Emulating the Star Trek mindset

Flexibility in the workplace is fast becoming a workplace ideal for all generations
By Dan Pontefract
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/23/2016

By Dan Pontefract

When salary and other financial benefits are removed from the equation, the concept of work-life balance is one of the most significant factors an employer can offer millennials to ensure their commitment to an organization, according to Deloitte.

“Millennials represent the new model for work,” says Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, “combining flexibility with meaning, money and performance.” 

Bersin believes this generation is not only ambitious and apt for flexible work, they are also very comfortable with technology and aspire to work for organizations that actually care, operating with a higher purpose.

But the keyword from Bersin is “represent.” We should look to millennials as the catalysts for organization-wide work style changes. 

They are representative of employees across all generations, holders of a new workplace operating mindset — one replete with openness, flexibility, engagement and collaborative technologies. 

As a generation, millennials — sometimes referred to as gen Y — are shaking up the way companies need to be functioning. At a minimum, the millennial mindset is forcing organizations to take a long, hard look at how they’re approaching the workplace itself. 

No longer is it acceptable for an employer to provide foosball tables, free lunch or other perquisites to keep employees satisfied. 

Everyone has been raised in a world where freedom of speech is a right, but so too the chance for “flexibility in the work” is fast becoming a workplace ideal for all generations.

Analogously, maybe we can view millennials as the first generation to openly behave as though they’re on an episode of Star Trek.Members of the TV show — albeit fictitious — were always on, always working, easily swaying between their job and their time for play with no real barrier between the two. If Scottie needed to chat with Captain Kirk while the latter was gallivanting with some exotic alien on another planet, he simply rung Kirk up on his Jetsons-like mobile phone and the conversation ensued. Scottie didn’t care if Kirk was working or playing. They conversed when it was necessary. 

This is akin to a millennial’s mindset — work can happen at night or on a weekend, but life can happen at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, too. 

With the continued expansion and improvement of collaborative technologies, this Star Trek mindset is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the baby boomer and gen-X generations, too.

The Internet, text messaging, social media and email have become fixtures in the daily lives of organizations. Technology has enabled an “always on” mindset, with an equally blurry line between when work starts and where it ends. 

“The millennial generation symbolizes much more than a new generation of worker; it also represents a new era of technology and way of working,” says Eric Termuende, a millennial and founder of the Dryver Group, a gen Y consulting firm.

There is that word “represent” again. Bersin echoed similar comments: “Millennials represent values we all aspire to, and they bring a fresh, unbiased perspective to what work should be like.”  

Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0, says the 44-hour workweek no longer exists. “Our personal and professional lives have been converged through technology. All of these trends together have made flexibility the most prevalent topic in the workplace.” 

He does not believe this is a millennial-only issue either. Work flexibility has become the most desired employee benefit across all generations, he says. But, sadly, only one-third of all companies in North America are offering it. 

But Bersin believes the demands and expectations of millennials are fast becoming the same expectations of everyone:

“There are still millions of boomers who want predictability, they want to be valued, and they want to give back to their organizations — often in a slightly reduced and flexible way. They don’t want to be considered the ‘old guys’ but, on the other hand, they know that their job is now to train, develop and support younger leaders.” 

A different type of warning comes from Termuende: “Providing a choice for employees is key to getting people to do their best work. Not all millennials like to work the same way. It’s the same for gen X and baby boomers. Having an employer provide choice and support across all generations will help with work-life balance.”

Providing options for flexible work and new ways in which the work can actually get done is critical for today’s organizations. It could be critical for any chance of future success. 

But beware of the headlines and look to the trend lines. This is not solely a millennial issue and therein lies the key takeaway. If your company is operating as though it’s still the 1980s — where everyone comes into a physical office and pounds away at company objectives between the hours of nine to five — it is likely going to miss out on creating a more engaged and innovative organization. 

Why would employees want to work at your organization if it doesn’t offer flexibility? Retention issues are likely to pop up. Morale may become an issue as well.

“Companies need to create a flexible work culture instead of giving preference to a single generation of employees,” says Schawbel. “Every individual, regardless of age, has a different work preference and if companies embrace these differences, they will have a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting and retention.”

More than one-third (37 per cent) of workers in 2015 indicated they have worked from home at some point in their career, up from nine per cent in 1995, according to Gallup. This is a step in the right direction, but more can be done. 

Flexible work has become the opportunity for organizations to reinvent themselves — across all generations — once and for all. 
Offering up such a scenario in your organization can aid many factors, not the least of which includes retention, hiring attractiveness and improved employee engagement.The question becomes “What is your organization doing about it?”

Dan Pontefract is author of The Purpose Effect and Flat Army, and  chief envisioner at TELUS. He can be reached at www.danpontefract.com or on Twitter @dpontefract.

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