WorkWise: Tomorrow's Workplace - Brighter, Livelier?

06/19/2010 8:27 PM

06/20/2010 4:44 AM

Most people are so wrapped up in struggles of the recession that they don’t have the luxury of thinking about the shape of tomorrow’s workplace. Some recent research about Millennials (Gen Y), the youngest group in the workplace, suggests that the workplace will change. Will it?

Stereotyping and youth discrimination aside, what do they stand for? What are they bringing to us? As their spirit takes hold in the workplace, how better will it fare?

A research report, “What Your Company Will Look Like When Millennials Call the Shots,” offers findings from a 20-minute survey of people born between 1977 and 1996 in the United States and United Kingdom. The survey, conducted by Seattle-based research consultancy Intrepid Consultants Inc., and New York marketing firm Mr Youth L.L.C., drew 199 responses from the U.S. and 613 from the U.K. Income breakdown for the U.S. follows:

• $0 to $25,000 - 45 percent;
• $25,000 to $40,000 - 25 percent;
• $40,000 to $56,000 - 13 percent;
• $56,000 to $75,000 - 6 percent; and
• above $75,000 - 11 percent.

Believe what you read and you might think that this group has a professional version of ADHD. “The average 26-year-old has craved stimulation so much (that he’s changed jobs) seven times from age 18, in search of something more,” according to the research. Imagine what this level of turnover would do to your workplace before the recession ends, if it isn’t doing it already. Continuity has value. Good jobs help produce it.

To retain Gen Y, you must offer “an environment that continually keeps them stimulated and engaged,” the report says. Take this need seriously by realizing that they need not just creative projects, but a workplace filled with colleagues who are lively and active in their work -- not those who hit 40, 45 or 50 and decide to slow down. Could there be new definitions of “old?” Plodding, uninterested, passive and intellectually lazy signify “old.” Pair “young” older workers with this cohort and watch what happens. This pairing is essential to the survival of the workplace.

Innovation is critical to Millennials, too, the study reports. This group brings the desire for the newness we need to pull out of the recession. Yes, it’s true that much of what companies have been doing isn’t working or no longer will work. Help us help them on that path. Give them training, opportunities to brainstorm and greater appreciation for an individual’s contribution or point of view. Let them try something that might fail; then help to make it or successive efforts succeed.

According to the study, this generation is “driven by ideas that move forward.” Is this information new? Assistant professor Daniel Martin, College of Business and Economics, department of Management, California State University, East Bay, San Francisco, comments, “This is a natural, developmental progress that asserts itself every generation. The same cycle expresses itself with its entrance into adulthood and the workforce.” Martin, a Gen Xer, is also vice president at HR consultancy Alinea Group L.L.C., based in the San Francisco office.

While Millennials will welcome the intellectual status quo of the workplace as it ages, the rest of us still have work to do. The enthusiasm Gen Y generates may make the workplace ebullient, but we can’t let them fly without ever resting their wings. Someone has to show them that manically moving forward can create combustion -- or exhaustion, that there must be a continuum between what a person has done and wants to do. Lionizing risk requires living in the ether, much like the world of the Internet, but worse. Experience provides glue and personal promise. The digital world is only part of the real world.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at Copyright 2010 Passage Media.

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