When the Workplace Gets Tough, Millennials Get Working (No, Seriously)

By Bill Grady

Bill Grady, IBM Brand Strategis
Bill Grady, IBM Brand Strategis

We prefer texting to phone calls and we expect integrated and seamless experiences with technology. We are the first generation to have grown up in the midst of a digital revolution, where information and answers are just a few clicks away. We are Millennials.

There’s been a lot written about Millennials. This generation, born roughly between 1980 and 1995, is already the largest in the workforce and will make up 75% of the world’s workforce by 2030. The change is disruptive.

Most articles about Millennials delve into dating culture, digital lives and even eating habits. Yet among all of that chatter, there is very little understood about what impact we are having in the workplace.

How are Millennials alike or different from our colleagues? Are the stereotypes about us true?  And, what changes must we make in our organizations?

To answer some of these questions, today IBM is releasing the results of a global study on Millennials in the workplace, of which I was a co-author. Essentially, after surveying more than 1,775 employees from organizations of all sizes, across 12 countries, we found that Millennials’ expectations are the gold standard for what everyone wants.

The attributes that Millennials value, such as transparency, collaboration and innovation, and easy access to mobile and social tools, are welcome changes that benefit everyone. This means that transformation initiatives can be inclusive, rather than aimed at just one age group.

Our research debunks five common myths about Millennials and uncovers uncomfortable truths for employees of all ages. For example, I often hear that Millennials’ career goals are unrealistic and they expect a lot more from their job than other generations. That simply isn’t true. As it turns out, Millennials place much the same weight on many of the same career goals as their older colleagues.

Another classic stereotype – because everyone on our soccer team got a trophy – we need endless praise and constant acclaim.  Believe it or not, respondents around the world told us that the most important factors are a boss who is ethical and fair and shares information. Further down the list for Millennials? A boss who recognizes their accomplishments.

Funny enough, it’s Gen X employees, not Millennials, who are more likely to think everyone on a successful team should be rewarded. 64 percent of Gen Xers agreed with this statement compared to 55 percent of Millennials.

At IBM, Millennials are driving much of our transformation — from how we recruit and train employees, to how we engage with our clients.  As a designer, I’m particularly excited about the big difference our Millennials are making in software design.

IBM has changed the way we design our products, which are now tailored to the digital expectations of Millennial users. Millennial designers are embedded in product development teams to help them understand the specific needs of Millennial users. For example, last year IBM Bluemix, our cloud developer platform, was the first result of this new approach. IBM Verse, our new social email tool, was designed by Millennials, with Millennials in mind.  The same is true for the rest of IBM’s software portfolio – data analytics, security, mobile – all designed with strong Millennial influence.

Our study leaves no doubt that Millennials are fundamentally reshaping the way people work, and that organizations must transform themselves to remain relevant. While they might be more inclined to send a text than make a phone call, the fact is, Millennials are essential to our workforce. And the opportunity is enormous.


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