Why Digital Natives will shake-up the workplace of the future

I have read a few articles recently talking about the challenge employers have with millennials, portraying them sometimes as lazy, self-obsessed or unproductive. At the same time these articles would hail the contributions of baby boomers and Gen-X employees, portraying them as productive and better leaders. The funny thing is that the underlaying surveys that do these comparisons are often skewed, since they will be written from the perspective of today’s corporate leaders with values, expectations and metrics which soon might not be that relevant. In the digital age things move quicker and quicker, adaptability and agility are becoming increasingly important, means to communicate have to be flexible and learning is constant.

In many corporates on the other hand today’s workplace is still about rigid structures, inadequate career models, deprecated working tools and processes including too many tasks that provide little value. In the old school it is very much a command and control management that governs the company and most of us didn’t know better. Existing structures are rarely challenged. Now information is accessible and available to everybody, and millennials have grown up with this knowledge at their disposal when entering the workforce.

This has led to different expectations from this generation. As startup mentor and coach, I get exposed to millenials (Gen-Y, Gen-Z) and I believe they are often more aware of their capabilities, have greater ambitions and have often a stronger sense of purpose than earlier generations. They are born with knowledge at their fingertips and have a true ability for multi-tasking. Many of the millenials I work with don’t see themselves bound to an employer, they are entrepreneurs at heart, have multiple projects going on in parallel. They will give the strongest commitment to the projects that will provide the strongest fulfillment rather than the highest salary. Being digital natives they also come with new perspectives on how to produce and perform, which are not necessarily aligned with today’s corporate standards. Personal fulfillment, following passions and having an impact on society are becoming critical aspects in career choices. How many companies today provide that type of purpose to their employees? In addition, in app-centric world, the millenials know about the latest and most effective tools, applying leaner processes and bringing your own application to work is becoming the norm for these generations. This has a direct impact on expectations from the workplace.

I believe the challenge we see today is a mismatch in values and expectations between current employers and the millennials. So with stereo-typed surveys you only see one side of the coin… Somebody that seeks personal fulfillment in the job can easily be seen as self-obsessed. Somebody that refuses to do a task that doesn’t lead to a result can easily be seen as unproductive or lazy… the workplace has to change to get the most out of our future generations. The relationship between employer and employee will become more volatile, where talent will constantly look for projects that will help them fullfill their purpose in life. We will progressively see a more human and employee centered workplace. The social dimension of the employment contract will become increasingly important. Overall I believe the millenials will help us shape a corporate workplace that is less rigid, more agile and collaborative, more open and providing more fulfillment.