Wanna Do What I Want and I Wanna Get Paid – How Millennials are Changing the Workplace

Millennials are already shifting ideas of what is and isn't an acceptable or attractive company culture.

Jamie Notter: Millennials need to have meaning. When you grow up in a world of abundance, your basic needs are met. Okay, so that's just an expectation. Of course I'm going to get a salary and of course I'm going to get benefits. What I want is a job that has meaning to me, that connects to my life purpose. And you can only have that if you have a really strong culture that says here's who we are as an organization. Here's why it matters to us to be this way. Organizations that are clear on that are going to be more appealing to millennials than the organizations that simply say we do XYZ work and we have this opening position and you should work for us and that's it. The organizations we saw that are doing this are designing their organizations around their needs of the employees, not the needs of management. And they’re making their work experience customizable and they're building in continuous innovation and improvement into management, which is new. We used to sort of come up with our best practice and as soon as we had that, we did that for the next 20 years. That doesn't work anymore. We have to be more fluid. The traditional organization relies heavily on hierarchy and heavily on paying your dues. So in order to advance in the company, the standard rule is you have to come there and you have to work; you have to do work you don't like for a certain period of time so that you can graduate to a different level where you get to do work that's a little bit better and then working some more and then eventually start managing people and eventually start having authority to make decisions or do things on your own.

That organization just doesn't make sense to millennials. I mean we interviewed millennials for this book and the general theme from our response from millennials was why are you guys running it like this? Like they're literally scratching their heads saying why would you run an organization like this? Why would you not empower people who are closest to the customer, for instance, to make a decision? Why would you not share information? That's a huge one in organizations that millennials don't get it. To some extent the earlier generations are going to have to learn to give up control. That's a big theme I'm seeing in organizations that most of our management systems are based on control being a good thing and I'm finding organizations that give up on that actually get to achieve more. And so I think the smart organizations are going to get clear, looking at their millennial workforce, much of whom are going to be entry level, to say, "I know you're entry level but in this area I'm going to let you run with it. Like within these walls you can do whatever you want; you can experiment; you can be in charge." And so you just have to be clear about where those walls are so that they don't have huge impacts on the rest of the enterprise. But find places early on to do that so they have the experience of making their own decisions. I also think, in general, organizations will be presently surprised when they start letting their employees experiment because I think they'll start seeing results that they wouldn't of predicted that they would get.

As they come into their own professionally, millennials are shifting corporate culture and the way companies are organized. In this video, Jamie Notter, co-author of When Millennials Take Over digs deeply into common millennial values and how they're changing the ways top companies compete for premium talent. Unlike previous generations, millennials aren't satisfied with years of "paying their dues" in positions of low responsibility. They want autonomy, transparency, and a sense of mission. Expect to see the tides continue to shift in this direction as the emerging generation takes the reins in the coming decade.


Big Think is proud to partner with Mercer on Inside Employees' Minds, a series that examines employees' changing mindsets and the ways workplaces are responding to them.

Mercer’s new Inside Employees’ Minds™ research reveals what more than 4,000 workers in Canada and the US think about their jobs, their employers, and the changing work experience. It explores trends in employee engagement and the evolving employee-value proposition, highlighting key differences by generation, job level, and more. The research confirms that, as business needs and the workforce composition continue to evolve — with the boomer generation moving toward retirement and the preferences of the younger generations starting to dominate — employers need to rethink and reshape their value propositions to lay the foundation for future success. In this compelling video series, Mercer business leaders and other noted experts share their thoughts on the transforming work experience and what it means for both employers and employees.

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