Millennials are in vogue. They have seized the attention of the media and companies. Numerous studies and publications are trying to figure out who they are, how they consume and how they work, what they expect from life and what they need to achieve it.
Stewart Friedman, PhD from the University of Michigan, founder of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project and regarded as one of the world’s top 50 business thinkers, has also set his sights on Millennials.
According to Friedman, it is crucial to understand the family aspirations of this generation, as this will determine the future of the generations to come. Will Millennials be capable of raising the next generation in the midst of their career and social aspirations?
In his article for the book Reinventing the Company in the Digital Age, Friedman proposes a change of scenario: Millennials have a different understanding of the relationship between work and family. The men and women of this generation are giving up having children in similar proportions. The context in which the momentous decisions about professional career and family are taken has changed for this generation. Against this backdrop, the author proposes:
“We have to build a society where opportunities truly abound for men and women. And for those who want to become parents, we have to create a society that helps them make their wish a reality. Companies and social institutions must promote an increasingly versatile and productive workforce, capable of competing in a global economy while raising the next generation”
The New Company: A Tailor-made Organization
Companies have many ways of helping Millennials, as well as other generations, and while they are at it, themselves. There are smart companies that admit having obtained many benefits in this way: increased productivity, commitment and ability to retain talent. If companies want to achieve a competitive advantage in the talent market, it is in their interests to show an honest commitment to the working conditions that best adapt to each individual, of Millennials and any other generation.
Members of Generation Y want a job they feel happy with, but they also want —and need— greater flexibility, without which they cannot imagine leading a fulfilling life outside work: they demand greater control over the distribution of their time. What can companies do for Millennials? Friedman suggests some ideas for redefining the employment scenario for the millennial generation:
- Give them control over their time. Set clear and quantifiable goals and expectations, yes. But also total flexibility in terms of where, when and how to work to achieve them.
- Prove that children can benefit from having working parents. The professional career can enrich family life, and family life can enrich the professional career; there is a way to interweave both spheres to create a rich and solid tapestry.
- Learn to manage limits and to change the “live to work” culture. Reducing working hours would help retain the millennials in the same company and would enable them to lead more fulfilling lives outside work.
- Fight the stigma of flexibility: unhurried professional careers. It is essential to normalize alternative professional career patterns, specifically to slow down when children are young without incurring penalties, and to hasten the pace once they have grown up. Employers must demonstrate that it is licit, and even advisable, to slow down for those young men and women who want to have children.
Will the millennial generation overcome the obsolete concept of work/life balance? The work/life balance aspirations are no longer limited to the areas of work and family only. Harmony is the new balance: time for oneself, for social relations, for work and for family. Feeling good in each of these spheres has positive repercussions on the others.
According to the author, when given the opportunity, people are willing to take on the challenge of experimenting with new ways of weaving the threads of their lives. This should not be taken as a gift or a favor by the company, quite the opposite. It is a tool the organization can use to reinforce their performance.
So instead of thinking about employment flexibility as a program people seek to take advantage of, what is needed is a completely different attitude, where individuals take control of their lives and think: “This does not have to be a game where everyone loses”. The main obstacle to this way of thinking is the “work/life balance” concept.
To learn more about Stewart Friedman and his view concerning the work and family revolution, download his full article here.