Special Report
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How millennials are redesigning the future of work

With a job for life a thing of the past, young workers are demanding flexibility, recognition and a workplace culture that chimes with their values

While every generation sees big leaps forwards in terms of technology and shifting social attitudes, the changes seen in the past decade alone have been fairly remarkable. Not only is it possible for an employee to work from home or a shared office space – it’s rapidly become a norm.

While millennials are routinely teased for everything from being considered lazy, overtly PC or allegedly being very fond of avocado toast, they have one major advantage in this new era of disruption – they grew up while all these advancements were happening. They’re digital natives and it’s no longer a case of employees adjusting to their work; it’s about the work adjusting to them. The concept of a job for life has become all but extinct, and in the years ahead it’s expected workers will regularly bounce between many different types of work.

AI and automaton are playing an increasingly prominent role, and the rise of Slack, Trello and other tools has seen an unparalleled change in communication, meaning a speedy response to an urgent work query is a smartphone notification away.

New technology with real work applications are appearing at a rapid pace, and huge growth in the areas of cognitive computing and robotics has companies preparing for a complex, disruptive transition as technologies become more capable. Research suggests up to 37 per cent of jobs are at risk of automation but while this may raise alarm bells as some types of work are destroyed, it will also create new roles too, and the future of work will see employees working alongside machines harmoniously.


Instead of this so-called gig economy being a cause for stress, this more flexible way of working is preferable to some. Workers get to constantly learn new skills and they're not tied down to one situation for decades. Valarie Daunt, partner and head of human capital management at Deloitte says: "Jobs, careers and learning is changing. The half-life of learned skills is 2.5-five years – it is not long enough to support a traditional career." Millennials are becoming increasingly focused on upskilling and learning on the job. It's no longer enough to reach a certain peak professionally and get comfortable, and the more skills they compile, the more employable they become.

This generation has given rise to perhaps the most bizarre concept of all – employees who actually enjoy their work. Contrary to some opinions, millennials aren’t afraid of hard graft and will regularly work outside the nine-to-five norm, socialise with their co-workers and, in contrast to previous generations, seek ongoing feedback about their performance. Growing up during the financial crisis also had an impact on their concept of job security, and while they naturally seek out a healthy wage, other motivating factors include flexibility, development and recognition of achievements. This attitude is due to become the norm too since they already make up half the workforce, and by 2025 will account for at least 75 per cent of it.

“Rewards overall are in the middle of a transition from the former standardised approach to a more personalised approach,” says Valarie Daunt. “This is being driven by millennials. Companies at the forefront of this are creating rewards programmes that are delivered more continuously, aligned more closely with individual preferences and based more on an employee’s contribution to the team and organisation as a whole. Employees of today respond more positively to agile compensation programmes that provide raises, bonuses, or other incentives more often than the traditional once-a-year reward system.”

Workplace culture

Workplace culture has also become an important factor when it comes to attracting employees who want to feel a business is aligned with their own core values. “Culture is defined as the sustained pattern of behaviours resulting from underlying values and shared beliefs,” says Daunt. “Culture determines ‘how we do things here’ and in an increasingly complex operating environment, today’s leaders are struggling to rapidly align organisational culture to particular strategic priorities. Organisations with committed and engaged employees are 33 per cent more profitable, 50 per cent more productive, and have higher customer loyalty.” Irish organisations looking to court millennial talent should review whether their culture, ways of working and policies support flexibility and diversity – in addition to having a clear organisational vision.

In much the same way the evolution of business and technology couldn’t have been foreseen a mere decade ago, it’s highly likely today’s school children will be working in jobs that don’t even exist yet. This level of uncertainty has some business leaders concerned – even though it opens up exciting possibilities too.

“In the 21st century, careers are no longer narrowly defined by jobs and skills,” says Daunt. “The need for people and organisations to constantly upgrade their capabilities together with shifts in employee preferences demands new approaches to learning, job design, performance management, and career development. Organisations must rethink how they coach and develop employees, focusing on the learning environment and experience-based opportunities while empowering individuals to manage their own career.”

This need to innovate has seen a push for a more diverse workforce, and not just in terms of gender or ethnicity. New ways of thinking are crucial, and while businesses may have once been reluctant to embrace employees who think outside the norm, cognitive diversity has been found to be invaluable in this new era. There has also been a rise in workplace wellness programmes in recent times, focusing on helping employees manage a healthy work-life balance, reduce stress and focus on mental health. Considering life expectancy will be going up in the decades ahead, meaning people will be retiring much later, such programmes will no doubt become more prominent.