I’ve heard a lot of people in my classes recently commenting about the work habits of millennials:

  • How they expect to advance early and often – mobility
  • How they expect a flexible workday – arriving late or leaving early to accommodate their personal schedules.
  • How they expect constant feedback, both coaching and praise.
  • How they expect work to be fun.

Many of these comments seem to suggest that these are negative attributes. I say that millennials are a breath of fresh air – helping to refresh our work environments and increase productivity to boot.

If we look at millennial behaviour from the perspective of our old world work environments, characterised by mechanistic principles of bureaucracy — with defined jobs, set hours, stability, and advancement up the career ladder via seniority – then their expectations seem indulgent.

However, if we view millennial expectations from the new world work environments, we can see that millennial work habits are ideally suited for learning, knowledge sharing and creativity.

Consider the following:

Why do millennials crave mobility? The new currency for job security is the continuous development of one’s skill, and not seniority. That’s why millennials covet opportunities to develop, grow and advance. They will leave your organization if they are not growing, with good reason.

Why do millennials thrive on flexibility? Fatigue and stress narrow thinking and limit effort. Healthy, well rested people are more apt to stretch and engage wholeheartedly. If we want our employees to be creative and energetic, there is good reason to support millennial expectations for work-life flexibility, whether it be accommodating their needs for childcare, yoga, or a cooking class. When the work permits, instead of managing the clock, give millennials a goal and outcome to achieve, and allow them to manage their time, their way.

Why do millennials seek feedback? Feedback is the essential ingredient for learning and improvement. Without it, we do not get the data we need to adjust and improve. Given that millennials are focused on learning, developing and advancing, and at a rapid rate, the yearly performance review is sorely outdated. If you manage or work with millennials, give them the feedback, both praise and coaching, they so need to develop.

What’s up with all the play? If you are surprised by millennial requests for lunches, themed dress-up days, clubs, and sporting events, two factors are at play here. First, millennials understand that complex challenges are accomplished through social relationships. People connecting with each other to share and collaborate is the fuel for innovative problem solving. Second, millennials view work and life fluidly, and do not see a line between one’s work and social relationships. Millennials are setting about to make our organizations friendlier, more social places.

It’s easy to fall into the habit of stereotyping generations, often in a negative way. If we take a more positive approach, we can see that millennial expectations are well matched to the needs of the new world of work. Perhaps, rather than focusing on differences, we need to reflect on the new realities of the world of work, and how we can reimagine the employee experience to create a respectful, engaging and energizing environment for all.