Written by Harpreet Singh, Executive Director
Workplace culture is a hot topic and one that never fails to raise a reaction. In November 2018, tens of thousands of Google employees conducted a worldwide walkout targeting workplace culture less than a year after the internet giant topped Fortune magazine’s list of best companies to work for the sixth year running. The protestors’ main issue was how the company was treating women, but this wasn’t their only concern.
Following the protests, media reports cited Google saying it would increase transparency and improve its harassment policies, but it shouldn’t have taken a revolt of this scale for the issues to be acknowledged. Jose Mourinho, former manager of Manchester United, who was unceremoniously sacked in December, may have the answer to Google’s problems.
Speaking to the media in January, Mourinho, one of the most successful football managers of the last two decades, said: “Nowadays you have to be very smart in the way you read your players”. He then went on to compare current players with players from previous generations and spoke about the increased need to have the right structure in the club to support the players and the manager.
Like football, employee demographics in the corporate world have changed significantly over the past decade. According to a recent study by Deloitte, 75% of the global workforce will be millennials by 2025. And therein lies the problem. In the same way as Mourinho believed Manchester United was not reading its players correctly, neither, if recent events are taken into account, are many businesses.
The expectation of flexibility is neither misplaced nor impossible
In addition to having been born and grown up in an online age, there are several characteristics that differentiate millennials from previous generations. Whilst they consider themselves equally as hardworking and as ambitious, if not more so, than generation x and baby boomers, they also require more flexibility, faster results and care more about their personal well-being. According to a report in US news magazine INC., more than half of all millennial workers would like the option to work remotely, while up to 87 per cent want to work on their own schedules.
They also perceive themselves to be more socially aware and eco-friendly and expect these traits from their employers too. Luckily, with the significant improvements in technology over the past decade, this expectation is neither misplaced nor impossible to achieve, as long as employers are prepared to innovate.
Technological improvements make remote working an easy option
Take flexibility, eco-friendliness and well-being for example. With massive improvements in communication-related technology, it is now possible to work remotely without any loss of productivity. Providing flexible working options not only reduces real-estate costs and lowers the firm’s carbon footprint but can also help increase employee motivation.
So, if done correctly, one single action or statement, such as allowing employees to start work earlier or later, or to take longer lunch breaks to facilitate participation in sporting activities, can lead to a chain of events that significantly improves the attractiveness of an employer.
But, the reverse is also true. What if a telecommuting employee needs to come into the office for a face-to-face meeting and realises that he/she doesn’t have a desk to work from?
The obvious impact is a decrease in efficiency. However, research shows that not knowing whether you have a desk space can also lead to lack of motivation and stress and can in turn, have a serious impact on an employee’s overall well-being. In addition, it can create an environment of unhealthy competition due to a lack of information, in this case, related to desk space and employee whereabouts. Unlike employees from previous generations, millennials don’t tend to feel the same connection to their company and as a result will not stay somewhere they are not happy.
It’s all about work-life balance
As a result, it may be worth managers considering the way in which a flexible work schedule provides a stronger sense of work-life balance – a quality that is reported to attract millennial employees to a workplace in droves and keep them happier for longer than the two-year stint that has become the norm.
Typically, desk space is the responsibility of real-estate management teams and doesn’t list as a top priority for senior operational managers. Desk allocations are usually managed on spreadsheets or similar static data-storage tools, which don’t allow for the constant monitoring required for effective desk-space allocation. Technology can again rectify this situation, with tools that use mobile apps, sensors and QR codes to allow employees to view, reserve and check-in-and-out of specific desk spaces at a specific time.
Millennials may require more recognition and faster routes to promotion
Equally important is to foresee the problems that may arise as time evolves and millennials move through the ranks and take up senior positions. They may require more recognition and therefore faster routes to promotion. At the same time, incoming employees may prefer a more informal and non-hierarchical structure. This will require a shift in the organisational model and a willingness to embrace change in a way not seen before.
A quick look at the last couple of years reveals that many CEOs were either asked to leave their positions or forced to deal with discontented employees. These non-unionised breeds of relatively new organisations, such as Google, Microsoft and Uber, were expected to be torch bearers for the next generation of working practices, but their actions have largely been reactive. There is no doubt that what is thought to be an isolated incident can very quickly gain momentum and become a global phenomenon.