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Take It From a Futurist: How the Millennial Mindset Is Shaping the Future of Work

Cornerstone Editors

Editor's Note: We would never dream of trying to predict the future—that's why we left it up to the futurists. In this series, we interview experts in HR, recruiting and the future of work to get their take on what's next.

Often times when we talk about the future of work we talk about millennials but they don't have to look forward to the future of work anymore—they're living it.

How? For one, they've surpassed Generation Xers to become the largest generation in the US labor force. And, like generations before them, they have their own set of expectations for their employers and work life that are fundamentally changing the workplace. But, unlike their predecessors, millennials have no problem moving on to a new job if they're dissatisfied: Millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion per year, according to a Gallup estimate.

That leaves human resources departments to either adapt faster than ever to attract and retain millennials, or risk having a revolving door of young employees.

In a continued conversation with futurist Rick Von Feldt, we talk about the big changes millennials are driving in the workplace and the workforce now that they are running the show, and how HR pros need to adjust their attitudes and processes to keep up with this rapid workplace evolution.

Here's How Millennials are Disrupting the Workplace

Millennials want change, and they want it now. Von Feldt notes a fundamental difference between the mindset of Generation X and millennials: the older generation wants to make improvements, but millennials want change.

"There's a big difference between the word improve and the word change," Von Feldt says. "Generation X became the process improvers. They spent their time thinking, how do we make incremental improvements little by little?"

But millennials come along and say, incrementalism doesn't make much sense. If there's something they don't like, why try to make it better? Instead, Von Feldt says, they want to just change it completely—for example, if vacation requests take forever to approve because they're still handled via email, a millennial would recommend adopting a dedicated technology to streamline the process. There's no point in trying to fix a broken approach As a result, disruption in the workplace is happening at a record pace.

Millennials are one of the key drivers of job automation. According to Von Feldt, just because technology is more advanced and more available doesn't mean it's the single cause of the so-called robot revolution. There are many factors driving companies to adopt technology to assist with or take over certain tasks—including cultural influences, like the fact that millennials don't want to do work that can be automated, Von Feldt says.

In the manufacturing industry, for example, when millennials see older workers picking up tools and making things, their attitude is, "I grew up with technology my entire life, and I would much rather show you how to use a machine to automate that and do it faster and better," Von Feldt says. "They want to direct change."

Companies—and even entire industries—won't attract millennials if they don't give them the opportunity to use technology to change how they work.

Millennials expect personalization all the time. As Von Feldt puts it, the youngest generations live in a world where they're told "they can have what they want, when they want it, just as they want it." And in an age where everything from cleaning services, to grocery delivery to transportation is available on-demand, they've gotten used to it.

In the past, HR departments have made decisions for the company as a whole, and every employee got the same experience. But now, younger workers will look for personalized experiences, and HR departments will have to find the technology and tools to meet their expectations. Identifying the right tools will require some research, but it can also be helpful to go straight to the source—ask millennials what kind of technology they think might be missing from their workplace, and consider their recommendations, Von Feldt urges.

How Do HR Pros Keep Up with Millennials?

Just as millennials are pushing for change in the workplace, HR pros need to adopt that same way of thinking. They can't just make improvements here and there—they need to make impactful changes.

It's important for HR leaders to understand that they don't have to be millennials themselves to drive change. Any generation can be part of next-generation thinking, Von Feldt believes.

For example, he says, what if HR departments changed how they think about education in an effort to meet millennials expectations for personalization and better prepare for the gig economy? What if, instead of seeking out those elusive perfect candidates with skill sets that ideally match a specific job description today, they focused on hiring creative, nimble thinkers and enabling them to learn on the job? Von Feldt envisions a world in which companies curate personalized learning content for workers' and even develops their own "universities of the future" to give employees the skills they'll need to thrive as their jobs evolve.

It's imperative that HR departments adopt this mindset quickly, because millennials will disrupt the workforce regardless of how prepared HR might be."The real question is, what kind of leader are you?," he asks. "Are you a next-generation leader that understands the speed of disruption, or are you going to get pushed into it?"

Photo: Creative Commons

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