Jobs and the Future of Work

3 ways millennials are changing the world of work

Emerson Csorba
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The millennial demographic is projected to become the largest generation in the U.S. workforce in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the shift is taking place faster than we think; in 2025, millennials will make up 75% of our modern workplace. Conversely, many organizations are losing hundreds if not thousands of years of technical and social expertise as their senior staff – many having worked in only a handful of companies – retire.

Yet, despite these workplace shifts, research suggests that too few senior executives and HR leaders are taking the time to understand and engage their junior staff. According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2015, only 28% of millennials feel their current organizations make use of their skills. Furthermore, in a recent study led by Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding, 80% of millennials surveyed would consider leaving their jobs and creating their own companies in the future.

In my work as a Director with Gen Y Inc., an organizational culture consultancy, we’ve found that misunderstandings behind the idea of a career, as well as a lack of dialogue between senior and junior staff, create problems that ultimately lead to unexpected turnover, inefficiencies, and headaches that inhibit growth and innovation.

However, the bright side is that understanding and engaging millennials is much less complex than senior executives and HR leaders assume; ultimately, structured dialogue goes a long way in increasing employees’ consciousness about the issues that shape a company’s long-term success. Here are three approaches that are worth considering:

  1. Senior staff and HR leaders will win by “thinking small”

Our team at Gen Y Inc. often works with executives who feel they have a welcoming “open-door policy,” only to learn from the company’s junior staff that they would never consider knocking on the COO’s or CEO’s door. These subtle misunderstandings can lead to disenchantment, particularly when junior staff actively want to contribute to their company’s success beyond what is expected of them in their day-to-day work. Although many senior executives think they allow for dialogue from junior staff, the necessary policies, processes and practices are seldom enacted to ensure this takes place.

Although senior staff never have a lack of work on their desks, spending several “office hours” per month meeting with junior staff and listening about not only their concerns, but their visions and ideas for the organisation, can go a long way in boosting morale and productivity. Ultimately, millennials want their workplaces – whether they are in fast-growing startups, universities or large corporations – to feel small, intimate and collaborative.

  1. Encourage cross-mentorship, particularly for high-performers

Whether a Fortune 500 company, 150-person family business or 50-person research commercialisation centre, no organisation is safe in the intense competition for talent. But the issue isn’t only in attracting curious and ambitious talent, but showing them why they should stay.

Cross-mentorship, where junior and senior staff work with each other in skills-building, and engage in mutual learning about company culture, is one effective approach to developing collaboration and trust within companies. However, as David DeLong points out in Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce, “priorities should be set so knowledge is being transferred from your most essential personnel first.”

Encouraging and rewarding exceptional work through cross-mentorship is one step toward keeping the people required to build a stellar organisation, especially as organisations seek the best possible return on investment for limited resources.

  1. Allow junior staff to push boundaries and assume responsibility early in their careers.

The dominant attitude we see amongst our clients’ senior executives is that they expect junior staff to climb through organisations just as they did. Indeed, it is not rare to work with clients’ senior staff who have spent anywhere from twenty to forty years in the same company. This sort of tenure, however, is not appealing to most millennials, many of whom are entrepreneurial and are interested in working cross-sectorally, in non-profits, government, startups and corporations, as echoed by Prospect Madison’s Matthew Thomas in his Harvard Business Review article “Triple-Strength Leadership.”

In order to powerfully engage junior staff, the Ditchley Foundation serves as a positive example. In its January 2015 conference held in Oxfordshire, England, the Foundation selected two 23-year-olds, Global Shaper (and fellow Gen Y Inc. Director) Eric Termuende and the United States’ Matthew Smith, to attend the global 40-person gathering. Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s inclusion of Global Shapers in annual Davos events shows that these organisations see the value in incorporating the perspectives and ideas of tomorrow’s leaders. Workplaces will see similar benefit by trusting and empowering their junior staff to contribute with as much impact as possible within their own organizations.

Author: Emerson Csorba is a Director of Gen Y Inc., World Economic Forum Global Shaper (member of the Advisory Council on Collaboration), and University of Cambridge Trust Scholar. He can be contacted at

Image: Nils Westerlund of Sweden, Sofia Braendstroem of Sweden, Alessandro Contini of Italy and Emma Rose of Britain (R-L) of the HowDo start-up attend a production meeting at their office at the Wostel co-working space in Berlin March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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