Apart from death and taxes, perhaps the next most certain thing in life is that each new generation is considered by its parents to be more slothful, more wasteful and more selfish than its predecessors. With Generation Y, or millennials, the young people born roughly between 1985 and 1995 and now embarking on their careers, this is more pronounced than ever before, with Time magazine last year running a front page entitled “The Me Me Me Generation: millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” While this is obviously journalistic hyperbole, there is a marked difference in approach between millennials, who grew up with mobile phones and the internet, and the generations that came before, and while this can pose challenges for employers there are also real opportunities for those that can successfully harness the millennial spirit.

One key issue for the younger generation is flexibility. As a tech-focussed generation, they often view offices and commuting as a waste of time when so much can be done remotely and from home. Indeed it is often this desire for flexibility that has led to millennials being viewed as lazy. They are also well aware of their rights, and employers of millennials can expect to face more frequent requests for flexible working and study leave. Many employers are understandably resistant to allowing too many employees to work from home for all or part of the week, and attendance at the office is of course about more than just presenteeism, but if given the latitude to work in a way that suits them, millennials can be highly driven and productive. Surveys have demonstrated that 90% of them check their emails before even getting out of bed.

Our experience of clients dealing with flexible working requests is that, whatever the outcome, it is not a box ticking exercise but is about having a conversation with employees and convincing them of the reasons for your decision. When the questioning mindset of millennials is added to this, it becomes even more important that the decision reached is a reasonable one and that it is clearly explained to the employee making the request. This approach helps to avoid messy arguments and resultant Tribunal proceedings. Having a clear policy, and sticking to it, is helpful, but millennials are as likely to be critical of blind adherence to policy as to inconsistency, so there is a balance to be struck between a fixed procedure and flexibility as to the substance of requests. Above all, ask yourself “Do I really need to refuse this request?” If the answer is anything but “Yes” then you should at least consider a trial period. Your employee may surprise you with the additional drive and productivity they bring when working to a schedule that better suits their lifestyle.

Flexibility is a key concern of millennials at least in part because they tend to rate overall job satisfaction above pay as both a motivator and a reason to remain with an employer, and they are more than happy to leave if they are unhappy in their work. Research has shown that while the average Generation X employee will stay in a role for five years, the average millennial leaves after two. While in employment law terms this can limit their rights, it can be frustrating to employers who want continuity and to retain good people. Millennials generally move jobs because they desire progression, so what, apart from promoting them or paying them more, can employers do to get them to stay?

While pay may not be a key motivating factor, other benefits certainly are, and graduated levels of holiday based on service, cycle to work schemes, gym discounts and other such side benefits can help to maintain employee satisfaction and drive them to stay. If there are professional qualifications that are relevant to their work, consider offering to pay for or subsidise this, with appropriate clawback provisions they should leave during or soon after completing them.

Ultimately though, the key thing that you can do to retain a millennial workforce is to convince them to believe in what they, and by extension you, are doing. 61% of millennials feel personally responsible to make a difference in the world, and a staggering 92% believe that business success is measured by more than just profit. If they feel that their role makes a meaningful difference, they are much more likely to stay with you for the long haul.

Anna Worthington is away this week.

Posted on 24/04/2015 in Legal Updates

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