The Rise of the Millennial Workforce and the Challenges Ahead

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Like it or loathe it, ‘Millennials’ continues to be something of a buzzword, across all sectors of employment.  Exploring the breakdown of the current workforce, Catalyst, a non-profit workplace research group, forecasts that by 2025 Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

In the UAE, 2016 figures from Dubai Statistics Centre show that 50.9% of the emirate’s male workforce and 51.7% of the female workforce is between the ages of 20 and 34.

What challenges (if any) do millennials face as they climb the professional ladder? Is the rise of a significantly younger workforce creating a clash of ideas and working styles in the workplace?

Millennials Defined

The Millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, is the first to come of age with cable TV, the Internet and cell phones, so technology is essentially baked into every Millennial’s DNA. Millennials are so named because they were born near, or came of age during, the dawn of the 21st century – the new millennium. As the first to be born into a digital world, members of this group are considered “digital natives.”

Millennials have more of a positive view of how technology is affecting their lives than any other generation. People today already believe the younger generation is far more up to speed about the latest technologies. Hence, young people are at the heart of the digital age. They think with and through new technologies.

Millennials in the Workforce

However, Millennials have a drastically different outlook on what they expect from their employment experience. Millennials are creating a change in how work gets done, as they work more in teams and use more technology. In contrast to the traditional approach to management, millennials want to have a say and contribute their ideas. They resist doing monotonous boring work. They want to have a life outside of work, and expect enough flexibility to allow them to fulfill both their personal and professional commitments.

Millennials are sometimes referred to as “Echo Boomers” due to a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s, and because Millennials are often the children of the Baby boomers. The 20th-century trend toward smaller families in developed countries continued, however, so the relative impact of the “baby boom echo” was generally less pronounced than the post–World War II baby boom.

Millennials – The Growing Base and Challenges

Millennials will constitute 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025 and, in the MENA region, 40 per cent of the total population is under the age of 25 – right in the middle of the Millennials’ bracket. In Dubai alone, 50.9 and 51.7 per cent of the emirate’s total male and female workforce in 2016 respectively was between 20-34 years old, according to Dubai Statistics Centre.

With regard to  the challenges millennials are facing as they climb the professional ladder, Hazel Jackson, CEO of Biz Group commented that  millennials are moving into positions of authority and we’re seeing increasing clashes in leadership styles.

When an emboldened younger generation that prefers a communicative and teamwork-centric approach to management goes head-to-head with a more individualistic, bottom-line and confrontational style of management preferred by older leaders, there’s an inevitable clash of ideas. The fusion of traditional management techniques and a new style of millennial management is the optimum desired outcome for businesses and their teams.

“There is definitely a battle to win respect,” believes Jonathan Calvert, a 35-year-old British expat who assumed a General Manager role for Dubai-based Flow Solutions in his early 30s. “You obviously have to earn respect, it is not a given or immediate. It takes time to earn that respect in terms of how an older generation respond to you and believe in your abilities.”

The dynamic, however, works both ways, adds Calvert. “Generally speaking, I’ve found that older people working in Dubai – perhaps one or two generations older than myself – tend to be in it for themselves. Perhaps it’s an age thing, a certain point in their careers, but they sometimes don’t buy into the vision of a company as eagerly as younger employees. Due to experience, the older generation are more set in their ways and they’re not really looking at where they will be in 10 years. It’s more a case of what the business owes them now. It’s a job, a salary – they’re not necessarily buying into that long-term vision. If two candidates are equal and only separated by age, I would probably employ the younger, often single, candidate over a married veteran with dependents because I know I have years of ambition to tap into. ”

“Delivered through a combination of face-to-face workshops, virtual learning circles, brain science-based reinforcement, work-based assignments, coaching, digital learning, on-demand content and gamification, our learning journeys are carefully constructed so that the experience is relevant for the individual learner – no matter the age – and the overall business,” adds Jackson, CEO of Biz Group.

“The age of people working in the UAE is definitely dropping, even though traditional industries – such as oil and gas – still have a generally older workforce. New industries emerging in the UAE tend to be run and staffed by a younger, digitally-savvy demographic – and everyone is looking to monetise the new digital era. There is a culture shift happening and businesses need to be prepared now or risk falling behind.”

Millennials want work that both enables them to contribute to society in positive ways and that rewards them appropriately.

Here are some tips that organizations can keep in mind while working with Millennials:

  • Provide good management and minimize organizational politics (as much as possible).
  • Reduce overload and work-life imbalance — they are real issues that will drive Millennials away.
  • Make sure Millennials understand how your business is having a positive impact and how their work directly contributes.
  • Pay them what they are worth. Millennials know what standard compensation is — so don’t try to hide pay information from them.

Modern workplace faces challenges from both aspiring millennials and existing managers, confronting the digital transformation. A fusion of traditional management techniques and a new style of millennial management is what companies must adopt to achieve the optimum long-term objectives for their business and employees.

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