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Young people are facing the toughest employment conditions in decades, but they’re still demanding employers rip up their rigid structures and allow them to work when and where they want, wearing what they want. Rupert Neate reports.

Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – are facing record unemployment and are the first generation likely to be statistically poorer than their parents. But that hasn’t stopped the best and brightest of them demanding employers rip up the rule book and ditch suits and nine-to-five working.

Rupert Neate
Rupert Neate

A major study of more than 44,000 people in 18 countries by consultants PwC found that “in order to foster a greater sense of commitment among millennials it will be necessary to transform the core dynamics of the workplace”.

Amanda Zambon, communications manager of trade group the British American Business, said the main question companies in the organisation are asking is: “How do we create a millennial world for a millennial generation?”

Millennials, or Generation Y as they are also known, are the first generation to demand that life should not be all about work. The PwC survey said the “majority of them are unwilling to commit to making their work lives an exclusive priority, even with the promise of substantial compensation later on.”

Businesses across the world have noticed, and are slowly bending their rigid corporate structures to fit with their younger more flexible workers. In many offices the business suit dress code is out and jeans are in.

Significantly, flexible working – long the dream of many – is finally beginning to take root with most office workers now being able to spend the occasional day working from home. But millennials still complain that their employers are not flexible enough. Four out of six would like to work from home more, and 66% would like to work when they want to not when the office dictates.

While most traditional businesses are slowly bending to the change, some particularly the technology sector, are already offering their employees the chance to shape their jobs.

Darshan Sanghrajka, founder and managing director of State of Ambition, even gives workers the summer off on the condition “they come back and teach us about what they did”. He says they can also work from anywhere in the world and take as many holiday days as they want. “Millennials don’t have to take the well-worn path they have grown up in a generation, where 9-5 is no longer the desired norm, doing something that doesn’t tie you behind the desk is easy and starting afresh is less of risk than ever before,” he said at CityJobs.com‘s attracting and managing tomorrow’s financial people conference in London. “It isn’t unusual for this generation to have a career history that is like a patchwork quilt – fingers in many well made pies.”

In return for flexibility in the workplace millennials are willing to be more flexible in terms of pay and career progression. The PwC survey found that one in five women and 15% of men would be prepared to accept reduced pay and even pace of promotion in return for fewer hours.

They are also far more prepared to have an open discussion about pay. Robert Benson, chief executive of salary data specialist Emolument.com, said: “Millennials are 18 times more likely to disclose their pay than the older generation. Millennials across all geographies are more flexible and open than their elders when it comes to disclosing their salaries.” 

About the Author:

Rupert Neate, a business and finance reporter for the Guardian, will be writing a series of articles on thrills, spills and drama of life in the City for Cityjobs.com

He was shortlisted for Reporter of the Year at the 2012 British Press Awards and the British Journalism Awards for his investigation that led to Liam Fox’s resignation as defence secretary. He joined the Guardian in 2011 from the Daily Telegraph, where he worked for four years as City Diary editor and telecoms and technology correspondent.