How is Generation Y influencing the way we work?

By Alice Uribe

While baby boomers are all about a ‘work hard for the money’ mentality, Generation Y wants to make money work hard for them. They are energetic, ideas-driven, prefer to work for companies that have good reputations, and they are drastically changing the way the workforce operates. By the end of this decade, it is predicted that Generation Y will make up 50 percent of workers, so what does the millennial difference mean for the modern workforce?

An ongoing feedback loop

Where baby boomers enjoy structured meetings, Generation Y prefers a more casual, social approach and expects constant updates on their performance. As a result, companies may need to rethink their feedback strategies. Where semi-annual reviews used to suffice, the modern manager now needs to provide more frequent and timely feedback, according to researcher Jay Gilbert.

“They want to know that they’ve done a good job, and they want to know now,” he writes in the Ivey Business Journal.

Business owners also need to consider how they are providing feedback. Whether it is positive or negative, the comments need to be clear so that there is no chance of misunderstanding. Directions on where improvements can be made should also be communicated.

Inspired by millennials the modern workplace is now embracing checklists, giving rewards for innovators and risk takers, as well as providing mentors. 

Less solo-working

Many members of Generation Y, or millennials, grew up with social media and are used to sharing their ideas with lots of different people. They are not shy about collaboration and expect this in their workplace. Millennials tend to work best in groups, and often better with people their own age. They also understand the value of individuality.

The reality for modern workplaces is that they must embrace co-working and find ways to increase teamwork. This can be enhanced through communal spaces and providing tools like Trello or Google Hangouts, which aid in online collaboration.

Workplaces should also integrate flatter management structures, which allow millennials to express their opinions and suggest ideas to people from all levels at the company. As a result, companies are providing more opportunities for mentoring and co-leadership.

Gilbert says that some older colleagues may see their need for social interaction as a weakness, but in reality the way to get the best out of the Generation Y worker is to allow them to multitask and work in teams, rather than as siloed individuals.

Office space changes 

As more and more millennials enter the workforce and move up the ranks with a team-player mentality, the structure of offices and work areas is changing.

According to Michael O’Neill, senior director of workplace research at Knoll, Generation Y is much more interested in blending their personal and private lives in the office.

As such, modern offices are designed to have a ‘residential’ or homey feel. There is also a trend towards hot-desking (where employees do not have permanent desks, but move around the office to shared desk spaces to work on generally portable technology such as laptops), open-plan meeting rooms and lounge furniture.

While some baby boomers may be reluctant to have their hard-earned office taken away, they will get more out of their working relationships with Generation Y if they move around the office and work in spaces that are more suited to innovation and collaboration.

Social responsibility is key

Generation Y is much more interested than previous generations in giving back and being civically engaged. They also want to be proud of who they work for and are keenly aware of how their company appears to the outside world. Millennials want to align themselves with the right company and will seek out employers that support social causes. 

The Millennial Civic Health Index revealed that Gen Y has a higher rate of volunteering and community service than their senior counterparts. In fact, the national volunteer rate in the US hit a five-year high in 2012. Another study from TBWA/Worldwide and TakePart revealed that seven in 10 young adults see themselves as social activists, and three in four would think more highly of a company that supports a social cause.

This shift has had a huge influence on the modern workplace as employers seek to attract and retain the ever-growing number of millennial workers who see a company’s level of social responsibility as a key selling point. 

More and more companies are ensuring they are transparent with their staff about environmental and social issues, and are also providing opportunities for staff to ‘give back’ via volunteer programs or other charity events. As such, millennials have helped to effect change by firstly insisting a company is transparent about the quality of its corporate and social responsibilities, and secondly by choosing to work for businesses that give employees the opportunity to do community work that benefits the society as a whole.

Generation Y workers will soon make up the bulk of the workforce. They are eager and enthusiastic, and are helping to transform the modern office into a collaborative, innovative space where ideas, individuality, and social responsibility are prized.