A Word from a Millennial About Culture

Millennials. We’re confident. Tech-savvy. Tolerant. We’re also in the workplace.

But you already knew that. You’ve seen the way the workplace is changing to accommodate this generation and our need to do meaningful work. Yes, I’m talking about culture. It has become all-consuming lately as business leaders all over are working to ensure theirs is both present and appealing. It’s now one of the key factors candidates consider when evaluating a potential employer.

So why do you need culture?

Millennials place a great deal of importance in feeling that we are making a difference in our chosen careers. Beyond our specific role, we want the whole company we’re working for to reflect our own values. We’re more likely to take a lower-paying job with a company that reflects our ideals than a higher-paying job with a company that doesn’t. And a company’s culture should reflect those values. Millennials are skeptical and jaded. We don’t trust an organization that publicly helps the community but provides a negative or nonexistent culture for their employees.

Furthermore, Millennials want to merge life and work. The term work/life balance often gets viciously abused as an excuse to overwork employees, but if you take it by its true definition, that’s what we’re looking for. We don’t want to show up to work at exactly 8:00, quietly see to our responsibilities and keep to ourselves, and then leave at 5:00 sharp. Instead, Millennials look for a workplace that will provide real relationships and flexibility.

What does your culture need to provide?

There isn’t a universal answer to culture. That’s the point—it should be unique. No two companies are the same.

The first element of providing an inviting culture is in relationships. Millennials need work friends. In order to achieve that work/life balance, it’s important to feel like we have a life even while at work. That means work should be enjoyable, even fun sometimes. Now, fun at work is an idea that scares a lot of business leaders, but if balanced well, it makes employees more productive. It doesn’t have to mean elaborate, day-long, planned company events, though those are nice on occasion. It can be as simple as allowing meaningful but casual conversation during the workday. Millennials want to know their coworkers and managers. The best business leaders I have worked for have been the ones who will actually stop and chat with employees about things unrelated to work. Don’t be afraid that this will lead to a cessation of all work. Trust your employees to know when they need to stop discussing Game of Thrones and get back to their desks.

In addition, when you do plan events, games, or activities, have them occur during work hours. Millennials want to feel like management values our investment in our jobs more than one hour of disengaged production.

The next vital piece of a company culture is in communication. Sure, Millennials want to make friends, but in terms of actual work, we love feedback. Do not make the mistake of thinking this means we can’t make decisions for ourselves or need constant hand-holding, because that isn’t the case. Think of all the technology with which Millennials grew up. Many of us have never lived in a world where you couldn’t text someone for input and get an immediate answer. We are used to a constant flow of communication and feedback and we genuinely value it. Similarly, we want to give our own feedback and feel like it’s valued. It makes us feel involved, and is a sure sign of a company with a culture we want to experience.

Another essential part of culture is in flexibility. This is a major part of Millennials’ search for jobs that allows us to blend work and life. We don’t want strict hours if they aren’t completely necessary to the nature of the job. For most desk jobs, we think we should be able to take a little time out of our day to read an article, answer a text, or check out that new superhero movie trailer. On the other side of that, we don’t mind doing some work (or even most of our work) from home. For example, as someone in a creative role, I can’t always expect my ideas and inspirations to come to me between 8:00 and 5:00. You will often find me drafting up a design at 10:00 p.m. from home, but perhaps meandering into the office at 8:30 the next morning. Millennials know that different people work better at different times and we think it’s crazy not to accommodate that at least a little, since we also know that it leads to better productivity. This is not your generation of slackers. The fact that we crave meaningful work is indicative of that.

Telecommuting also fosters flexibility in work and a merge of work and life. According to Littler Employment & Labor Law, 67% of employers now allow some form of telecommuting, and 38% of employers allow their employees to regularly telecommute.

You can’t force culture.

One of the most egregious mistakes business leaders make when it comes to culture is in trying to force its development. This is a lesson everyone needs to learn—forced culture is worse than no culture. Millennials are skeptical and jaded, remember? We can tell when a company’s culture is synthetic. We also know that it points to overbearing management and usually means that it is not a good place to work. Culture has to grow organically. It’s about behavior and how employees live and work. That means that it should reflect the employees, not just management. If a business leader wants to implement a fun or team-building activity—great. Get input from everyone or, for larger companies, a sample of everyone (i.e. a committee whose sole job is to plan things like crazy hat day and office-wide foosball tournaments). But do not resist when, once you involve your employees, they take your ideas and develop them further or even rework them. That’s a valuable thing and, if you hired the right people to emanate your company brand, it will ensure your company’s culture is true to it.