The millennial influence on the future of work

Dec 03, 2018
Valarie Daunt discusses how the preferences of millennial workers are driving changes in the workplace.

When it comes to the attractiveness of a potential employer, the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that while financial rewards and benefits are the top priority for millennials in Ireland, this is followed by flexibility, a positive organisational structure, opportunities for continuous learning, and well-being programmes and incentives.
The changing expectations of our workforces is one of the major forces re-shaping the future nature of work. By 2030, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. It is therefore time to sit up and take note. So, what trends will we see as a result of these millennial preferences? 

From careers to experiences

With technological and demographic trends disrupting traditional career paths, organisations need to reconstruct job profiles and career models, and rethink the coaching and development of employees from entry-level staff through to executives. 21st century careers can be viewed as a series of developmental experiences, each offering the opportunity to acquire new skills, perspectives and judgement. In this environment, organisations need to look at alternative ways of upskilling employees to achieve an agile and responsive workforce. Companies leading in this space are finding ways for employees to learn from others as well as providing learning programmes and on-the-job training.

Today’s employee seeks responsibility and leadership roles earlier than heretofore, yet many organisations are unprepared for this change. More than one third of Irish respondents to Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Trends Survey stated that, in their organisation, career paths generally progress up a traditional hierarchy, with little flexibility to accommodate individual worker interests or desired career paths. More than half (57%) stated that they only occasionally get the opportunity to work on assignments outside their assigned business line or manager and one third stated that their organisations are only somewhat effective at empowering employees to manage their own careers.

Given that the wants and needs of today’s workforce are evolving quickly, talent practices need to support employees in developing a suite of adaptable and agile skills that can be deployed across many areas of the organisation. Only 35% of Irish respondents rate their organisations as being ready to build the 21st century career model, despite the fact that 82% rank this as important.

Well-being as a strategic priority

As the line between work and life blurs, organisations are investing in well-being programmes to drive employee productivity, engagement and retention. However, there is often a significant gap between what companies offer and what employees value and expect.

It is no longer enough for organisations to offer traditional benefits and remuneration such as medical assistance programmes and once-a-year reviews. Today, the focus is on providing programmes that not only protect employee health, but actively boost social and emotional well-being. This includes innovative programmes and tools for financial wellness, mental health, healthy diet and exercise, mindfulness, sleep and stress management, as well as changes to culture and leadership behaviours that support these efforts. Expanding well-being programmes to encompass what employees want and value is now essential for organisations to treat their people responsibly – as well as to boost their social capital and project an attractive employer brand.

The Human Capital Trends Survey shows that 50% of Irish organisations rate themselves as “ready” or “very ready” to offer holistic well-being programmes while 37% of Irish respondents state that their organisation offers well-being programmes beyond the traditional offerings. From front-line staff right up to executive leadership, there is a consensus that these programmes promote employee productivity and support employee retention. If an organisation wants to keep its most promising talent, it needs to give employees a reason to stay.

The hyper-connected workplace

Millennials’ preference for a positive organisational structure is interesting, and is no doubt connected to the fact that there are massive changes underway in how we connect. Social media and collaborative communications tools are transforming the world of work. Today, instant messaging tools such as Slack and Trello, which can be tailored for a project team’s use, have introduced new ways of working. They allow ideas to be bounced off colleagues on a regular basis, without having to wait for scheduled team meetings. They can also provide exposure to leaders and experts, which we know appeals to the millennial cohort.

In Ireland, as elsewhere, these new technologies and tools are changing how we communicate at work. 68% of Irish respondents to the Human Capital Trends Survey said this is having a positive impact on productivity and 75% envisage increased use of online platforms as a communication channel in the next three to five years. While a majority of respondents rank this trend as “very important”, Irish organisations have displayed a somewhat conservative approach to adopting emerging communication channels and tools, with more than four in 10 either only permitting the use of well-established tools or requiring tools to be carefully reviewed and approved by their IT departments. Only 6% identify emerging tools and promote their use among employees.

Organisations will need to adopt a holistic approach, taking into account different working styles and introducing rewards to promote take-up while also ensuring that the workforce is prepared and willing to use these tools. An important aspect of this strategy is to audit the tools in the marketplace and ensure that they are satisfactory from a risk and IT perspective before introducing them into the workplace. Once approved, collaboration tools should be embedded in day-to-day processes where possible, so as to actively promote adoption among the workforce.

As social media and collaborative communication tools migrate from personal lives to the workplace, organisations must apply their expertise in team management, goal-setting and employee development to improve performance and promote collaboration. For the hyper-connected workplace to improve productivity, procedures, workspaces and leadership styles will need to be capable of capitalising on the power of these tools while at the same time managing any potential negative impacts.


There are many drivers of change impacting on the future of work, and the preferences of millennials is just one of these drivers. However, the impact will be great and there are some gaps to be bridged. Irish businesses now need to begin taking stock of the implications of these drivers of change.

Valarie Duant is Partner and Head of Human Capital Management at Deloitte.