Why millennials are the rule breakers at workplaces
Millennials are more prone to violating three organisational policies — keeping salaries confidential, dress-code and work effort
It needs more organised effort from managers to educate the impact of their work and driving the sense of ownership among millennials
Difference in preferences, working styles and professional aspirations are reasons why millennials violate workplace rules
The Wall Street Journal published an article this week, highlighting that a majority of the millennial population (segment of the workforce born in the 1980s and 1990s) discuss and compare salary figures. The article says, “Accustomed to documenting their lives on social media forums, they are bringing self-disclosure into the office with them.” While almost every organisation has a policy that prohibits employees from openly discussing salaries within or outside the enterprise, such a widespread violation compels an organisation to question existing workforce management norms and think about how to manage and accommodate the styles and preferences of future generations.
Many HR policies that are worded in spirit rather than coded in law are prone to violation. For example, a policy on professional conduct is almost always worded in spirit, as opposed to a hard-coded policy such as office timings. In addition to the difficulties of accosting the violator, a manager or an organisation may also find it difficult to penalise an employee based on a policy where boundaries of acceptability are blurred. Workforce studies indicate that owing to the difference in preferences, working styles and professional aspirations compared to other generations, millennials are more prone to violating three organisational policies — keeping salaries confidential, dress-code and work effort.
A manager and an organisation may overlook such violations to avoid difficult conversations that can be contested and argued upon. On many occasions, an organisation or a manager may not speak up over a violation as it may have the potential to expose flaws and weaknesses in organisational standards, policies and processes. However, he may face resentment from other employees if the violation is overlooked. On a larger scale, overlooking such violations may even result in the rise in attrition, dip in productivity and loss of engagement in teams.
Confidential salary figures
The Wall Street Journal article says that, “Young people are much more willing to talk about pay than workers 10 years back.” “Many organisations,” the article argues,“keep salaries confidential with the hope to keep flawed or discriminatory compensation systems under wraps.”
A People Matters columnist wrote in an article titled, “Why should salaries be confidential?” that organisations often try to “hide” salary differentials between employees of the same group. The article argues that if there is a sound logic for salary differentials, an organisation needs to be firm and demonstrate conviction in standing up for it. Asking employees to keep salaries confidential exposes the organisation to the risk of being interpreted as biased and unfair. The article argues that the best way to avoid such violations is to abolish the salary confidentiality policy. By doing that, an organisation will not only come across as transparent and fair, but will be able to avoid hard conversations on fairness of salary structures. While this may mean tweaking (or perhaps an overhaul) of the salary structure and a slow and gradual change management process, it will help build trust and confidence among the future generations of the organisational workforce.
A few months back, I wrote an article stating that many policies fall through the cracks because a manager or the organisation does not invest time and effort in educating the employee about them. MTV released a global study titled, No Collar Workers, in October 2012 stating that an overwhelming majority (79 per cent) of millennials, who will amount to more than half of the workforce by 2020, prefer to wear jeans to work compared to a pinstripe suit. In a scenario where more than half of the organisational workforce will be displaced by a new demographic, organisation that retain conventional dress code policies will either see gross violations regularly or may lose out on the race of becoming preferred employers.
With increasing complexity of work owing to the gradual shift towards a knowledge economy, it is difficult to put hard numbers to how much work effort is expected of an employee. Most performance measurement systems and processes thus capture outputs rather than effort. The Huffington Post recently carried an article stating that thanks to their mental hardwiring and tendency to stay socially connected, millennials are four times more likely to waste time at work compared to Baby Boomers.
One of the key reasons behind millennials spending more time doing non-work activity stems from their increased dependence on technology and social media. While some organisations try to work around the problem by restricting the use of technology and social media during work hours, experts suggest that it needs more organised effort from managers and the organisation to educate the impact of their work and driving the sense of ownership among millennials.
History suggests that every workforce generation brings with it new capabilities as well as challenges for organisations. While the challenges are complicated, there is no denying that millennials will comprise a majority of the workforce in the coming years and organisations have to start adapting to the needs and preferences of the changed demographic to stay relevant and competitive.