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The millennial workplace- fun and flexible?

by Laura Aitken-Burt July 01, 2016

​Considering we spend a large part of our lives at work, it makes sense that we would want to enjoy as much as we can from the office environment. This is even more important considering that technological advances have created ways in which staff can avoid the drudgery of commuting and instead work from home, coffee shops, or any number of exotic locations. A recent report from US software giant Citrix forecast that within the next year, some 50% of businesses would have a mobile working policy, and by 2020, 70% of people would work away from the office as often as they worked at a desk.  

In addition to this, the huge influx of so-called 'Millennials' into the global workforce (accounting for 75% by 2025 according to Deloitte's 2014 Millennial survey) means that their opinions on the way work should fit with their lives is crucial for the future of all businesses. These young adults born between 1980 and 2000 are especially tech-savvy and demanding better work-life balances that are disrupting the way that traditional office spaces work. Gallup’s 2014 research shows that only 13 percent of all employees are “highly engaged,” and 26 percent are “actively disengaged”  whilst Glassdoor, a company that allows employees to rate their employers, reports that only 54 percent of employees recommend their company as a place to work.  

The effectiveness of fun places to work on employee engagement has been repeatedly confirmed. In Lego's offices in London and Singapore, their May 2016 survey showed that 88% of staff liked the choice of where to work. They get a choice of different settings to suit their activity or mood, including a quiet library, a buzzing social area with background music, comfy chairs in cosy corners or big banks of desks to share with team-mates. Fun, open office space also allows employees from different departments to interact with each other easily and get to know everyone in the business better through sharing lunch or playing a game with someone they have never spoken to before. 

Fun also decreases stress, making coming up with solutions to problems easier. This can also be achieved even just through a sense of humour which Forbes considers one of the most important factors in professional success, particularly for putting others at ease and creating a good workplace culture. Taking some 'playtime' during the working day also encourages creativity and engenders a more light-hearted atmosphere, particularly when companies are actively promoting it. 

A recent Pwc report also concluded that this shows us that Millennials want to be able to work in the way that suits them best.   Their options are wide and varied, particularly with the rise of online freelancing and cloud-based platforms making it easier for firms to find the people they need from a global talent pool, and for freelancers to advertise their skills. The trend for working remotely is already well established and only set to increase, especially if more full time employees in companies start to demand at least part of their working days to be conducted wherever they choose. In the UK, for example, more than four million Britons already work from home, according to the latest official statistics.  Perhaps the way forward is to reward employees based on results rather than number of hours or where they work. In this way, offices are set to become more like meeting places rather than a fixed location for all the working days of the week. And if the environment in the office is fun, comfortable and creative then employees will be more inclined to meet there.

Deloitte even goes as far as to suggest that under the evolving social contract between employer and employee, workers are almost becoming 'volunteers' to be re-engaged and re-recruited each day.  The nature of evolving mobile workforces is that they have to require a more flexible, employee-centric work environment, one which companies are only just beginning to learn to develop. It may seem indulgent but is actually good for employee retention as well as productivity when they feel entrusted to meet deadlines with projects that allow them to choose how they want to organise their time. Employee engagement is a business imperative for leaders at all levels—above all, the CEO—and no longer something to be measured just once a year retrospectively. However, despite the emergence of many tools for frequently evaluating employee sentiment, 64% of organizations still only measure employee engagement annually.

The perks that can be offered are important and definitely help immensely for recruitment and retainment of enthusiastic employees. But there must be some boundaries set, which can often be nuanced through the culture and work ethic of the company and surrounding colleagues. Matt Doud, co-founder of advertising agency Planit in Baltimore, is keen to delineate the difference in the meaning of 'fun' in the workplace – “the aim is not to have fun but to create a relaxed environment that fosters creativity.” 

This is a major point – Teresa Amabile, Business administration professor at Harvard Business School, said that in over 30 years of research, she's always found that people do their most creative work when they’re motivated by the work itself.  Employees want to be challenged and achieve something. However, this does not mean being challenged and achieving has to come at the expense of fun, it just means that the drive and enthusiasm of the employee to complete their work has to come through. Otherwise, in these environments with a multitude of distractions, they will always procrastinate and take advantage of the relaxed environment offered at the expense of the company. It is therefore of utmost importance that motivation is in the right place to properly engage with the activities and that the company creates a driving sense of passion, purpose and mission to the work employees must complete. 

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