"Millennial" and "baby boom" often appear in the same sentence but usually to describe two generational cohorts that find themselves at odds over workplace norms and expectations. But what about the other kind of baby boom—the millennial one?
Until now, companies eager to attract, engage, and retain millennial talent have focused their investments on programs and practices that cater to the early needs of millennials: enhancing technology, providing on-demand feedback and recognition, and putting student loan repayment plans in place. Unlike some of the more trivial “millennial solutions” (think beanbags and foosball), these initiatives are important and impactful in winning millennial hearts and minds, but they fall short in addressing the evolving needs of the generation as it matures.
This is largely due to the fact that millennials are known for “delayed adulthood”—participating in major life events (e.g. getting married, buying a home, and having children) later in life than prior generations have. But the oldest millennial is now 37 years old and more than a million millennials are becoming parents each year, accounting for more than 80 percent of U.S. births.
So what do maturing millennials need more than anything? Flexibility.
Our research indicates that caregivers need flexibility and millennials want it. In fact, 58 percent of millennial women would leave their jobs in order to find flexibility. So when millennials become parents, there’s a super-charged demand for a more flexible work environment. Today, more millennial moms want to continue working after giving birth, and research shows access to flexible career opportunities mitigates the mid-career dropout rate for women. At the same time, a greater number of millennial fathers intend to take on an equal load of the caregiving responsibilities, and 48 percent of working fathers say a flexible work schedule is extremely valuable to them.
Millennial caregiving requirements can also extend well beyond parenting—research indicates that, due to evolving family structures, millennials are also caregiving for parents, grandparents, siblings, among others. According to the National Alliance of Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute, millennials make up nearly a quarter of the 44 million caregivers in the United States.
Flexibility at work has never been more important, and employees are starting to speak up. A recent study by PwC found that a flexible work environment is now one of the top three factors that makes an organization an attractive employer—#1 and #3 for women and men, respectively. (You can identify any flexibility gap in your organization with FlexMatch™, one of Werk's tools for employers.)
At Werk, we often have to explain that the traditional 9–5 structure of work is a relic of the post-industrial era, a time when there was typically only one primary caregiver in a family. The reality is that the current structure of work is not compatible with today’s modern lifestyle and caregiving requirements.
To be fair, great strides have been made over the last few years in terms of enhancing maternity and paternity policies to address this generational shift, but those policies only address the first few months of parenthood. What about the months and years to come? Parenthood continues long after parental leave is up, and most career challenges only show up one year after having a child. The primary issue is around the balance of career and care—and little has been done to update the structure of work accordingly.
To be clear, we are not talking about gig work, which is often misconstrued as the ultimate form of flexibility. Gig work is its own breed of flexibility, but for millennial parents with lingering student loan debt and new, high fixed costs like childcare, it is not always a viable or desirable option from a financial perspective. For millennials early in their careers, gigging can also have some unintended negative consequences—like limiting the ability to build social capital and networking for future opportunities.
Flexibility is far more nuanced than a full-time 9–5 job or gig work. At Werk, we define flexibility as “a set of agreed upon terms between an employee and their employer that is used to modify and enhance traditional work structures in order to create compatibility between the needs of the employee and the objectives of the employer.” It does not mean a reduction in scope, responsibility, or expected results.
Workplace flexibility can take many different forms: a reordering of working hours (we call it TimeShift™), the ability to work out of the office set days (we call it DeskPlus™), or a mere acknowledgement from the employer that it’s acceptable for employees to make on-demand adjustments to their schedule based on the evolving needs of their life outside of work (we call it MicroAgility™).
While these practices may exist in organizational pockets, we’ve found that very few organizations clearly codify and communicate their flexibility policies, and if they do, employees are often stigmatized for taking advantage of them. Companies have a long way to go in terms of offering more flexible work and delivering on that promise in a bias-free way. And the companies who get it right the soonest will gain a significant competitive advantage in the war for millennial talent.