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Millennials: What Corporate Boards Need to be Thinking About

Business People Meeting Conference Discussion Corporate ConceptMillennials are taking over the world! Ok, not quite but by 2020 (only three years away) they will represent 50% of the global workforce according to PWC. And Forbes has reported that by 2025 they will be 75% of our workforce. Like it or not, this generation is becoming increasingly more critical to the success of every business.

Before we go further, let’s clarify exactly who this cohort is. The common definition is that Millennials are those born between approximately 1980 and 2000. Per the US Census they are the largest generation in US history at about 92 million. To put it in context there are approximately 77 million Baby Boomers.

As with most previous generations, Millennials are quite different than those that have come before them. We all know that they are the first generation of digital natives. But think for a moment about the fact that Millennials can be reluctant to buy such items as cars, music and luxury goods. Instead they are part of a brand new “sharing economy” whereby they patronize services that provide access without ownership. Ergo the success of Uber and Rent-the-Runway.

The sharing economy also extends into the workplace with the rise of and interest in shared work environments. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that in the U.S. there are approximately 3,000 co-working spaces, up from 250 in 2010.

Another recent transformation is the popularity of the “gig” economy which refers to contingent or independent workers. Some say it was the recession of 2008 but it is more likely the fact that as technology becomes more ubiquitous so has the ability to work independently. Millennials are coming of working age in an environment where the parameters and basic foundations of work are undergoing a metamorphosis.

The ramifications are intense and need to be assessed by board directors if their companies are to remain competitive both in the marketplace as well as inside their own organizations with their employees. Board directors need to assess the implications of all of the above. They must also understand that Millennials don’t subscribe to the traditional work concepts of being in an office at a desk all day. They want work that intersects with their lives and can be done anywhere at any time. They want to be measured on results not face-time. And importantly, the concept of life-time employment no longer applies. In fact, their idea of appropriate job tenure might be shocking to some senior executives around the boardroom table. According to PWC, 25% of this group expects to have 6 or more employers in their career.

Board would be well advised to look at all of this as an opportunity. They need to begin with awareness, followed by deep understanding and then analyze the implications and follow this with a determination of how to strategically capitalize on these changes. There are ramifications on hiring, organizational structure and design and of course the products and services that are ultimately developed and sold and form the core viability of the business.

While Millennials do not yet represent the majority of our workforce this will soon be the case. They will also continue to increase their purchasing power as they age and grow in their careers. It is for these reasons that boards must have a handle on this generation and the implications for each unique business. Some forward thinking companies are even recruiting members of this generation into their boardroom for first hand insight and unique perspective. Some might refer to this as diversity of a different dimension!