Millennials Won’t Change Work; Work Will Change Millennials – Really?
Do you really think so? I mean, *really*? Interesting reflection that one from my good friend, the always insightful, Andy McAfee, over at Harvard Business Review, under the same title as this blog post, where he comes to conclude that "today’s workplaces will change Generation Y more than the reverse". Rather interesting conclusion to which I would have to wholeheartedly disagree with, I am afraid. Work(place) doesn’t change people, nor their habits; it’s people themselves the ones who change, consistently, and for decades! other people. But not work.
Let’s get some more background in here for a minute… Let us not talk about generations nor the generational divide (Specially, since most folks out there don’t believe in it anyway), but instead let’s talk about different styles of working, i.e. different styles of knowledge workers interacting with one another based on how they have grown digitally over the course of decades. That’s been the new reality of the workplace over the last few years. Wonderful articles like Rawn Shah‘s "Why You Must Network With Your Younger Employees" will certainly provide some very good and interesting insights on what lies ahead for most of us, as the youngest of those generations is starting to enter the workplace already (Yes, that Generation Y heh). Go and have a look, read further on from that article, then come back.
Ok, after reading that piece, here is what Andy has got to say about work today:
"[…] we still have org charts that mean something, jobs with narrowly defined responsibilities, promotions, bosses and subordinates, and most of the other longstanding trappings of organizational life.
We also still have office politics and intrigue, careerism, coalitions and rivalries, informal structures and processes, and all the other elements of a dense and hierarchical social system"
Rather fascinating, don’t you think? Well, I am not sure what you folks would think about it, but, to me, that’s *not* work! That’s actually everything that’s behind, built on top, under, next to work, but it’s got nothing to do with it altogether. So I can’t imagine how work is going to change millennials. To be honest, I don’t think it would happen. Quite the opposite. I do believe that millennials, better said, a millenial working style will surely transform and shape how we conduct business at work today, as Rawn already hinted on that article I referenced above briefly.
To me, work happens around you; the workplace is no longer a physical location where you would go to do your working hours, report to your boss and project team and then back home. To me, work happens around you AND those knowledge workers, across the organisation, you connect and collaborate with in various social networks and communities. Not just traditional organisational structures, like in the past; business work has become a whole lot more complex than that lately, don’t you think?
The Future of the Workplace is a fascinating and hugely intriguing topic, since we all have a go at trying to guess and define what our workplace would be like in 10 to 20 years from now. Over at IBM we are having a go at it as well and have now put together some really good stuff I’m hoping to be sharing with you folks pretty soon, and share my two cents about it, so you can see what it might look like. Interestingly enough none of the characteristics that Andy mentions on that article permeate through that Future of the Workplace initiative, which kind of makes you wonder already…
Quite the opposite!, which means that work won’t change that millennial work style per se. If anything it would be people themselves still wanting to live, and survive!, in that kind of working environment (Yes, I am talking about those hoarders of knowledge for whom "Knowledge Is (still) Power") the ones who would want to keep things as what they have been like for decades. Yet, somehow, I do feel that’s a small minority nowadays, as more and more knowledge workers realise fully how "Knowledge Shared Is (eventually) Power". And as such those social networks and communities will be the ones putting up a fight, a really good one, I hope, against that traditional way of working, because, after all, who would want to spend the next 10, 20 or 20 years working in such environment? I wouldn’t and I still have got those many years of work ahead of me!
My Hippie 2.0 instinct tells me that very few knowledge workers will be looking forward to such kind of knowledge Web work ahead of us. On the contrary, don’t you think those folks would be the ones that would want to provoke such fundamental cultural changes within the workplace and still be able to tell it? I bet they would! In fact, that’s what I’m seeing every day myself at work. Yes, even at such a large corporation as IBM, always seen as archaic, obsolete, strict, rather rigid, hierarchical and stagnant. I know you now may be thinking I am a lucky guy for having the job I have, but then again, if I judge by the hundreds of folks I get to interact with on a regular basis, something tells me I’m no longer the only one. By far!
And why do I know that? Well, mainly because of how profoundly disruptive that millennial working style has been all along, so far, with the wider adoption of social software within the enterprise. I mean, most of you folks are already rather familiar with some of the many values that social networking brings in to the workplace, so do you think that office politics and intrigue, careerism, coalitions and rivalries, that hoarding of knowledge, amongst several other poisonous attitudes, will stand a chance? Right, that’s what I thought so, too! I don’t think so, either!
But, if it happens, I am afraid we would only have to blame ourselves for it. Not work! Because it would be us, knowledge workers, the ones who had been reluctant to change things for the better in the first place, wanting to work AND live the way we have been all along (Again, Andy’s description of today’s workplace is pretty much the same one that has gotten us all go through one of the worst and most severe financial crises ever…), instead of looking forward, working really hard, to a workplace where openness, transparency, fairness, trust, healthy and nurturing personal business relationships will dominate.
We have got a lot to win, but we also have a whole lot more to lose! Let us all, please, just not spoil it, and break it!, once again. We may not have a second chance to recover and … do things right that time around…
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