The 21st century workforce is changing. According to an article in The Washington Post, “Career coach: The care and nurturing of ‘millennials’” by Joyce E.A. Russell, about 25 percent of the millennials or Generation Y occupy the current workforce, and they are expected to fill up almost half of the entire workforce by 2014. As the Baby Boomers retire, this trend will accelerate in businesses and other organizations across the United States. (Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business)

As Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the President and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, stated in her blog post, A Conversation on Workplace Flexibility, “We need a 21st century workplace to meet the changing needs of the 21st century workforce.” Given these changes in demographics, a 21st century workplace will increasingly consist of a diverse group of individuals, and this reality presents issues, challenges and opportunities as businesses respond and adapt to an evolving workforce.

One opportunity involves flexible work options.

Who are the Millennials?

The study done by Marcie Pitt- Catsouphes and Christina Matz- Costa, “Engaging the 21st Century Multi-Generational Workforce” lists the names of different generations as follows:

Born after 1980- The Millennials, Gen Y’ers

Born 1972-1980- Younger Gen X’ers

Born 1965-1971- Older Gen X’ers

Born 1955-1964- Younger Boomers

Born before 1965- Older Boomers/Traditionalists

Perceptions of Millennials

The perceptions of the millennials from employers and more experienced workers are two-fold. An article from The Wall Street Journal calls them the “Trophy Kids” with a sense of entitlement. According to a survey by CareerBuilder.com, more than 85 percent of hiring managers and human resource executives share this view of the younger workers.

Here’s from The Wall Street Journal article:

Although members of other generations were considered somewhat spoiled in their youth, millennials feel an unusually strong sense of entitlement. Older adults criticize the high-maintenance rookies for demanding too much too soon. “They want to be CEO tomorrow,” is a common refrain from corporate recruiters.

On the other hand, a study done by Mr. Youth, an integrated marketing agency based in New York, and Intrepid, a market research consultancy, portrays a different view about the millennials:  The entering workforce is “armed with ambition and creativity and are destined to change the way business run.”

Although it is difficult to ignore the seemingly supercilious nature of the millennials, the best way to approach the issue of a generation gap in the workplace is by engagement. “It’s not necessarily arrogance; it’s simply their mindset,” says Natalie Griffith, manager of human-resource programs at Eaton Corp. in The Wall Street Journal article.

And it is a mindset that views the workplace — and careers — differently. Russell in her Washington Post column lists common requests of the millennials in the workplace: mentorship, prompt career advancement and feedback, open conversation regardless of career ranks, flexible schedules and customizable benefits.

Among the requests: flexible schedules.

Changing Dynamics

Corporate Voices for Working Families believes that work-life balance is critically important to enable workers to meet the dual demands of work and family — while contributing to our nation’s economic prosperity and competitiveness.

As Valerie Jarrett wrote in her blog post, we need to modernize the workforce to meet the needs of 21st century families.

In that regard, workplace flexibility is important — not just to millennials but to other workers as well.

That is why, with the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Corporate Voices has launched a national workplace flexibility campaign. The objective of the campaign is to engage the business community in creating a broader awareness of the positive business and employee benefits of workplace flexibility.

The face of our future workforce is dramatically changing—in the coming years, we will see that it is increasingly female, and increasingly young. Women and the Millennial Generation will shape the business world—and a critical way the business community can harness their talent is through workplace flexibility.

By Keiko Iioka

Keiko is working with Corporate Voices as an intern following her graduation from American University with a degree in international studies.

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