Articles

November 3, 2015

Accommodating the Millennial Mindset and Bridging the Gap

If you’ve been working for quite a while, you know how things used to work when it came to accommodating new generations in the workplace. The newbies watched and learned from their wise elders, creating informal mentorships. Recent college grads paid their dues and worked their way through the ranks before gaining more authority.

That’s how things worked since … well, forever. And then the digital age came about, and things changed. The balance of power tilted.

So what happened? 

These are millennial times

A huge number of American workers were born between 1982 and 2000. This so-called millennial generation – whose members are in their late teens to early 30s – became the largest generational segment in the U.S. labor force as of 2015.

Millennials were raised with computers and the Internet and think they know those things pretty well, because they do. Their parents’ generations – the Generation X and baby boomer crowd – weren’t involved as early or as intensely in the digital age. The result is a new divide in the workplace driven by technology.

You’re probably already employing millennial workers, and their numbers will continue to increase coming years. That’s why it’s important to understand how millennials think and how they work.

Same clock, different results

The over-40 crowd knows when the workday starts and ends. That doesn’t mean these employees are clock-watchers; many are used to working hours of unpaid overtime, but within the structure of a set workday timetable.

Millennials may be equally ambitious, but have grown up with technology that allows them to work from anywhere at any time. As a result, many enjoy a work timetable that is flexible and less defined than a traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day. This generation also expects to be able to work from remote locations.

Millennials’ lack of structure doesn’t signal an absence of discipline, it’s just a different work style. You should maintain the same high standards of accountability for millennial workers as you do for other employees, but they may not be seated at their desks at 8:30 a.m. sharp. Let them prove they can get just as much done from home as they can in the office. If they can, why not cut them some slack?

Keep in mind that many of those in the millennial generation are in their child-rearing years, which creates another distraction to their work timetables. And because millennial parents often share child-raising responsibilities, it’s just as likely that a dad needs to work from home to care for a sick child as it is for a mom.

A cautionary tale

What happens if you don’t take steps to accommodate millennial workers? A great example is a local 50-person accounting firm that was run for decades in what you might call “old school” style. The dress code demanded suits and ties and conservative office attire. Long hours were expected, Saturday appearances were a given and the network could only be accessed from the office – so employees could not work at home.

After the last tax season, an astounding 20 percent of the firm’s workforce called it quits — and most of those employees were millennials. The departing employees felt the business owner’s work rules were too rigid, and because the economy has improved, they had options. They could find more amenable cultures elsewhere — and they did. 

Incorporating a new generation

Your millennial employees bring energy, passion, and enthusiasm, the same as your other employees. Their style is just different. 

How can you best accommodate millennial workers? Stay flexible. Focus on results, not working styles. Trust that your employees of all ages can get the job done their way unless they prove otherwise. If you do these things, you can reap the benefits of hiring and retaining young, talented workers for your organization. 

Jonathan Crate, CPA is manager of Real Estate & Construction Group at Wiss & Company LLP. Reach him at jcrate@wiss.com or 973.994.9400.