How Millennials Are Changing Workplace Culture

Duy Nguyen

Have you noticed a bit of a cultural shift with more millennials in the workplace?

At last count, millennials accounted for about 36% of the workforce, and as of 2015 they comprise the largest generation in the workforce. Now, this is not going to be another article about “ what millennials want”—a quick Google search on “millennials in the workplace” will provide you with plenty of insight on that topic.

What I will discuss is how millennials are changing the perception of what office life should be like, how they are changing the structure of the employer/employee relationship, and how companies might want to change the way they engage with millennials through technology.

Why does this matter? By 2020, nearly half of the workforce will consist of millennials, and for technology consumers, this is a big deal.

Technically, I am considered a millennial myself, and having been born at the very beginning of the loosely defined date range for millennials, I feel that sometimes my working style shifts between Gen X and millennial. Working in environments where millennials were the minority and Gen Xs the majority probably helped enforce some of these habits. But now that millennials are starting to make up the majority, there has been a cultural shift in behaviour in today’s workplace.

Here are some of my observations:

When I started my career, “casual Fridays” meant employees rocking casual clothing and enjoying a long lunch at the pub—team building over a beer.

I’m not suggesting that this no longer happens, but an increasing trend is to spend Friday lunches participating in friendly, competitive corporate sporting activities, with companies competing against each other in basketball, soccer, touch football, etc. The teams are generally diverse, consisting of people from both genders and across different generations, but it seems to be millennials leading this cultural shift.

This trend extends beyond Fridays. Where the conventional workday has long been 8:30 to 5, with employees often ducking out for an unhealthy grab-and-go lunch, we now see more of the work/life balance that millennials seek. More workers arrive and leave work at flexible, varying times. More people cycle to work and take breaks to visit the gym or go for a run, competing with each other in Fitbit rankings.

These days, employees seek a certain level of connectedness. We are in an age that is driven by apps and activity feeds that track our actions and show us what other people are doing. More organisations are looking at how they can tap into the concept of wellness, which is driven by technologies such as the Fitbit. The recent Pokemon Go craze could also add a new dimension to corporate competitiveness: Will we see teams from different companies gathering around Poke Gyms to battle it out in an augmented reality world?

What else can employers do to account for this cultural shift, and how will these changes affect the way companies engage with their employees?

The companies and HR leaders who are able to understand and act on this social shift will be best able to innovate and develop programs that speak to the millennial mindset and increase employee engagement.

For example, fitness tracking apps could lead to walking meetings replacing conventional conference room sessions. This could in turn change the employee/employer relationship and provide a deeper level of connectedness with between managers and employees: Both parties benefit by adding to their step count, and the act of walking and being outside allows a more meaningful way for creative thought to enter the conversations.

Originally developed to reduce insurance costs, such wellness initiatives are becoming more common as organisations acknowledge the convergence of employee performance and engagement. Companies that understand how a fit, active state of mind impacts engagement and work performance are increasingly building environments that facilitate and support wellness.

As an employee of SAP, I can see this shift first-hand. The FitSAP program, for example, allows employees to compare their activity against each other. Yoga rooms and corporate yoga classes, bootcamp programs, and healthy snacks are also available to staff. I have been an advocate of walking 1:1 meetings with my managers, and I will go for a walk even during phone meetings.

Have you noticed this cultural shift in your workplace? With all of the technology available today, how will your company change the way it engages with employees?

For more strategies that boost workplace engagement, see 5 Overlooked Ways To Purposefully Create Workplace Optimism.

Duy Nguyen

About Duy Nguyen

Duy Nguyen is focused on providing trends and insights on Millennial behaviour and the digital innovation of HR. He is an HCM Consultant at SAP SuccessFactors based in Sydney, Australia. As a member of the Solution Architecture and Advisory team, he works with the broader sales & services team, and customers, to provide insights on HR best practices and help organizations simplify human resources processes, support talent development, and maximize employee engagement to transform strategies into measurable business outcomes.