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Millennials at Work: Common Legal Issues

millennialsThere is no shortage of writing about millennial workers. Millennials are the fastest growing cohort of workers, and they are reshaping the way we work, especially in traditional industries. Millennials, the group broadly defined as those born between 1982 – 2000, have different views and different needs than the generations that came before them. They can also present new legal challenges for employers.

What millennials want

Millennials are commonly accused of being lazy, entitled, thinking that the rules don’t apply to them and attention hungry. Rates of attrition among this generation are often high, as they tend to be less tolerant of workplace practices that don’t meet their needs and expectations than previous generations. But we need millennials to work, and we need them to be engaged.

Millennial workers need to be approached with feedback and engagement strategies that differ from those used with the baby boomers. Work needs to be meaningful for millennials. They want to feel like they are an important part of the team and that their contributions make a difference. They have an expectation that they will be treated with respect and that their ideas will be valued, just as much as the ideas of those who are more senior to them.

Millennials tend to see hierarchies as flat, rather than vertical. They expect a high level of socialization and collegiality in the workplace and often prefer to work in groups rather than individually.

Not knowing life before the internet and 24/7 connectivity, Millennials do not typically draw the same distinction between work and the rest of their lives, as other generations have. Millennials think about “work-life blend” not “work-life balance.” Flexibility and doing work they care about are important engagement tools. Another crucial motivation for millennial employees will be whether they feel proud of their organization and the work it does. Those who do not are less likely to stay, even if they are well treated and well-paid.

Feedback is important to millennial workers, who were raised having peer-like relationships with adults who provided them with continuous guidance and praise. An annual review is unlikely to be enough for a millennial worker. They want to know how they are doing in real time. Feedback should also be clear and specific and leave no room for misunderstanding. Millennials are relationship based, so receiving feedback from a direct manager will be more meaningful than from someone more remote, like HR.

Raised on technology and connectivity, millennials are less accepting of work models that require long hours in the office. Millennials question arbitrary rules and policies. If they don’t see a good reason to work specific hours in the office when they could get the work done just as effectively in the middle of the night at home, they are likely to question this. The millennial generation is less likely to stick it out in demanding professions that require workers to “pay their dues.”

Legal challenges

Because millennials are more likely than previous generations to question policies or directions that don’t make sense to them, it is important for employers to have their workplace rules clearly set out and their rational explained. For example, if it is necessary that employees work in the office because of the confidential nature of the information, and the specific confidentiality measures set up on work equipment, this should be explained to workers.

Similarly, because of the way they view work and life as blended, millennial workers are more likely to demand flexibility. This means conducting personal business and socializing at the office, as well as frequently working remotely and outside of business hours. Without clear policies in place, these practices can expose employers to potential overtime claims or data breaches. As 24/7 connectivity and remote working becomes increasingly popular, employers need to be prepared to confront these issues before they crop up.

Millennials are plugged into social issues and equity. They are well-educated and know their rights. Human rights, bullying and harassment issues can be more likely to arise where work-life boundaries are less clear and when personal relationships develop in the workplace. While millennials are likely to want closeness with their co-workers, they are also likely to speak up when things go sideways. Educating the entire workforce about human rights, accessibility and harassment is crucial, not to mention legally required.

While millennial employees may be throwing traditional workplaces for a loop, at SpringLaw we think that change has many benefits that far outweigh the perceived headache of rethinking traditional hierarchies. The emerging new workforce is as engaged as ever, keen to participate in a meaningful way without merely clock-punching, and can bring an important perspective to any workplace looking to continue being relevant in the modern workforce.

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Lisa Stam, Spring Law

Founder of Spring Law, Employment and Labour Lawyer at Spring Law
Lisa Stam is founder of Spring Law, a virtual law firm advising exclusively on workplace legal issues for employers and executives. She practices all aspects of employment, labour, privacy, and human rights law, with a particular interest in legal issues arising from technologyinthe workplace. Lisa’s practice includes a wide range of entrepreneurs in the tech space, as well as global companies with smaller operations in Canada. In addition to the day to day workplace issues from hiring to firing, Lisa frequently blogs and speaks on both the impact, risks and opportunities of social media andtechnology issues in (and out of) the workplace, as well as the novel ways in which changing expectations of privacy continues to evolve employment law. Read more here.
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