Millennials Are The Workforce: A Plea For Present-Casting

Our industry fixated on Generation Y with the same market-heat fervency once reserved for boomer teens: how can we engage this generation? But with 53.5 million by the beginning of this year, they take up the largest segment of the U.S. workforce, many aren’t kids anymore (the generation’s first year is 1981), and they are making major workforce decisions themselves. Some will soon be in their 40s themselves.

So while some of us still wonder ponder best recruiting strategies, here’s a not so new newsflash: them is us. Actually, it’s nearly two years since that post. It’s not about just pinpointing differences in order to get a better bead on how, what, all that. It’s about collaborating to best shape the future of work. 

Millennial behavior is the new normal.

Millennial behavior and devices caused a certain amount of boomer-generation and Gen-X headscratching. Among them: mobile / social / IM / texts not calls, lots of neat apps, preference for constant or at least quick feedback, the ability to hop jobs like a superhero in Gotham, a preference for meaning (egads) and transparency. But all of these should be woven into the workplace fabric by now. Even job hopping, which actually makes a great deal of ROI sense, enabling talent and projects to strategically align — and be optimally productive.

Millennials are becoming the older generation.

Generation Y is now having brainstorm sessions on how to capture the hearts and minds of Generation Z. We’re starting to see some interesting takes on how to handle it. (Perhaps we should have started earlier in the alphabet.) Among the challenges: making sure we’re starting in the classroom to nurture that future talent, not alienate it. Vis a vis diversity and STEM, that’s not really going to help.

The workplace will now be digital.

I’m riffing on the future as now here: it is digital. There’s a new study by PeopleFluent that I’m really looking forward to about the Digital Generation in the Workplace. I’m already thinking of it more as being about, in essence, the Digital Workplace. Here’s why: digital generations, starting with millennials, actually comprise far more than half of the workplace: cogito digital, ergo sum. By 2025, they will comprise some 76% of the workforce. As we transform our functions and strategies across the full range of the HR spectrum transform to digital, what we’re actually facing the potential of a skills and culture gap that looks backwards. The challenge: as we innovate that shift, make sure it’s up to speed with the über-facile skills and culture of those it’s meant to address. (We’re not really talking about a car service, but we are.) In other words, innovate faster, or our fancy new recruiting and training apps will be left behind by other, faster, better means.

There are other gaps to mind.

A key facet of millennial thinking that helped improve workplace culture is transparency. Among its impacts in the workplace, it has led to a better connection between company mission and employer brand. The 24/7, always on, ever-linked nature of millennial and post-millennial generations has also pushed that envelope.  We have been forced to galvanize a clearer sense of message and intention and then to make sure it carries across multiple platforms. That in itself ought to be transforming the workplace; function dictating form, and not the other way around.

Get over it.

How do we best recruit, engage, and motivate millennials? By insisting on excellence, and appropriateness, and functionality. There’s not much new about this, except in the most simple imperatives: we must be digital, social / mobile; agile; inclusive; and stop wasting time asking ourselves the if questions. Or the gap will be one mired in perception, not reality. Perhaps there’s a connect that happens when a generation is online all the time: they are acutely aware of their own place in the world, in the digiverse, of their own personal brand, in essence, because they are always expressing it. We need to simply accept that. Right now, we are all millennials.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.