Jon Andrews: The difference between millennials and other generations is technology

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It is true that the workplace is set to undergo a dramatic transformation over the next decade. By 2020, millennials (people born between 1980 and 1995) will represent more than half of the working population and will bring with them their own values, experiences and expectations as a consequence of growing up through unstable economic times, rapid advances in technology and living in an ‘always on world’ with instant access to information. At the same time, the increased globalisation of business and greater diversity of the workforce means big changes are afoot.

One of the most striking differences between millennials and other generations is technology. Young people have grown up with technology and expect to use this daily in their jobs. This use of technology marks them apart from the rest of the workforce and has created an interesting dynamic, where for the first time older people are turning to younger people to learn from them in the business world.

But it is not just technology that marks this generation apart. Millennials expect rapid career progression, a varied and interesting career and constant feedback. Our research on the millennial generation reveals that this generation would place higher priority on workplace flexibility, work/life balance and the opportunity for overseas assignments over financial rewards, when compared with other generations. These workers are more likely to stay in a job if they feel supported and appreciated, are part of a cohesive team and have greater flexibility over where and how they work. In contrast, other employees place greater importance on pay and development opportunities.

But it is not just the younger generation who is reshaping the workplace. For example, in the UK where there is no default retirement age and a phasing out of final salary pension schemes, people are often choosing to work for longer. This means in a short time it won’t be unusual to see a 17 year old and a 70 year old on the same team.

Managing performance in this new world is a challenge. The huge amount of variance in how people view work, what motivates them, their ambitions, how they expect to be assessed and rewarded means HR can no longer take a broad brush approach to their workforce. Many HR functions have translated the need for fairness into treating everyone in the same way. While fairness will always be important, understanding inter-generational and individual differences and what motivates people is perhaps more important.

It is hard to say what a typical career path will look like in 2018, as there will be no such thing as typical. The sooner HR adapts to thinking of employees as a collection of individuals, from different generations and cultures, each with their own needs and motivations and career paths, the more likely they are to have a happy and motivated workforce.

Just as consumers are demanding more choice in what they buy and how they buy it, businesses will get the best from their workers if they offer the same flexibility and choice to the workplace. This is where the employee value proposition can really come into play. The more companies can  personalise value propositions for each employee in terms of what matters to that individual, the easier it will be retain and motivate their employees.

Jon Andrews is a partner at PwC and head of its HR Consulting practice in the UK

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