min read

Employers play catch-up as 'Millennials' drive innovation in working practices

by Andrew Stillwell , 03.12.2013

In less than two years the ‘Millennial Generation’ (also known as Generation Y - those born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s), will become the largest demographic segment of the workforce. The significance of this? Millennials have distinctly different behaviors, values and attitudes from previous generations. And the reason for this? They’ve grown up with the Internet and associated devices, and are the most technologically-savvy generation to date.

There are wide-ranging implications for businesses as Millennials become the dominant segment of the working population, and critically, as they move into key decision-making roles. As Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the collaboration technology group at Cisco, put it, "GenX is tech savvy, while GenY is tech dependent". As such, working practices and decision making will increasingly be driven by technology, and technology will move from being a facilitating force to one that drives change.

Technology is already driving changes in working practice, and employers are struggling to keep up

Of course, technology is already driving change in working practices with the increase of mobile and flexible working. The traditional 5 day, 9-to-5, working week is fading fast as home and remote working grows exponentially; employees and their managers are operating within increasingly-blurred boundaries between working and non-working hours. Just look at Vodafone’s recent study where two-thirds of managers admitted asking their employees to work outside of traditional office hours, while also saying this made them more accepting to the fact that employees would complete personal calls, emails, and use social media, during working hours.

However, this study also highlighted a shortfall between the growth of mobile and flexible working, and the tools businesses were willing and/or able to provide their employees for these purposes. This is where Millennials are driving core changes to the three-way relationship between employees, technology, and employers, and as a result the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The Generation Y knowledge of technology and dependence on it means that without the tools (or high-standard of tools) they require for mobile working, they will use their own device and expect to be supported in this by their employer.

This was clearly evident in our recent survey* - over a third of Millennials interviewed admitted they used their personal mobile devices for work purposes because they preferred them to what their employer provided. And an even greater proportion agreed they’d like more choice over the mobile devices provided by their employer. Their perception of the critical importance of cutting-edge technology in the workplace was emphasised by half of them saying they depend on the best technology to do their job, and a quarter having actually chosen their employer based on the technology they provide.

However, this trend is not limited to mobile devices; it extends into the ways they communicate with their colleagues and clients during the working day. Nearly half of Millennials said they used Instant Messaging and SMS/Text Messaging on a daily basis for work, and a third use social media (with half saying they see social media as a meaningful business tool). Their communication habits, as with their mobile device usage, are significantly more technologically advanced than their older colleagues and emphasize the need for employers to provide effective unified communications and collaboration solutions to satisfy their age-diverse workforce.

Graph 1 - v3Graph 2 - v3

It will be crucial for employers to catch-up and effectively manage this trend if they are to attract the most talented millenials and maximise the benefits

This makes the use of technology, and the devices provided by employers, key differentiators for Millennials when rating their current and prospective employers, and has increased the importance of the CIO in recruiting talented Millennials. It’s something that many forward-thinking employers are already aware of, and they’re using perks related to top of the range mobile devices, device choice, BYOD, mobile and flexible working, and up-to-date communications platforms to woo this generation. It’s not simply a matter of the tools provided, but also the perception this conveys that a business is innovative and forward-thinking, and possibly that it has the ‘cool’ factor.

An advanced attitude to technology, however, does need to be coupled with an awareness of the security risks associated with usage of multiple devices (corporate and personally owned), and a range of communication platforms. This was acknowledged recently by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics who highlighted that a nonchalant attitude amongst Millennials towards passwords and security (as well as a determination to use their own devices), was a significant business risk from a security standpoint.

It is critical that businesses who ride the wave of this trend remain up-to-date with their security solutions (i.e. MDM, EMM, & MAM), their usage policies, develop optimal solutions for mobile and flexible working (i.e. Cloud & UCC), and as a result retain a sustainable balance between the security needs of the business and the ability to provide the working environment that Millennials are looking for, and which allows them to optimise their businesses use of technology.

*GfK Omnibus Survey October 2013