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How Millennials Are Disrupting The Workforce -- For The Better

February 2016


Much has been written about the challenge of working with Millennials. Sure, the sense of entitlement and the “thank-you-for-playing-awards” (but, oh by the way, you lost) that they grew up with aren’t exactly the ideal recipes for winning in business. However, what is less known is just how millennials are positively disrupting the workplace. Moreover, they’re doing so with significant implications for organizational leadership. If you want to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced, changing world, take a lesson or two from the Millennial people:

Millennials embrace change. Having entered the workforce at the gradual downturn of the U.S. economy just prior its 2008 economic collapse, Millennials learned to expect change; they learned to anticipate working in chaos but more so, they learned to problem-solve for solutions.

  • Leadership implications: While embracing change is a personal strength it also creates challenges for recruitment. A study by Retail Wire indicates that while Millennials surpassed the number of Gen Xers in the workplace in 2015, they also surpassed others in leaving the company (see figure one below). In other words, they’re serial job hoppers. This poses huge financial concerns for recruitment, productivity, and knowledge transfer, not to mention it paints a less-than-ideal perception of the company that alos leads to decreased morale (is the thought of people leaving motivating? Didn’t think so). Here are more numbers for you from the study:

Millennials want the best of both worlds. My first reaction to this was, “Well don’t we all!” But the push-back or top-down approach doesn’t work here. In fact, leaders who don’t adapt to today’s needs or who don’t set the environment in which talent can be optimized simply support the expenditures and losses cited in the previous bullet point.

  • Leadership Implications: Millennials want a workplace where they have the freedom to make choices and have an impact. For leaders, this means creating an environment that offers 1) greater freedom to This is completely antithesis to way which they (organizational leaders) grew up. Millennials seek a span of control and flexibility that other generations don’t question. Gen X and Yers, for instance, are more accepting of traditional career paths. They “do it” without question, and this is partly due to the hierarchy in which they grew up. When Gen X and Yers entered the workforce their companies were likely structured in the typical top-down fashion. Not so with Millennials. When Millennials entered, their companies were exploring greater means of autonomy and what that meant for productivity and engagement. The truth is, hierarchy is outdated. Today, more and more companies see the benefit of decentralizing authorities because they realize that knowledge is not power. While knowledge is powerful, sharing information is the true source of power because it enables others to act.

Millennials seek connection. A 2011 survey of 1,000 individuals revealed that more than 90 percent of those surveyed cited connection and community as their greatest need (source). While execution is the name of the game in business, relationships are what turn ordinary ways of doing things (i.e. execution) into extra-ordinary. Just think of the last mediocre team you were a part of compared to the last best team you were on. What was the difference between the two? Successful teams succeed because there’s trust in each other’s competencies, intentions (character) and they share a common definition of what success looks like. When you stir all these elements together you get information exchange, because you’re not worried about what other team members will do with what you told them. Why? Because there’s trust. You can only move at the speed of trust and trust is comes from interacting with people. Relationships are still—and always will be—at the heart of executing. Execution is the byproduct.

  • Leadership Implications: Creating a connection culture is at the heart of what leaders do. It’s no secret that individuals and organizations are most effective when their values, needs, and interests are aligned (source). Everything after that is secondary. If you hire for character, train for competence and coach for performance, “fit” will not be an issue.

Millennials get a bad wrap, that’s for sure, but if we don’t question why they have a bad wrap then we just continue living the status quo; we don’t adapt. There’s always something to be learned from change.


This article was written by Jeff Boss from Forbes. This reprint is supplied by BNY Mellon under license from NewsCred, Inc.  

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