Millennials: the workforce of the future

May 30, 2018

The coming decades millennials will play a crucial role in the corporate world, that much is clear. Yet for many employers it still isn’t clear how they should get started with this ambitious workforce. However, the real question might be: is it really about millennials or did they just happen to grow up in a hyperconnected society in complete transformation with a lot more attention for purpose and equality? Don’t we all just want a better work-life balance, feedback and appreciation for what we do, social impact and a personal development plan?


Millennials lead us the way to the organization and workplace of the future. Where technology isn’t just the “new normal” and the enabler, but where it is really about the human connection, contributing to a meaningful project, continuous learning and making the difference. In the future, HR will rather stand for Human Relations than Resources.

In response to a study of 335 Belgian millennials who are active in the communication sector conducted by acc and Trendwolves, we were invited as one of the experts to take part in a debate last week. It shows that millennials are satisfied with their job: they give themselves an average score of 7.14 out of 10 for general job satisfaction. Besides that, they are also ambitious and confident. 77% has the ambition to grow. Eight out of ten rely on the fact that they are talented enough to get there, but believe that their talents aren’t being deployed sufficiently. And six out of ten want to grow under the umbrella of their current employer. So how is it that these millennials are being labeled as “job-hoppers” (although the figures partly contradict this) and that it seems so hard to keep them?


More and more companies are going through the transition from a vertical structure to a horizontal one to meet the evolving labor market and its expectations. Although the millennial indicates they prefer a horizontal structure and a human-centric corporate culture, they don’t always see the growth opportunities, which could lead to difficulties in some cases. The study shows that a lack of perspective is one of the most important reasons to quit their job.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. The organizations of the future have less hierarchy and layers, but it is a misconception that you can’t grow in such a context or that everyone will have the same responsibilities. In every company or project there are different roles and each role has a different impact on the outcome of the project. To have impact from their own talents and skills is precisely what millennials want, whatever the contribution might be. Thus it is important to visualize these roles and the added value of each individual transparently.


As Wout Van Impe, group director at Mercury Urval, summarizes:

“The concept of self-managing teams is one of the biggest myths the HR sector has ever known. Self-managing teams don’t exist, teams with strong people managers do. People managers who grant a lot of autonomy, who facilitate them in their successes, who challenge them, who take into account their motivators, who let them shine instead of taking credit themselves, who delegate, not to solve their own problems, but as an instrument to challenge them and let them develop themselves.”

Another reality that almost everyone agrees on, is the fact that the line manager is partly becoming the HR manager. However, the study shows that this is seen as a challenge by the manager and even causes stress. Often you become a manager because you’re good at your job, because you’ve been loyal to your company or you’ve achieved great things, but no one has taught you how to manage a team, let alone in the current, fast changing context.


Professor Reggy Charles Degen, head of leadership at Solvay Business School, inventor of the people model canvas and founder of Q7 Leader, has devoted a large part of his life to simplifying HR and to developing an all-in-one best HR practices tool. He wants every manager, regardless of the size of the company, to become a good people manager and to be able to objectively identify, develop and maintain team members.

Thanks to his university research and his more than 20 years of worldwide (in more than 50 countries) experience in HR roles at amongst others British Telecom, Xerox and Mobistar, Reggy Charles Degen discovered that the HR basics are the same throughout the world and that there is a serious need for a universal HR language as well as an intuitive system that guarantees objectivity and equity. He also strongly believes in a collaborative revolution where managers work together on people matters and HR has real-time augmented analytics and insights to take the right decisions.

Amongst other things, he simplified the organization to 7 Role profiles, that all can perfectly be related to any of the jobs of today, but will also work for the unknown job functions of the future. You can then build your organization or workforce, regardless of the strategic choices and developments that cross your path. Within these Role profiles, you have clear descriptions of what is expected of a team member in that role and makes it possible to match with his or her talents and competences. But also the extent to which he needs direction and coaching is important. Giving feedback and composing a personal development plan becomes easy and valuable. Visualizing the different steps brings peace of mind and structure for the ambitious and somewhat impatient generation.

Roleprofiles also increase the diversity and by that we don’t only mean the gender- or cultural equity, but the broader view on how to build teams and on how to transform your organization. If you hire people from your sector or with certain diplomas that can only be framed within existing functions, you limit the out-of-the-box thinking enormously, as well as attracting new skills and talents that are necessary for the future. Diversity in addition will get a new dimension, because the terms “white collar” and “blue collar” will become outdated in the organizations of tomorrow and we’ll treat everyone within an organization in a similar manner, we’ll educate them and develop a diverse range of skills, based on their talents and motivation. It will be an enormous challenge for our rather conservative education system that gradually will have to start thinking like a start-up, if not, Google might take over the Ministery of Education with custom-made learning material depending on the specific needs of each individual.


Besides clear roles that suit you as a person, your true talents, your motivation and skills are the main levers for the future in the job market. According to studies, skills would have a relevant lifetime of 5 years and in the ever-changing IT sector even just 2 years. Permanent learning is thus a very important focus for the future and above all a task for each organization. And not just because it sounds good, but really making time for it in a structural manner in the planning and career of each employee.

Two out of three of the questioned millennials had the feeling that their own talents aren’t being deployed sufficiently. Research, that we conducted together with AMS (UA), shows that the employee in Belgium has difficulties summing up three of their own talents, while with the UQ Talent Scan we can identify at least 15 of them. Above that, millennials are constantly searching for their real self. It is important that the employer guides them in their quest. They also find it essential to develop their soft skills in order to deliver a good performance. Make sure that you chart the real talents of your employees, since they are the essential element for developing future competences and learning pathways according to what you’re good at and what you love to do. The competences that are being supported by real talents and the motivation that is intrinsic to the person himself, will lead to better results and stimulate the feeling of satisfaction and general well-being.


Concluding, we’ll summarize a few tips to prepare yourself for a workforce consisting of ambitious millennials, but above all remember that it is a wake-up call on how to treat everyone in your organization as well as for the company itself that doesn’t have another choice if it wants to stay relevant.

The basic needs are universal. It’s mainly the context of the economy and the world that is ever changing, not the person himself. People that have been performing the same role over the past 20 years also need to evolve, learn and adopt a flexible attitude. Coaching them and preparing them is an equally big challenge as educating newcomers. A similar approach for both sides bridges the gap between the generations and it avoids stigmatizing a certain generation. Putting these tips into practice won’t just lead to happy millennials that will be committed to work to achieve the goals of the company, but will also lead to less burn-outs and foster the general well-being within the organization.  

  1. 91% of the millennials enjoys to have ownership of their projects or tasks. Therefore it is better to work with small autonomous teams that are being managed by a good people manager who coaches them and leaves enough space for initiative.
  2. Build your organization based on Role Profiles (not functions) in which each individual can find himself. These roles are the basis for what can be expected and how you can develop gradually. That way you prepare yourself for the jobs of the future that are still largely unknown nowadays.
  3. Think of diversity during the hiring process. If you think in roles and talents, you can hire people from different sectors, backgrounds and education you would never think of Today. Possibly, they’re really good at thinking out-of-the-box and thus giving your company an extra boost.
  4. Millennials long for constant communication and feedback. It is best to schedule informal feedback moments on a regular basis. Make sure there is a clear system and intuitive tools for mapping objectives and expectations.
  5. Millennials want to use their talents to their full potential. Make sure their duties are divers and challenging. And map their talents in order for them to develop skills based on their talents.
  6. More than half of the millennials don’t always know what they want in life. Therefore it is best to provide talent assessments as well as career coaching and offer training courses in order for them to discover their strengths. Give them a say in what courses they would like to do. Continuous learning is key.
  7. Don’t just work on developing expertise, but also have an eye for the development of their social skills. The millennial wants to enrich himself as a person, self-development is their way of differentiating themselves.
  8. Work on a personal development plan in which long-term goals and the road towards it are being deployed. The clearer the steps and phases are, the less impatient the millennial will be.
  9. Walk the talk: the millennial has chosen your company because he believes in what you stand for. Thus, make sure the reality is in line with the expectations you create and take on projects with a social impact.
  10. Besides spending time at work, the millennial wants to have spare time for his own passions. In case the employee has to do overtime in the context of achieving a deadline, make sure this is acknowledged, appreciated and discussed. Compensate with flexibility on other moments and respect the balance between work and personal life.
  11. The lack of a vertical career path does not pose a problem in itself, but make sure that employees can have an impact and grow in their role or towards another role.
  12. The millennial longs for a clear purpose and wants to understand why things are the way they are. Ensure a clear company mission, roadmap and goals.
  13. From the same need for justice, it is important to expand a clear and explainable wage policy. A millennial doesn’t automatically want the highest wage, but he wants it to be fair in a bigger context.


How do you encourage your boss to encounter your needs?

  1. Ask for regular moments of evaluation and feedback. That way you’ll enrich yourself, both on a personal level as on a professional one. If you can share what you expect and know what is expected from you, you can focus on what really matters.
  2. Use modern methods to chart your talents. You have more talents than you think and together with your skills they’ll form your compass for the future. Make sure you grow the competences to your talents and that you indicate what you’d like to learn.
  3. Evaluate yourself: what are you good at? Did you achieve certain things? Claim that expertise and expand your role within a project or organization.
  4. From time to time, be critical of yourself and make sure to grow step by step. Take your responsibility and estimate what this means in the entire process.
  5. Do you want to grow? Don’t only focus on the vertical growth possibilities, also think about the different roles within the company or a project. Look for the impact you can have within the company and the responsibility you can claim yourself.

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