Panel debate about the future of work, with Mette Krogsrud (Schibsted Media Group), Geir Glømmi (Aker Solutions), Cecilie Heuch (Telenor), Thomas Øivind Andresen (Telenor), Karoline Hjelmtvedt Rohde (Kluge Law Firm), Silje Marie Vatne (Telenor Norge) and Haakon Berge Wiken (Deloitte Digital Edinburgh). Photo credit: Martin Fjellanger @ Telenor

What millennials really think about work.

Haakon Wiken
Jun 10, 2019 · 7 min read

Amidst mounting global challenges, school strikes and divisive politics, what makes millennials choose what do to, and where to do it? Choosing a job can be a daunting task when you are exposed to such a vast landscape of potential employers, each selling their own vision, career paths and benefits packages in order to attract talent. Millennials and Gen Zs are sometimes called ‘spoiled’ or ‘picky’, but being able to cater to our needs is necessary as we are becoming the dominant part of the workforce.

Dealing with problems that were not our making

Millennials and Gen Zs are a generation that grew up in a world where global issues became more severe, where many of us felt unable to impact what is happening on the global stage. Maybe because we were young, but also because the power was out of our hands — until now. As our voices begin to carry more weight we are able to shape our own careers, and channel our efforts to where we want to make a difference. Working with a purpose, whether that be environmental impact, societal or political is a key reason for why we choose to stay in our jobs, or which choose in the first place.

Of course, there is something to be said about privilege, where millennials can be viewed as entitled, and as facing a range of ‘luxury problems’. While it is true that it is not always a broad choice of employment due to a variety of potential factors, how we prioritise employment beyond receiving a paycheck is what we are concerned about. Having a purpose matters because we are acutely aware of the many potential crises of global systems that we did not help build. Our pessimism for the future is a key influence on the choices we make. Why do so many of us choose not to have children? Similarly, why would you seek employment without a purpose if you do not think the economy (or the earth for that matter) will survive?

I know what you did last summer

Just like employers can hold us accountable for our sins on social media, so can we. News spreads like wildfire, and companies that we see go against what we believe will be held accountable. In line with having a purpose, companies that don’t follow through on that purpose will be the companies that we choose to leave. We are sick of seeing ‘values’ and ‘mission statements’ in a glossy font on corporate websites. They are just words. What matters more is that these values are part of the company and that they are reflected and reciprocated within the culture of the company and through the stories told by the people within it.

Just like people, companies’ values can be broad too, from societal impact to a commitment to diversity. In general, we are looking for companies that display values that we resonate with. Any marketing department can make them sound nice, but if they are not traceable, then we are unlikely to take the bait. Equality, diversity, accountability, innovation and compassion are values that we care about, though that list is by no means exhaustive.

We work to live, and don’t live to work

Deciding what to do matter, but how you do it also does. Unlike previous generations, we are not wanting to subscribe the toil of a workplace that demands more than it gives back. We want our work to support our lives, not take away from it. Our priorities are different than other generations, we want to travel more, invest in experiences, and have a chance in the property market once we get to that point.

Because we are exposed to global influences through a steady stream of pictures of the best workplaces in the world via social media, we know what good looks like. Therefore, we also recognise the opposite. A dynamic work environment, manageable workload, flexible working arrangements, they are all important factors that play into us enjoying the work that we do. This enables the healthy work life balance that we want to maintain because work is not all that we care about.

Many of us have grown up with one or more parents having to make sacrifices on our behalf in order to fulfill their job. Some say it is the price of success, but then again, some of us are still paying the price for that. Therefore we are asking for things to be different, for us to be treated as the multifaceted humans we are — because we all have a lot going on. We want concessions to be made in times of need, and for employers to understand that we work to live rather than live to work.

Ask not what you can do for your company, ask what your company can do for you

We have different expectations from our work than others may have had in the past. Like in our personal lives, we know what things take too much time when they really shouldn’t. This is why we flock to innovative companies that offer us better ways of doing things, whether that is banking, mobility or retail stores. Just like we expect more from the services we use, we also expect more from the companies we work for.

Firstly, we want to actually do the work we were hired to do. Spending a long time on governance, requesting approvals and other admin tasks kill our productivity. We want companies to be experimental and to support our ways of working. Needless to say, technology plays a big part in that. Companies should invest in tech that millennials can use efficiently. Would you feel productive if you spend 8 hours on a device that is far slower than what you use at home? Probably not.

Secondly, we want to be in an environment that encourages learning. We don’t want to stay in the same role, doing the same thing day in, day out. We want to be able to develop professionally and learn on the job. It is therefore a good thing that the current structure of companies sometimes don’t reflect the company’s current needs. Future-focused, often digital capabilities are lacking, and there is a clear appetite amongst millennials to learn in order to fill those gaps. By acting upon that, companies can encourage us to re-skill and develop into the positions that are needed in the future. Encouraging multidisciplinary teams where individuals can build upon each other’s skillsets, is also a great way to begin.

Thirdly, we are ambitious. This is evident in the high rates of job transitions amongst millennials. If we feel that we are no longer being developed, we are likely to leave. If fact, many of us keep our eyes open for the next big opportunity. A way to combat this is through mentoring, supported by clear development pathways. Being able to learn from senior employees [often experts in their field] is something that we treasure. This is something that we now ask of our leaders, alongside the opportunity to be given responsibilities that often have been reserved for leaders in the past. Show us how to do it, and we will grasp the opportunity to prove that we can be entrusted. If this is not done already, companies should start talking about it.

The voice from above

Luckily, companies are joining in on the conversation and willing to listen to us. The 2020 Workforce trends by Telenor was the focus of discussion during a recent panel discussion at Fornebu, Norway where three Chief People Officers (CPOs) had a frank discussion with three millennials about work, and what matters for people and large companies. Turns out, views are not that different. Work with a purpose, continuous learning, agile methods and new, leadership responsibilities such as mentoring are aspects of work that both CPOs and millennials can agree on.

The 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey is another example of bringing the next generation into the conversation of what the future of work looks like. It highlights many aspects that matter to us millennials, particularly around why we work and how we work, both of which play roles when it comes to keeping us around.

Source: 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, n=13,400

The time has come for companies to really listen to what is asked of them. Companies have to think about why they exist, how they make that happen, and what they can do to enable millennials to excel at their workplace. In doing so, companies can stay relevant and attract talent.
Otherwise, they will be at the receiving end of a rather melodic “thank you, next”.

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