This is a powerful force that’s changing the landscape of the workplace. This article takes a closer look at the difference between generations, and outlines key factors that can help employers adapt their strategy to the changing environment.
Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are the demographic group following Generation X. Although there are no precise dates of birth that can clearly describe when this demographic groups starts or ends, social scientists typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years for ‘older’ millennials and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years for ‘younger’ millennials. According to the data from the Polish statistical office, GUS, 11 million people or about 30% of the population was born in that time.
So what makes this group different?
Each generation is different in it’s own way, just as Generation X was different from the generation of baby boomers, Generation Y will differ as a natural consequence of the changing environment in which it grew up. In general, millennials have been raised in a more stable and prosperous environment, which has allowed for higher education levels, freedom of movement and speech, further strengthened by the introduction of new technologies. Millennials are more open to innovation, eager to travel and discover the world, and not afraid of taking on new challenges to fulfil their interests.
Millennials were the first generation to have grown up with the internet and computers widely available, making it a natural part of their lives. As a result they are much more versatile in adopting new technologies and using them in personal and professional fields. Millennials are dependent on quick and easy access to information over the internet and can be influenced by the opinions of their peers widely shared via social media.
Millennials are also called the Peter Pan generation (a term first introduced by the American sociologist Kathleen Shaputis) reflecting the increasing delay in the moment that they enter adulthood. In comparison to previous generations they live longer with their parents, spend more years getting educated, have a lower marriage rate and a preference for a ‘single’ way of life, particularly in bigger cities.
Professional development and approach to the workplace.
Academic research indicates a variety of factors that can describe Generation Y attitudes towards work and how they are different form their predecessors. On the one hand, Millennials rarely follow the same rules as previous generations; on the other, they also share some similarities. Generation Y places bigger priority on achieving balance between personal and professional life, prefers a flat corporate structure, and possesses heightened social awareness and responsibility.
Millennials expect their work to be aligned with their interests, to be meaningful and creative. They are confident of their abilities, consequent in their actions, and not afraid of new challenges. Millennials are not as influenced by the opinions of others in the workplace, however they expect close relationships and frequent feedback from their supervisors. And being adept with new technologies and social networks, millennials possess enhanced collaborative skills and a resulting preference for a team-oriented working environment.
Interest in working in the public service sector has also been making a comeback, with more than half of millennials considering the possibility of a career in public service. This coincides with the view that remuneration is no longer the key factor driving millennials, who are willing to accept a lower pay to be able to pursue a path that would be more aligned with their interests and passions.
This is further aligned with the preference to work in companies that are engaged in corporate social responsibility, sharing their views about caring for the environment and working for the betterment of society. This can become a crucial factor for companies looking to recruit the top talent, particularly in industries where there the ‘employees market’ is dominating.
The spirit of entrepreneurship.
The topic of how millennials influence the working environment, what are their priorities, and what is their approach to entrepreneurship and professional development was the theme of the conference Millennials – a paradox generation. Entrepreneurs or outcasts, which took place in the University of Łódź on 24 February. The event was organised by PAM Centre, during which the results of the Amway Global Entrepreneurship Report 2016 (AGER) were presented.
The AGER report, which is based on a survey among 50,000 respondents in 45 countries, shows that younger generations generally show a more positive attitude towards entrepreneurship. In Europe, this figure was 81% of respondents under the age of 35 versus 67% for respondents over 50 years old. A similar difference between generations can be observed in the interest in establishing one’s own business and self-employment (in Poland 43% versus 13%) as well as confidence in possessing skills and resources to do so (46% versus 20%). The report also finds that independence and self-fulfilment (both with a score of above 50%) were the key factors motivating younger respondents to undertake entrepreneurial activities.
The conference also included presentations by experts in the field of HR and sociology, who tried to connect the entrepreneurial spirit of millennials with the realities of today’s workplace. Dr Tomasz Czapla from the University of Łódź, indicates that while Generation Y can be very focused and goal-oriented, this is based on an individual approach, with goals and motivations differing among older and younger employees. This can create challenges further down the line when this person achieves a management role in an organisation.
Dr Julita Czernecka, University of Łódź, points out that millennials as a generation are very demanding with an egocentric approach to life and work. They can have little loyalty towards their employers and change their jobs quite often, but this is a result of the life cycle they’re currently in and natural behaviour for young people under the age of 30. Work-life integration is also very natural process for them, where they use their private phones and take time during work to take care of personal matters over the internet, while also catching up on office emails at home, out of office hours.
I also had the opportunity to present during the conference, where I took a closer look at the entrepreneurship of young Poles in the UK. According to a 2015 study, Poles were among the most entrepreneurial groups of migrants in the UK. One in ten Poles living in the UK has either established their own business (with more that 30,000 companies so far) or are self-employed (over 65,000). Considering that more than 60% of Poles in the UK are under the age of 39, we can conclude that young Poles that are moving to there to find themselves in an environment that boosts their entrepreneurial spirits. This is no coincidence, as the UK ranked seventh globally (third in Europe) in the 2017 Ease of Doing Business report published by the World Bank. In comparison, Poland ranked 24th globally and 14th in Europe. Great Britain has a very business friendly administration, tax system, numerous business development programmes, as well as an open society and positive attitude towards entrepreneurial and risk taking activity.
In the AGER report, the UK has a higher score rating for positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship (83%) and entrepreneurial potential (44%) than Poland (71% and 41% respectively) as well as the global average (77% and 43%). This shows that the business environment where young people are entering the workforce can be crucial for their entrepreneurial spirit, which is also an important signal for policy makers and company managers.
What practical conclusions for companies can we derive from these academic findings? Employers should focus on attracting the best candidates through more than just the size of the salary. They have to adapt their offer and working environment not just to meet the needs of millennials, but to remove any barriers to their entrepreneurial spirit that may arise. In essence, they will be seeking:
flexible working environment
meaningful and creative work
clear career advancement path
work in a team, but with individual goals
continuous feedback from superiors, but not strict control
possibility of work-life balance and integration
employers sharing their views on corporate social responsibility
HR managers are rightfully concerned that millennials can have increased expectations from the workplace, are not afraid to switch jobs more frequently than Generation X to find a company that better fits their vision of the world. Employee retention is becoming a top priority for any organisation.
The future belongs to millennials, and it is not the question whether they should adapt to employers needs and requirements, but how companies should change their approach to accommodate the changing demands and environment of new generations. Mutual understanding and cooperation of employees from different age groups will ultimately influence the success of any organisation.