Semper Gumby: Always be Flexible – How to Attract and Keep Millennial Workers
June 8, 2015
Pets at work, flexible schedules and more: how to attract and keep Millennial employees.

Pets at work, flexible schedules and more: how to attract and keep Millennial employees.

20 years ago, upwardly mobile 20-somethings and upwardly-mobile 30-somethings looked at shows like L.A. Law as the emblematic of the young urban professional lifestyle. Yes, they had personal lives, but most of their dramas played out in the office. Young urban professionals had Hollywood role models like Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) in Working Girl and Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. They weren’t necessarily positive characters (Gekko was a villain), but the workplace was seriously presented as a place of potential reward, and the big power desk and corner office were regarded and portrayed as emblematic of success, and something to strive for.

All that, of course, was before the SmartPhone and ubiquitous WiFi… two hugely disruptive but liberating technologies that allowed information workers of all sorts to be productive from literally anywhere within reach of a cell tower (or for the extreme technological nomads among us, a satellite phone.)

Let me share with you some imagery and photography from websites and magazines that are marketed directly at today’s millennials – using photos from pieces dealing with work and career issues.

From Millenial, “Is Work-Life Integration Becoming the New Norm?”


From Millennial Magazine


From the millennial career site Levo:Why Fathers are Failing at Work-Life Integration.”


And here’s the popular Huffington Post, illustrating their feature, “12 Office Optional Industries.”

Woman looking at ipad while having breakfast.

Caucasian man using laptop on sofa

The stock image sites are full of similar images, featuring 20-something and 30-something workers in relaxing, spacious and well-lit settings, sipping coffee and working on their Macs. (It’s always Macs.)

And, in truth, it’s never been easier for people with even a very modest set of technology skills to do this. Websites like and have enabled a small army of freelancers to work at home, on the road, at the beach, at the tiki bar, or from wherever they like, doing work like design, writing, project management, programming, Web development, public relations, data entry, virtual assistant services, consulting, accounting, bookkeeping, CAD, architecture, light manufacturing and assembly, – even telemedicine.

The reality that recruiters, HR professionals and employers must face is that they aren’t just competing with other companies for talent: They are increasingly competing with a freelance entrepreneur lifestyle and ethic that is becoming a reality for many workers. According to a Deloitte survey from 2014, roughly 70 percent of millennial workers planned to work for themselves, independently, at some point in their careers, rather than being employed as part of a traditional organization.

In short: You’re selling a job. The freelance sites are selling a dream. HR professionals and employers have got to up their game.

Other Findings

A recent study from Bentley University found, for its part, found that millennial employees value flexible work schedules: 77 percent believe that flexible schedules “make the office more productive for people their age.”

Another study from PriceWaterhouse Coopers had similar findings: 64 percent of millennials want to work from home at least occasionally, and 66 percent of them want to shift their work hours. The PwC authors specifically mentioned the full integration of technology to give workers more flexibility an “absolute must.”

Other findings from the Bentley study:

They value being able to set their own terms of work-life integration, and are willing to take some risks to achieve that aim: 66 percent of them want to start their own businesses. 37 percent reported they wanted to work ‘on their own. Only 13 percent want to be a company CEO or president (of other than their own company, that is!), though 25 percent wanted to ‘own their own company. ‘

78 percent of them ranked the “ability to work from home” as an important factor if they were forced to choose between two otherwise equal jobs.

Further, the study found that 89 percent of the constantly-plugged-in millennials check their work email after office hours – a challenge for FLSA-conscious HR people to manage!

The bottom line is this: Many millennial professionals no longer recognize much of a separation between their professional and personal lives. It’s all “life.” And today’s younger employees are chomping at the bit for the freedom to integrate the two.

Today’s employers have the tools to make that happen: At least for their creative, information, development and sales professionals:

  • Millennials routinely get their work emails on their smart-phones.
  • They have high-speed Internet access at home or in cafes – often with faster connections than they can have at the office.
  • While they value face-to-face communication (they aren’t ‘text only,’ by a long shot), they don’t have much patience with interminable meetings. Why?

Another finding from Ernst & Young: After competitive pay and benefits, the most important thing employees wanted, with 74 percent of respondents agreeing, was to be able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion [emphasis added].

Meanwhile, Earnst & Young also found that a sizeable fraction of workers, 1 in millenials reported they had suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible schedule.” The Earnst and Young authors wrote, Across the board, millennials highly value increased flexibility and paid parental leave and say they would be more likely to recommend that company to others, be more engaged, less likely to quit, more likely to join the company and work longer hours if they were offered.

What Employers Can Do

Most small and medium-sized employers can’t compete with the lavish pay packages that they’re offering in Silicon Valley (usually with other peoples’ money).

So to attract the best young talent, those of us out in real America have to get creative:

  • Integrate teleconferencing, collaborative document sharing, and telecommuting technology to the hilt. Work on making it part of your culture.
  • Look at your career paths. Do your flexible workers and remote workers get a fair shake? Ensure that senior management insists that remote workers get considered for plum assignments and promotions. Without senior management back-up, it either won’t happen, or it will happen only sporadically.
  • Encourage a work-from-home day. Make everybody do it once in a while. You’ll remove the stigma – and you’ll find out who can and can’t work without direct supervision. Try to encourage 1-2 days per week of telecommuting from all employees, where possible.
  • On-site or subsidized child care and workplace lactation programs are big winners for young parents – and big stress reducers.
  • Consider job-sharing, where appropriate.
  • Get creative with benefits. Think beyond the 401k and health care plan and consider education-related benefits, student loan repayment plans (a biggie with milliennials!), non-qualified deferred compensation plans, long term care insurance and wellness/health plans.
  • Have an ‘escape day.’ Take workers off site with their laptops to an alternative environment once in a while. Involve families – perhaps at an appreciation dinner downtown at the end of the day.
  • Encourage travel. One of Earnst & Young’s key findings was that younger workers were more likely to be attracted to overseas postings. But with telecommuting, your company doesn’t have to be international for you to have workers abroad. And they may come back with valuable insights, contacts and market access they wouldn’t have gotten sitting in your cubicle!

‘Flexibility can work if you make a commitment to making it work,’ says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Ph.D., Director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College and the author of Explaining Organizational Variation in Flexible Work Arrangements: Why the Pattern and Scale of Availability Matter.