh millennials, you crazy scamps you. Now you have the entire corporate world bowing to your demands. When will you alleviate the stranglehold you have on the Fortune 500?

A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted this (or something kinda like it) by reporting on the various “demands” that millennials are foisting on the corporate world. With a subhead that cries: “Older employees cry foul”, the piece is setting us up for yet another pointless battle in the generational war.

They’re often criticized as spoiled, impatient, and most of all, entitled. But as millennials enter the workforce, more companies are jumping through hoops to accommodate their demands for faster promotions, greater responsibilities and more flexible work schedules—much to the annoyance of older co-workers who feel they have spent years paying their dues to rise through the ranks.

What if we looked at these perks (unlimited vacation days, allowances for commute times, promotions within a year and teleworking) as something different, in essence re-framing the debate? Yes, it’s true that Millennials will comprise 40% of the total workforce by 2020 (which is more than any other generation) and yes it’s true that a lot of millennials are willing to leave companies and find alternative arrangements. So, it stands to reason that managers, corporations need to learn how to deal with this new arrangement, and rather than use the tired old “if, then” argument, why don’t we view this as a serious and tangible leap forward in working conditions?

After all, many of the folks I know who telecommute, receive unlimited vacation and have commuting privileges/allowances aren’t millennials at all. Some interesting facts about millenials:

They have an “I can do it” attitude: Millennials are ready usually willing to tackle anything and that’s a valuable skill for any organization.

They’re team players: At the risk of sounding like I’m buying into the stereotype, that’s a whole generation of kids who went to soccer, hockey, football and volleyball in their free time. They understand how to work on a team and even the value of the much-mocked “participant” ribbons.

They can multi-task: Yeah, I KNOW what the reports say but millennials are doing a great job faking it. They get how to quickly shift gears from one project to the next and can support multiple teams and departments with solid training.

Like the generations that came before them, millennials have their own unique value proposition to bring to the workforce. Instead of perpetuating a fake war between people who have to work together, maybe WSJ should focus on the positive change that this generation is bringing to the workforce. After all, just a few years ago, working from home was far less possible than it is today and waaaay fewer companies would even listen with a straight face when presented with the option of “unlimited vacation days”. Yet, the companies who’ve implemented such policies (Netflix and have seen an increase in productivity, a decrease in turnover and a spike in positive press. And guess what? There have been no reports of abuse.

The discussion is less about the fact that one generation is willing to find workplace solutions that work for them (much has been written about the self-centered work ethic of millennials) and more about the fact that the economy, once again is changing. With a shift from a lifetime at a company and a gold watch and the consultant project based economy toward which we are most certainly heading (don’t believe me, check Gartner and Bersin) there are a thousand stops in between. This is just one of them.

So, if you’re an HR Leader, learn how to manage people (not just millennials). Figure out how to please all your employees and reduce turnover, not just the ones willing to leave. Focus on boosting productivity across departments with teleworking options, not just the one with the most squeaky wheels.

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Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space. Hogan speaks and writes on all career and workforce related subjects. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and SMBs around the globe. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B Marketing Agency that serves clients in the U.K., Africa, China, Israel, Europe and North America. Primarily focused on the Human Resources and Global Workforce vendors, Red Branch Media handles clients of all shapes and sizes.
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