Dispelling workplace myths: Do millennials really want it all?

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Millennials are often labelled as being disruptors, but is this actually the case? Are they really challenging the way we work? Probably not as much as we’re all lead to believe, writes Leesman UK and Ireland’s Chris Moriarty.

The way some people talk about millennials these days you’d think they were mystical creatures sent to cause a stir and disrupt the status quo. We appear to have become near obsessed with keeping up with millennial desires and ensuring that the world of work is fit and ready for their seemingly revolutionary ways.

But by definition, to disrupt or revolutionise is to drastically alter or to disturb the way of doing things. In reality are millennials actually challenging the way we work? Probably not as much as you’d think.

The millennial age bracket is just as wide as it is vague. Generally speaking, you could be born anywhere between the 1980s and the noughties and still be categorised under the elusive millennial umbrella. That in itself causes problems. With so much change during that period how can we justify grouping such a diverse range of people and then go on to suggest that they are all rebelling against the workplaces they’re being provided?

In fact, our latest data, taken from over a quarter of a million respondents worldwide in variety of professions in various sectors, reveals quite the opposite. In fact, millennials (in this case, those aged under 34) are the ones who are reporting the highest satisfaction with their workplace environments.

Unfortunately, there appears to have been an obsession with workplaces not being fit for the millennials or any generation beyond that – particularly from those that stand to benefit from you redesigning your space. But the numbers don’t stack up, and in fact they point us towards the real challenge which is being able to support wide-ranging work which has nothing to do with age or generation.

As an individual progresses through their career, the number of different types of tasks that form part of their average working days starts to accumulate and become more complex and it is here that corporate workspaces are failing.

But still we see ‘new work’ as the priority and link it to future generations. One such area being flexible environments, non-allocated desks – activity based working (ABW). Earlier this year, we conducted a study with the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) in Sweden exploring the potential organisational benefits of mobile and flexible working, and ABW in particular.

A series of substantial failings and challenges were unearthed. Statistics amassed from a pool of 11,366 ABW workplace employees and compared against a control group show how activity-based environments deliver significant performance improvements… but only for employees who modify behaviours to their new surroundings.

Often, the case was that most employees failed to adopt activity-based behaviours, with 71 per cent of employees performing most or all of their activities at a single workstation. On top of this, the data reveals that millennials are, in fact, the least likely group to work in an activity-based way, and are instead the most likely to opt to sit at the same workstation.

While there could be a number of reasons around this that could include change management or culture, what we do know is that the more complex an employee’s daily work profile and the more activities they carry out, the more beneficial it is for them to work in a mobile way that utilises multiple settings.

So perhaps millennials, being the newest additions to most working teams, have a much simpler activity profile than an employee who has spent over a decade at the company.

Millennials only represent 25 to 30 per cent of the working population in most organisations, so designing purely for them risks destabilising the workplace for the rest of us. And as they are less likely to embrace, and stand to gain the least from, this agile working trend, isn’t it best to stop generalising and instead start looking at how we can make workplaces better for employees of all ages?


Chris Moriarty, managing director, Leesman UK and Ireland


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