It’s not an issue of attracting millennials, and it’s certainly not something to blame on them.
I was talking the other day with a colleague of mine, and he was lamenting the increasing cost (as he saw it) of the changing office environment. His beef wasn’t the rising cost of office space or technology platforms. Rather, it was the new costs of what the workplace is now expected to provide – workout facilities, meals, snacks, drinks, social events, and the like. I was a little surprised that he seemed to attribute these new costs to the demands of millennials in the workplace. While I didn’t agree, I wasn’t quite able to put my finger on what I thought was fundamentally wrong with his assessment. Reflecting further, I come to the conclusion that he has his cause and effect skewed if not entirely backwards.
Let’s go back a few years and put some context around this. It was not so long ago that workplace and non-workplace were almost entirely distinct. Office hours were well defined. Mobility referred only to career advancement over time or your ability to relocate for new opportunities. Off hours were clearly times when you were not expected to be available to your coworkers. Non-business hour demands were handled by shifts or scheduled on-call times. Your spreadsheets, reports, phone calls, and memos were there at the office and would be there still when you returned. Simply, off time was time off.
We know that’s not the case today. For better or worse, work-life has merged with virtually every other part of our lives. We check in regularly if not continuously. We vacation with a requirement of connectivity. We keep the business ball moving forward at all times, and the exceptions are now the scheduled anomalies.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising that as work has diffused into life, our expectations of life are diffusing into work. We like our comforts and conveniences, and we need our sustaining activities. As we have expanded our ability to work wherever and whenever, we have expanded our time when we are at least partially engaged with work. Naturally, our needs and desires for things that sustain and fulfill our lives has not disappeared. I would argue that for some years after the advent of the mobility age, we tried to compress our fulfillment time down to an unsustainable level. We all have our examples. I recall when I quit playing softball, missed a grandmother’s funeral (one of my life’s biggest regrets), stopped continuing my education (temporarily, I’m thankful to say) – all because of the expanding expectations of my career.
While I and most of my peers have become better at managing the conflicting priorities, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the time box into which fulfillment activities have been squeezed is not getting any bigger. Enter the life-like workplace. From free snacks to noble causes, we are seeing a transition of the workplace to one of greater fulfillment. From small pleasures to community causes, the new elements of the workplace are the take for the time we as employees have learned to give.
Start-ups across the business landscape have discovered the power of cause, flexible requirements, and generous perks. And top talent are beating down their doors for the chance to join them.
For those of us leading more traditionally-minded workplaces, it may be tempting to see this as a bunch of frou-frou, cushy stuff demanded by a new generation – a bunch of tangential or even non-productive effort that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line – easy stuff to blame on untried, entitled youth. We, however, are the ones who can see the entire arc of this change. We set it in motion with the laptop and the mobile phone. The fact that the echoes are just reaching our ears now is not the fault of the millennials. They just happen to be there to see it happen. And as we have some experience to draw upon, surely, we see that it has become a competitive differentiator. Upgrade the workplace, or live with second-tier talent.
Kelly Marcilliat is Chief Revenue Officer at Snip2Code, Inc