It’s 9am, do you know where your millennial employees are? No? No worries. It’s all good. They’re not factory chickens.
People who study characteristics of different generations have some incredibly important things to say about how different groups work. Organizations, however, are typically run by older people with their own generation-influenced work norms. Those that adapt to include younger generations more effectively will be more successful. And, no surprise, it seems that co-ops are structures that fit the work styles of millennials. Let’s explore the future of work, for organizations that figure it out in time!
Just in the USA alone, the Millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 2000) is estimated to be 75 million which is nearly the same size as the baby boomer generation and 1.6 times the size of my own Generation X.
While they aren’t a massive component of today’s workforce, they are the future. Adapting organizations to match many of their features will, believe it or not, actually please many older workers now.
So, how do millennials like to communicate?
The new graduates in my workforce don’t want to be talked at from the top – they want honest, transparent real-time communication, they thrive on flexibility, and they like informal, many-to-many discussions. And as a leader, I want a workforce that is more collaborative and engaged; more participative and knowledgeable about their work and the big picture….There is a lot more insight in a conversation around a kitchen table then with someone on a stage.
This all sounds really enlightened. Corporations compete against each other, which has its own socially toxic problems and capitalist lust for competition has extended that competitiveness mode to internal organizational operation. How odd. NGOs don’t always interact the same way, and when they do it’s unfortunate. Millennials are forming their own NGOs that don’t interact the same way.
What do their organizational structures look like?
The base of the organization should be the largest in size and reflect an overall shape that is more commensurate with an acute angle triangle – very few layers, large spans of management control and high velocity for movement upwards for this growing segment.
This sounds pretty decentralized, something older managers/leaders are often loath to embrace. And when young people leave old-style organizations, they’re deemed petty and entitled instead of under-utilized. However totalitarian old-style, top-down organizations are, the young people are not necessarily interested in racing up that ladder so they can order around thousands of factory chickens. Are you starting to notice how co-ops are fitting nicely with young people?
What about worker job satisfaction?
Everyone in every generation likes transparency and to know how they are performing. The Millennials in particular grew up in a world of online connectivity where every aspect of their life is based on sharing. The default in my organization is to be open and transparent – from the way we communicate the rationale behind every promotion decision, to the participative and open process to recognize our employees, to the way we green light technical decisions. This group also craves constant feedback, so engaging them in proactive and regular career planning and goal creation is critical for job fulfillment.
Contrast this with top-down mandated deference to authority and you can see why millennials sometimes join organizations, learn skills and modes of operation, then find themselves clucking like a KFC chicken and take off, often to the surprise of colleagues who see these young workers take pay cuts in order to enjoy their lives and work.
What about the whole person of workers?
This generation may spend less time at the workplace, but they’re also constantly working. Being always connected to the job means having a fun, casual environment and one that maps to their personal goals and beliefs is important. Lucky for me, working in videogames is inherently fun. In addition, we are also piloting flexible “action time” that will allow employees to spend time working on meaningful personal projects or new creative ideas for our business.
And just because you may not be running a video game company doesn’t mean you can’t ensure you pay attention to the whole person. Millennials, and older workers, have lives, hobbies and volunteer passions. Accommodating these may be a hassle on the logistical level, but it translates into people recognizing that their organization values the whole person. And let’s end with an obvious metric of generational engagement.
Who really engages to contribute best to an organization?
The questions I get from new graduates are harder to answer than the ones I get from senior managers.
We can attribute this perhaps to senior staff being more aware of everything so note “needing” to ask, and young workers not so much. But that’s a bad explanation. Senior staff may know a great deal, but that knowledge should inspire even far more challenging questions. So I’d go back to deference to authority and totalitarian complacency to explain this dynamic.
Ultimately, organizations that adapt to effectively include younger workers will be more resilient in this century and have the added bonus of turning many non-complacent older workers into more vibrant, satisfied contributors. Organizations that continue top-down, totalitarian models will end up like the Soviet Union. While older workers have become resigned to their lives as factory chickens, you’d be surprised what can happen when you liberate them from their cage/pod.
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