It’s popular belief that anyone born after 1980 is technologically literate and keen to work independently from a mobile device wherever there’s great coffee and even better wi-fi.
But only one of those two statements is true.
Although generation y ‘Millennials’ and their ‘generation z’ younger siblings demand flexible work places that balance the job with their personal life they’re not the ones who most need it. Many employers may unwittingly turn off their best talent by failing to provide the support at the right junctures along their workers’ career paths.
The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey found more than half (55%) of young workers would quit their jobs within two years if their employer didn’t support their professional development through training and mentors — nearly three-quarters (71%) over five years. Tightly correlated were those who would leave a boring work place (54%/73%) or refuse rigid hours and work location (56%/70%).
Conversely, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found in its Pregnancy and Employment Transitions survey more mothers now stay in their jobs during pregnancy and return to their previous roles when their children are born, suggesting employers are offering more diverse and flexible workplaces.
But a mother tends to take longer to return to work after her child is born. Of the 246,700 women (42%) who started or returned to work since the birth of their youngest child, a quarter spent 10 months or more on maternity leave (21% in 2011).
So while presumably older and more senior employees with young families and stable career trajectories most need to work remotely — returning from parental leave and raising kids — gens y and z crave mentoring and mutual support they find most readily in the office.
This challenges traditional notions of who most desires flexible work places because, while under-35s appreciate choice, older workers and parents of young children most need it, says OBT managing director Shane Muller.
“We've seen that [younger workers] prefer not to be dictated how to work,” Muller says.
“It's not about working in the office only or working remotely only but giving them that choice. And when that choice is an equal and a level playing field, they will gravitate to what gives them greater satisfaction.” (The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates about a third of workers or more than 4.5 million Australians usually work from home, up from 3.5 million in 2015.)
Muller says mobile and remote-work technology such as collaboration and broadband has enabled generations of parents to split their attentions between home and the office and return to work on their own terms.
“Almost 20 years ago, when we set out delivering these services, 80% of our users were mums … because it gave them the option to work around their [children while] engaged in their careers. And so we've seen a tremendous opportunity in this technology where working mums return [to work] at times beneficial to them.”
And it’s not just parents who need flexibility and support. More than half a million Australians sustain a work-related injury or illness each year at an estimated cost of $61.8 billion and one in 10 workers or a million people have a disability — a third of whom are professionals or managers.
So providing a mix of approaches from remediating work spaces and office layouts to providing remote access is essential for retaining valued employees while boosting their satisfaction and productivity, Muller says.
Minding the ‘digital workaholic’
Although the spread of enabling technologies eases the burden of these groups and empowers employees to virtually congregate and work anywhere, there is a caveat — wireless devices and networks, collaboration tools and cloud may lead to sub-optimal outcomes if left unmanaged.
OBT provides activity metrics to help its managed services customers balance their employees’ work-life balance. It’s important to monitor ‘digital workaholics’ because they are prone to burnout or leaving the organisation, which hits the business’s bottom line. It costs an employer $15,960 to replace a worker on a salary of $45,000 while the same employee costs $244.75 each day they are absent.
“This technology delivers the ability and choice, which means people sometimes work longer. A well cultured organisation will implement a policy or have metrics to ensure staff are not overworking,” Muller says.
Managers sometimes contribute to feelings of stress and overwork in their employees. They must be wary that if they send messages after hours, they may cause undue stress for the recipient who feels compelled to act.
“And one reply leads to the next email and the next and so we've we see where sometimes this technology can be a trap if the organisation doesn't set the tone and culture from the outset.”
Muller fires off scores of emails most weekends but doesn’t inflict them on employees outside of office hours. He stages emails to hit their inboxes when he thinks they will be well received, such as on a Monday afternoon or Tuesday, for less important messages.
“We have found that when people have the choice [when and where to work], they don't have the discipline to not work. That does cause tension within a family environment.
“And often the finger ends up being pointed at the organisation.”
Have you the right culture and technology to empower each of your employees with consideration for their unique circumstances? Chat to OBT for a confidential discussion of how you can elevate your culture to help your workers perform at their best.