The Millennial Paradox: Generational or a byproduct of technology?

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Many would argue that digital transformation is driving – or should be – a significant increase in productivity in the workplace. As technology frees us humans’ time, we’re expecting to see a far greater ‘more with less’ approach emerging in our offices.

But, now think of this: whilst we’re often assessing the threat of new technologies to our jobs, we rarely stop to consider what working in a company driven by the competitive pressure of a ‘more with less’ approach can have on the overall organisational structure, content and process of work, right?

In the meantime, we’re complaining that millennials are a completely different generation, begging for entitlement and demanding more autonomy, leadership and work-life balance than previous generations at their age.

My question is, is it really a generational mindset or is it the knock off effect of technology that’s making millennials act this way?

Let’s assess.

Technology means more efficiency…right?  Wrong.

There’s no doubt that new technologies have allowed us to do ‘more with less’, or even what would once prove impossible, possible. But technology does not always work that way. It can sometimes mean quite the contrary, ‘less with more’ - and a feeling that you never get to properly switch off work as a result.

Let’s consider the case of communication technology as an example -

Resources such as email, Slack or Skype, are enabling us to fulfill an extensive range of working styles and preferences that were once unimaginable - be this working from remote locations or outside regular office hours.

As a result, organisations are increasingly incorporating these features into their working structures to facilitate flexible working in their businesses.

But technology of this kind can also bring about unintentional interruptions and/or an accumulation of unanticipated tasks.

The result? Decreased efficiency, stress and strain on employee wellbeing.

You only have to look at countries such as France where last year they passed a law that establishes employees’ “right to disconnect” - i.e. a set number of hours when employees should not send or answer emails - to realise the seriousness of the issue.

In other parts of the world such as New York they are currently looking to pass a similar bill. They believe an initiative of this sort can provide a benefit to both workers and businesses, by making employees more relaxed and effective.

Clearly, technology is generating a problem here.

Surprised now that millennials are asking for a better work-life balance?

More technology means less hierarchical structures…right? Right.

As technologies progress and businesses look to improve their efficiency through these, the boundaries between departments and job categories (technical, professional and managerial) become looser.

Hierarchies are cumbersome and cannot respond quickly to fast-paced environments. With new technologies, things become more measurable and business goals shift towards clearly defined targets per month/year/quarter by department and as a company whole.

Whoever finds the best way to unlock them – whether senior or junior - will have the rest of the team following.

As a result, there is much greater emphasis on knowledge sharing and cooperation and a far smaller one on whose knowledge it is that’s being shared.

As long as it works (as evidenced by numbers) that’s all that matters – even the most senior leader will find himself following and helping you coordinate the project.  

In other words, workers are no longer managed to comply with rules as much, but rather they are committed to organisational goals as measured by new technologies. They are encouraged to speak up and express their new ideas.

Surprised now that millennials come across as empowered? It’s very often that organisations are letting them do so!

Continuous change

Technology advancements mean continuous change.  Whatever the industry we’re working in, there will likely be competitors launching new products, partnering with new companies or designing new engagement strategies when you least expect it.

With this in mind, it’s important to have a workforce that is driven. That wants to take action on things.

Put it this way. Your rival company launches a new technology that improves customer experience by 80 per cent.

You want a junior co-worker who speaks up and fights to find something better to do for your company. Someone who believe in it, and feels entitled to say, ‘why don’t we try this and this’. Not one that sits down next to you, taps you on the back and mumbles ‘I’m sorry, what can I do to help?’.

You need everyone in the organisation to be involved. To speak up and suggest.

Is it millennials that demand so much more autonomy than previous generations when they were our age then?

Or are we actively giving it to them?

Yes, exactly. We are. Because, let’s face it - with our current pace of innovation,

millennials are needed for their ideas much more than past generations when they were our age.

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As technology evolves, workplace trends are shifting. We’re often discussing, what does the future employee look like?

What we’re failing to realise is that –

The millennial model is the future employee from 20 years ago.

And that ‘soft skills’ – what we’re today claiming will lead the future workplace in another 20 years’ time - is what millennials are introducing into today’s workplace, paving the way to the future.

Maybe we spend too much of our time criticising the present and predicting the future, rather than properly analysing what’s actually happening to us right here, right now.

...and it’s fascinating, don’t you think?

Chieu Cao, Cofounder, Perkbox
Image Credit: Startup Stock Photos / Pexels