How Leaders Can Take a Flexible Approach to Working with Millennials

Flexible working is fast becoming the new normal. In the UK alone, the Institute of Leadership and Management reported in 2015 that 94% of companies now have some type of work flexibility arrangement.

Technology has been a strong enabler for flexible working, and has increasingly blurred the lines between professional and private lives for all employees. Many believe that this shift has been especially important for Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000), because they are early in their professional lives.

Research about Millennials from the Center for Creative Leadership’s Jennifer Deal indicates that Millennials work long hours, don’t expect work to stop when they leave the office, and are quite motivated.

In their book What Millennials Want from Work, Deal and Alec Levenson (University of Southern California), found that many Millennials are perfectly willing to work hard when they feel their work is worthwhile, their time is being used effectively, and they like the people they are working with. And they do not believe that being in the office is important: Only 1 in 20 believes that how long people spend in the office reflects how productive they are.

So what are the implications for leadership?

Based on CCL’s experience, Millennials and flexible workers of all generations could be more effective if leaders start rethinking the automatic impulse for having face time, as well as traditional ideas about career progression. It could also benefit the organizational culture if leaders can role-model more flexible-friendly behaviors.

To begin thinking differently about face-time, leaders should know that meeting in person just because that’s the way it’s always been done will not go over well with Millennials. At the same time, it’s important to strike the right balance between meeting face-to-face to establish deeper relationships and mutual understanding, versus a strict focus on task-completion.

The key in creating a good system is to identify which work can be done away from the office and which work needs people to work side-by-side. This might take a bit of effort in the beginning but will go a long way once a good system has been established.

Allowing for flexible careers is another way to create manageable work-life balance for Millennials. To retain talented people in the organization, it will help leaders to forget about the all-or-nothing career fast-track approach that they might have seen from their predecessors and be mindful that, inevitably, people will go through different stages in their lives.

In order to discuss and recognize these important changes which go beyond work, leaders need to have an empathetic ear and create proactive dialogue about reasonably matching employee needs with company needs.

Lastly, top executives can deliberately start identifying and role-modeling behaviors that support work flexibility – and not working too much. Telling direct reports to take recovery time evenings and stop working weekends, for example, won’t work if leaders themselves keep sending emails at all hours of the day and night.

This article was originally featured in Amcham Belgium.

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