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Generation Y

The Importance of Providing Millennials Flexibility in the Workplace

Engaging and retaining Millennial members and workers means shedding Industrial Era thinking and offering flexibility. Here are three ideas that Millennials (and Gen Zers) would love.

Flexibility has been shown to increase productivity and the quality of work. If employers want to keep Millennials it is crucial to figure out ways to bring more flexibility into the workplace. Flexibility is the preferred work environment that Millennials choose for themselves. It is important for employers to not become frustrated with “changing up the workplace” to accommodate younger generations. Industrial Era environments respond with statements like, “This is how it’s always been done.” Future-focused companies in the post-Industrial Era seek employee feedback and adapt as necessary.

Working from Home

This is largely due to how they were raised. Remember, Millennials grew up in homes with helicopter parents. They are the most protected, supervised generation in history. And my generation, Generation Z, has also been raised in close relationship to our coaches and parents.  We’ve been asked to share our opinions since childhood and we’ve influenced household purchasing decisions. So the last thing we want is a job where we’re treated as though we can’t be trusted or need constant supervision. Millennials and Zs naturally crave more flexibility with projects and workplaces that allow us to learn how to make decisions for ourselves.

Dress Codes

To younger generations, expressing your individuality is important. As a result, dressing ourselves has become more like an art. Dress codes in the workforce indicated what was acceptable for previous generations to wear to work. However, Millennials and Zs are looking for a place where we can be ourselves. We want to be free to express ourselves in other ways besides black dress pants and a blouse. Allowing us to choose an outfit that best represents our sense of style is yet another level of flexibility. Of course, this does not mean going as far as allowing anyone to dress inappropriately. We just want a less restrictive dress code.

Individuality and Confidence

I would argue that people like to interact with real people, not a unified company of robots who all look the same. Maybe that’s a Millennial/Generation Z perspective, but Millennials alone represent the largest consumer base and represent the majority of the workforce. We’re influencing change, and we believe that employees who are allowed to act as individuals helps bring in customers. Customers--especially customers in our age groups-- are drawn to confident and authentic people. And people are generally more confident when they are wearing a clothing style that properly represents who they are as a person. There is really nothing better for your company than having employees who are happy at work and exuding confidence while doing their work! 

In the Post-Industrial economy, workplaces that offer flexibility in such areas as working from home, dress codes, and expression of individuality are more attractive to Millennial and Generation Z employees. Millennials, now the largest generational demographic, will and are changing work cultures. This change is not just because of their sheer size, but because according to a 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, Millennials are not merely observers, but are world changers.

Read more blogs about engaging and retaining Millennials. XYZ University offers a number of workshops to help associations and workplaces recruit, manage and understand Millennials better.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Anna Pownell

Anna Pownell is a Gen Zer and guest blogger for XYZ University. She is currently a student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa majoring in Economic Policies and minoring in Industrial Organizational Psychology. Her future goals are to be a successful entrepreneur and work in human resources.

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