If you happen to be one of the many employers who feels exasperated by the apparent flightiness of millennials, you are probably wondering what could possibly be gained by having them in the boardroom.
It is certainly true that the words “leadership” and “millennial” are rarely used in the same sentence, but perhaps it’s time they were, at least to a degree. Let me explain my thinking.
Firstly, the millennial mindset is ‘wired’ for change. This is a generation that does not expect to settle in a single location or job for very long and as a consequence has no fear of moving on from a role or giving up work altogether should they become dissatisfied. By ‘wired’, I do not believe this to be a change in the Darwinian sense, but rather a necessary change brought on by social pressure. For me, the shift in attitude that has lead to a perception of ‘flightiness’ is rooted in property ownership, or the lack of it. Without property, or the realistic aspiration to own it, the strongest link to a town, to a region and to a community, disappears. Of course, there are other reasons why someone wants to be and work in a given area, but the security in property, the basis of the social ladder and the economic ladder, is no longer a factor for many.
This brings me to my second point; millennials want their work to have meaning and purpose, which is an irony in a time when much is made (on both sides of the argument) of the ‘gig economy’. Younger people are keen to be involved in ways that makes a difference, whether that means having an influence on their work environment or the wider community. Forget the annual appraisal; millennials seek ongoing feedback and a meaningful dialogue with their bosses.
Thirdly, there is a real sense of frustration amongst millennials that employers are not listening to them. They are tired of being shoe-horned into jobs that were created for a different era and they are waiting for employers to catch up with the times and offer greater flexibility. That doesn’t just mean flexible hours (very different to part-time working) and remote working, it also means creating roles that match their skills and motivations rather than trying to put them into a preformatted job that has just been vacated by someone else. Millennials seem to have no expectations of the status quo, but have every expectation of change. No longer is it a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, rather, it is more ‘if this does not work for me, if no one is going to invest in me properly, then move on’. In essence, I do not believe that younger people want to wait around for something that may not be there.
So back to my question. Imagine how beneficial it could be to have someone in the boardroom who has a deeper understanding of change (and what that means to younger people, the intended buyers of goods and services for many more years than the older generations) coupled with a desire to influence outcomes much earlier in their careers and make a meaningful contribution.
There has been much debate about how employers can engage with millennials and adapt the workplace in order to attract more young talent. I believe we are missing an opportunity to solve these issues, by failing to invite more of those in their mid to late 20s onto boards. Obviously, not everyone – those with passion and drive and imagination. By doing so we will hopefully, be fast-tracking these businesses into shape for the future.
The future workplace is a topic that interests me greatly and I was pleased to share an interview with data specialist Alan Golob last month as part of my Sideboard series of articles on current issues that are pertinent to boards. It is fair to say that there has been more than a hint of panic about data security recently and this is partly because so much is now done by computer, yet few people really understand how it all works. Perhaps by opening up the boardroom to millennials we can remove some of the fear associated with technology and approach data security from the perspective of the data subject, whose chief concern is simply that their data is not misused.
Before employers can invite millennials into the boardroom they need to attract them into the workplace and I am delighted that my next Sideboard interviewee will be Emma Thompson, Marketing Director at Golley Retail. Emma will share her thoughts on how to speak the language of millennials and market to this unique generation.