Millennials Want More Flexibility in the Workplace

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Millennials have a negative reputation in the workplace. They are flagged, at their worst, as an entitled generation consistently on the lookout for the next best opportunity.

A growing body of research, however, reveals more nuanced insights into millennial priorities at work, showing a generation who is more interested in personalized coaching than generic performance metrics and in work-life balance than flashy benefits. New research studies specifically uncover an emerging need for increased flexibility in the workplace, which can equip employers to better attract, engage, and retain millennial talent.

Understanding the Needs of D.C. Millennials

American University’s Kogod School of Business recently released its second “Greater Washington Millennials Index,” which examines what millennials want and how Washington, D.C., performs in meeting those needs. The study reveals a desire for more flexibility in the workplace, particularly to address pain points of long commutes and high costs of living.

The Urban Dilemma

Using a holistic approach, the study asks respondents about their careers and lifestyles, covering five categories: Jobs, People, Amenities, Affordability, and Career Options. Each category is further broken down into five to eight factors, with 33 total factors, ranked by importance based on D.C. millennials’ responses.

The survey results show that among the five most important factors are cost of housing, crime rates, and ease of commuting. These priorities highlight the D.C. urban dilemma: millennials must compromise between living in a safer neighborhood, a more affordable neighborhood, and a neighborhood close to work.

76%
of Washington area commuters get to work in less than 30 minutes, compared to 62% of the nation as a whole.

31%
of millennials surveyed agree that their commute is killing them.

44%
of respondents wish they could afford to live closer to work.

Source: “Greater Washington Millennials Index,” Pages 18-19

Particularly high costs of living lead employees to live further from work, resulting in longer commute times. As the study recommends, telecommuting saves millennials significant time during the workday, can make living in safer and farther neighborhoods a viable option, and could even improve congestion during rush hour.

Importance of Job Factors Among D.C.-Area Millennials

Within the Job category, ease of commuting ranks as the third most important factor, which emphasizes that sustainability is key; when millennials secure a competitive job opportunity, they need a viable method to get to and from work to achieve work-life balance and maintain the job long term.

Relative Appeal of Employer Perks

Out of 19 employer benefits that Kogod included in the survey, millennials rated sabbaticals, telecommuting, and subsidized transit passes in their top five benefits. Coming second only to 401(k) savings and health insurance, benefits focused on flexibility—the option to take a break from work, to flexibly work from home, and to offset commute costs—are a clear priority for D.C. millennials.

Understanding the Needs of the Millennial Workforce Nationally

The “Greater Washington Millennial Index” reveals how important workplace autonomy and flexibility are for D.C. millennials, which is indicative of a larger national trend for millennials. As Gallup’s “How Millennials Want to Work and Live” report examines, the majority of millennials feel disengaged at work and present a turnover risk for organizations. Employers can implement effective, flexible telecommuting to optimize employee productivity, fulfill millennials' desire for autonomy, and potentially increase employee retention.

The Millennial Problem: Disengagement and Turnover in the Workplace

Understanding millennial priorities in the workplace is all the more important when examining engagement and retention data. Of all generations, millennials are the least engaged in the workplace, as well as the most open to pursuing a new job—a concerning combination for retention rates.

55
 percent
 
of the millennial workforce feels unattached to their existing role and company.

60
 percent
 
of millennials say they are open to a different job opportunity, which is 15 percent higher than non-millennial workers.

$30.5 billion
is the estimated annual cost to the U.S. economy of millennial turnover due to lack of engagement.

Source: Gallup’s “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” Pages 19-20

Importance of Flexibility for Millennials

Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace Report” for 2017 shows that employees care most about benefits at work that affect their autonomy, work-life balance, and financial security. Flexibility is so important to the workforce that 51 percent responded that they would switch jobs for one that provides flexible work time.

For millennials, the importance of flexibility is particularly dramatic, as they prioritize flexibility perks, whether it be paid time off, flexible hours, or flexible working location, more highly than Generation X’ers and baby boomers.

Does flexibility work?

As the percentage of employees working from home increases across most industries, gauging productivity levels and engagement levels for remote versus in-office employees is only rising in importance. Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace Report” shows that only 30 percent of fully remote and fully non-remote employees are engaged at work, tying for the least engaged employees overall.

The optimal ratio for remote work is actually in the middle: 41 percent of employees who work from home 60 percent to 80 percent of the time, or three to four days of the traditional workweek, are engaged. As Gallup notes, this ratio provides balance, with the majority of time spent working flexibly while still receiving in-person support and opportunities to build rapport with co-workers.

Importantly, providing employees with autonomy doesn’t always mean working off-site. Making adjustments to the way employees receive space and privacy in the office can also increase engagement.

Employees who have flexible work time or a personal workspace are
1.4x more likely to be engaged.

Employees who have privacy when they need it are
1.7x more likely to be engaged.

Source: Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace Report,” Page 169

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