Take it from the girl who snoozes her alarm every morning more times than the number of hours she sleeps at night — flexibility is a Gen Y dream; but is it the most important aspect of a job? Is it more important than the work you do, the company’s vision and the career path that’s offered? Surprised, I interviewed Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk, a global job marketplace, on his company’s recent findings on the matter. I wanted to know how big of an impact flexibility has on job satisfaction and whether companies need to accommodate to this cohort. He seems to think it’s time for change; do you?
What is it about traditional corporate jobs that’s leaving Gen Y unimpressed?
Swart: There is simply no good reason to be locked in a cubicle today. The world has been working as if we are still in the Industrial Age, but in the Information Age we can bring the work to the worker, rather than the worker to work. The bottom line is that work is no longer a place. Workers are recognizing, perhaps faster than companies themselves, that the rigidity of a 9-to-5 no longer makes sense. Advances in technology, particularly the Internet, and collaboration tools, like Skype and Dropbox, are breaking down antiquated work barriers and contributing to the rise of independent entrepreneurs.
Recently, we partnered with Millennial Branding to examine perspectives on the future of work from 3,193 freelancers worldwide, including 1,958 millennials — 19 - 30 years old. Our study, “Millennials and the Future of Work,” found that freedom is the top reason people are quitting traditional jobs. Workers are coming to expect and demand freedom as evidenced by the recent pushback against Yahoo’s work-from-home ban. Of those surveyed, 92 percent of millennials want to work wherever they like and 87 percent want to work whenever they like. Seven out of 10 professionals surveyed said that freelance work is more interesting. I think Gen Y is particularly interested in doing work they care about, find interesting and feel makes an impact.
What can leaders in organizations do about this? How can they provide more freedom to Gen Y without completely changing their corporate culture?
Swart: I think the No. 1 thing millennials want more than independence is a reason to care about their work. The results of our survey indicate that 72 percent of workers still at a “regular job” want to quit, and 62 percent say they will within the next two years — indicating that workers aren’t satisfied with their work.
In order to provide more freedom to Gen Y without completely changing company culture, employers should focus on what their people care about. People want to feel like their work is making an impact on the company, and also that the company is making a positive impact on the world. While being impactful in some way — no matter how big or small — employees want to feel challenged and constantly stimulated. It’s also critically important to give people time to pursue what’s important to them outside the office, and also make sure the office is a place where people feel comfortable and interact regularly. Though the aforementioned are very important, they don’t pay the bills. Remember that even if you have limited resources, compensation can come in many forms —including equity, vacation time, perks and flexibility.
What’s going to happen in the future? Do you see organizations changing?
Swart: Gen Y workers recognize that more so than any generation before them, they are in control of their own destiny. They’ll harness the disruption in work that is happening to pave new paths to more career opportunity. This is going to mean more independent workers and more entrepreneurialism. Currently, freelancers make up a third of the U.S. workforce or represent 42 million workers, as reported by the Freelancers Union. Looking ahead to 2020, more than 50 percent of the private workforce will be independent, according to MBO Partners, 2012 State of Independence report, a significant jump considering 20 percent of the private workforce was independent as of summer 2012.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas L. Friedman claimed, "Employers today don’t care about your résumé, degree or how you got your knowledge, but only what you can do and what you can continuously reinvent yourself to do.” Suggesting a shift toward a specialized freelance, on-demand model, I think work will become all about the work itself. In other words, the focus is shifting toward results rather than roles. Much of the disruption we’re seeing is being driven by the Internet and other tech innovation. These tools are removing the barriers of traditional work and present a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to find the best people for each role, regardless of where they are located, and for professionals to access more jobs. Going forward, we envision a rise in specialists and those pursuing the work they’re most passionate about.
A couple of businesses responding to the shifting needs of their workforce include Google and Salesforce. Google encourages employees to take 20 percent of their time at work to focus on something company-related that interests them personally, and Salesforce, as part of its employee benefits package, gives employees six days off a year — or four hours per month — to volunteer in the global community. Beyond these two examples, businesses large and small are realizing that the traditional work model is not only outdated, but unnecessary, and are responding in a variety of ways to offer freedom and flexibility.