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Why millennials have the power to change the workplace — for good

February 11, 2015, 12:30 PM UTC
Photograph by David Fox — The Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is one piece of advice all millennials should take before entering the workforce? is written by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

Millennials entering the workforce can generally access a plethora of advice from a wide range of sources. Loving parents, caring coaches, secondary school teachers, college professors, and other well-meaning adults in their lives are happy to offer career guidance.

The messages will be similar, and correct. Work hard. Seek mentors. Be patient. Take risks by seeking stretch assignments. Go the extra mile. Care about your work. Understand your organization’s goals. Communicate with clarity.

These basic ingredients for success are time-tested and serve as valuable guidance to any young person embarking on a career. However, as the newest entrants to the workplace, millennials may benefit more from some unconventional advice. In particular: use your collective power to seek workplace change.

As the largest generation in history, millennials can be a force for the implementation of broad-based workplace flexibility, if they choose to use their power to do so. The data is global, compelling, and unambiguous. Millennials, more than any prior generation, see work as important, but as one aspect of a fully integrated life.

That integrated life includes a commitment to engaged parenting, a conscious effort to focus on health and wellness, and an expectation that friendships can be maintained. Moreover, most millennials expect to be living in dual-career households where both partners will need to be agile enough to support each other’s career and personal goals.

These goals need not be pipe dreams dismissed by skeptical senior generations. They can and should be the realistic result of a generation whose tech savvy skills can drive efficiencies. Good employers are always seeking ways to attract and retain talent, and they know that millennials are their future leadership. That future talent is unlikely to remain, however, in an environment based on a mid-19th century model with its gendered roles and a narrow definition of commitment that confuses family responsibilities with a lack of dedication.

To succeed in changing this culture, millennials should use the power of their size and talent wisely. They should find allies in senior generations who recognize the shifting demographic patterns and embrace the need for change. They should stand together in developing a dialog with others about how to achieve this change over time. And they must bring the same patience and determination to this task that they bring to other aspects of their career development.

As a generation raised to seek and accomplish their goals, millennials are poised to take on and succeed in achieving critical workplace reform. For too long, access to flexible work arrangements has been seen as an accommodation for a select few, rather than an important talent development strategy. Millennials can change this, and in so doing, will benefit all generations in the workplace.

*Lauren Stiller Rikleen is also an Executive-in-Residence at Boston College Center for Work & Family.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What is one piece of advice all millennials should take before entering the workforce?

Why passion may not be enough to build a successful career by Sarah Leary, co-founder and vice president of marketing and operations at Nextdoor.

How to build a career, not just a job by Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Best lesson from your first job: discovering your weaknesses by Ann Marie Petach, Senior Managing Director of Solutions Group at BlackRock.

3 ways to get noticed at work by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

Can millennials revolutionize business? by Erica Dhawan, co-author of “Get Big Things Done” and CEO of Cotential.

Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez: My best career advice for millennials by Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of USA