We’re all familiar with the stereotype of millennials in the workplace: They’re lazy and entitled, are chronic job-hoppers and are incapable of taking constructive criticism. This stereotype has been hammered into our collective consciousness by nearly every major media outlet (we’ve all seen TIME’s now-infamous “The Me Me Me Generation” cover) and embraced by employers too narrow-minded to recognize and play to millennials’ strengths.
Millennials are often criticized for their idealism, and not always without just cause. That said, idealism is a key part of what makes millennials innovative because it enables them to think outside the box and look for creative solutions to the challenges they face. When introduced to a structured environment, this idealism can become a powerful asset rather than a flaw. To foster millennials’ innovative spirit, business leaders should build their work environment around open communication, creativity, and idea sharing.
Millennials’ near-constant engagement with their smartphones and social media platforms isn’t necessarily a sign that they’re narcissistic but rather that they’re tech-savvy, well-informed and accessible.
A pragmatic employer might see millennials’ intuitive understanding of technology as an opportunity to move the needle of innovation forward within their company, and for good reason. Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of new technology than previous generations, according to an in-depth study conducted by Barkley in partnership with Boston Consulting Group. This means millennials are uniquely qualified to introduce new technology and to champion digital transformation efforts within their organizations.
As members of a generation known for its inclusivity and connectivity, millennials thrive on collaboration. Many business are highly siloed, which prevents the flow of resources between departments and teams and has historically been an impediment to innovation. Millennials, however, are breaking down those silos with interactive exercises such as group brainstorming sessions and open discussions.
Technology is also playing an important role in this social revolution. According to a poll from Microsoft, 93 percent of millennials say that working for a company with updated technology, services and solutions was important to them; 48 percent say it is “extremely important.” As far as collaboration is concerned, businesses have responded to this demand by implementing social collaboration tools such as Slack, Trello and Microsoft Teams to encourage open communication and teamwork and to establish stronger bonds between employees.
Contrary to popular belief, millennials are perpetual workaholics. They spend as many as 6.4 hours a day checking their email and 1 in 5 millennials reported that they work over 60 hours in a typical week. This strong work ethic is a product of millennials’ eagerness to please, desire to excel and passion for what they do, with passion being the key motivator.
Millennials are absolutely willing to go above and beyond what is expected of them, provided they’re able to find meaning or purpose in what they do — so it’s important that employers give them opportunities to put their strengths and weaknesses to the test and find that purpose.
There’s a reason why millennials prize workplace flexibility, and it isn’t because it enables them to create their own schedule or to work from home (though those certainly are welcome perks). For many millennials, workplace flexibility is more conducive to productivity than being tethered to a desk from 9-to-5 every day because it enables them to find their rhythm. For example, some people are naturally more productive in the early morning, while others are more productive in the late afternoon. Flex scheduling enables employees to determine their prime productivity hours and arrange their schedule around them.
Another example of the flexibility millennials crave is the ability to telecommute, which, for many businesses, requires an architectural overhaul of their existing systems. Although it comes at a major upfront cost, the long-term benefits of this investment are well worth it: Telecommuting has been proven to improve productivity, reduce overhead, boost employee retention and access a wider pool of talent.
These are just a few of the ways millennials are using their unique skillset to drive innovation in business, and how business leaders are responding accordingly. Now that millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, it will be exciting to see how they change the business landscape, as well as how they lay the foundation for the next generation.