How millennials are shaping what work means today
The traditional 9-5, 40-year-long job is dying, if not dead.
The working patterns of our parents have been eroded in favour of more fluid, fragmented and flexible jobs. Millennials, who will make up over a third of the workforce by 2020, have grown up in this drastically different landscape. In fact, research from Totaljobs claims a third of workers would move to a new employer if they offered them the ability to work flexibly from home. It’s a pivot away from the idea of rigidly clocking in and out of an office towards a looser framework for where, and when, a job happens.
This shift to working from home goes hand-in-hand with positions that eschew full-time roles for part-time, gig-based jobs. It’s a rise that has a lot to do with the wider political and economic environment facing UK workers. “I think this trend is likely to continue,” Connor Mitchell, a consultant with Tyto PR tells Alphr. “In the UK especially, Brexit has meant companies are increasingly outsourcing and downsizing. Growth in graduate pay has remained weak since the financial crisis.”
The flipside of this, Mitchell adds, is that young workers have a greater degree of freedom to try different roles: “For those leaving school or university, ‘portfolio careers’ mean new entrants to the workforce can sample a diverse range of industries and roles while they decide what to do with their lives.”
A portfolio career, for the uninitiated in 21st-century HR lingo, means having several part-time jobs as opposed to a single, full-time position. Building a ‘portfolio career’ is possible in a way it wouldn’t have been a couple of decades ago, largely thanks to the development of mobile digital technologies. The combination of social media and gig economy business models, coupled with the relative ease of building micro businesses, has arguably opened up the number of possibilities for those considering their working lives.
“It’s a bit like a new-age ‘American dream'”
“Tech is definitely one of the supporting pillars that enables these alternative career paths,” says Simon Orriss, associate at international law firm, Taylor Vinters. “Being tech-enabled very early on meant that my generation have grown up with the idea that we can do pretty much anything. It’s a bit like a new-age ‘American dream’.
“Perceptions of success have also had a huge impact. The idea of going to university and getting a white-collar job that pays £50k is no longer seen as the pinnacle of your career. But this cultural shift isn’t being exclusively driven by millennials. It’s across all demographics. Literally anyone with access to the right technology and platform can be successful.”
The human age
It’s a mistake to think all young people are starting their own businesses, working in the gig economy or developing portfolio careers, though. As Lorna Kellett, account manager at Galibier PR tells Alphr, in many cases a traditional job still has advantages:
“I think it entirely depends on the individual, but for me personally, it’s all about what’s right for me at the time. When working for a company that clearly cares about my career progression and values my work, I love the team and the work keeps me interested and excited, why would I jump ship? Some people do incredibly well out of moving jobs very regularly, but for me there are clear benefits to putting my efforts into my current role.”
There is still value in older job structures, then, but it’s important to note the millennial group is unlikely to have the safety of employment earlier generations enjoyed. Gilt-edged pensions are a thing of the past, and with high tuition fees, many younger workers are looking outside traditional job paths to combat the weight of debt on their shoulders.
“When I went to Bath University to study business as a teenager, I never for one moment thought I’d graduate, walk into a ‘job for life’ and stay there for 40 years like my grandparents or even parents had,” says James Street, co-founder of marketing agency Whalar.
“Not only has the world changed, but our expectations have along with it,” he adds. “I was hugely inspired by what I was seeing develop in the technological space but also in attitudes to innovation and creativity. What I learnt was that to achieve something great, you have to take risks and do something unexpected, and that almost always means a non-traditional career route.”
(Gig-economy companies such as Deliveroo have been at the heart of the Taylor review into modern working practices)
The new ways of working can be attractive, but the support infrastructures we have are not set-up for these levels of flexible working. Long-running issues of employment rights, highlighted by the continued legal battles circling companies such as Uber and Deliveroo, have yet to be resolved. Governments struggle also to understand how the current tax regime can handle workers with flexible portfolio careers. For many, The Taylor Review into modern working practices resulted in more questions about this new economy of work than it answered.
“What’s important to understand is that companies like Amazon, Uber and Deliveroo aren’t creating gig-economy jobs out of a sense of kindness, they’re doing it to reduce costs dramatically,” says Glenn Elliott, founder of employee engagement platform Reward Gateway. “That reduction happens by shifting them to the worker – so sick leave, holiday entitlement, training – they are all out of the window and companies even move the costs of predicting demand to the workers.”
It is vital to appreciate that these new ways of working are offering alternative working environments for those attracted to them, but they are not a utopia for all. Work may be shifting for some workers, but this isn’t a wholesale move. Instead, these new ways of working have to coexist with traditional working patterns and environments.
How millennials work, instead of where and for whom, is for some sections of the population redefining what it means to have a working career. Clearly the opportunities that new technologies have delivered have opened up many new avenues for self-starting a career, but they have also rippled into wider social and economic attitudes in ways that we’re only just starting to understand.
“We’re all giving ourselves so much more to do than we used to,” says Katie Thompson, founder of copywriting firm Katie Lingo. “Having both parents working is no longer a taboo, and we are dedicating our time to other pursuits outside of our work lives.
“I think social media has made us all more ambitious – we all see what everybody else is doing, albeit in a filtered fashion, and aspire to aim higher. We want to ‘have it all’ and a flexible working pattern can facilitate that, whether it’s leaving work early to do the school run or taking a period of absence to travel.”
This approach is also about the intangible aspects of working untethered to one place, as Igor Shoifot, a founding partner of TMT Blockchain Fund explains: “Psychological, behavioural and philosophical changes make younger people not only unafraid of the lack of formal college degrees, but rather feel that it’s so much ‘cooler’ to be independent, to join small risky startups and to work on cutting edge tech, such as AI and blockchain.”
Whether or not the appeal of independence and integration with new technology is a fair trade-off for job security and sizeable pensions remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: How millennials and future generations of workers approach their careers will continue to evolve and we are at at very beginning of changes that could take decades to take hold.
Employers, unions and governments are racing to catch-up with this vanguard of what could be a template for the future of work. Traditional working patterns may remain the norm for huge sections of the country, but millennials are the first to face this shifting landscape, and how they shape the idea of employment will have major repercussions for coming generations.