HR & Management

Are you prepared for a millennial future?

5 min read

05 December 2017

Today, bosses must navigate a constant flux of new policies, technologies and competition to stay profitable and grow their companies. And, for organisations of all sizes, a key change is already on the horizon – the rise of the millennial leader.

It is thought that by 2025, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the workforce, with many rising to senior positions during this time. In light of this change, American Express recently conducted a piece of research – Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way – to find out how millennial leadership will change businesses in the future.

While the transition to millennial leaders requires evolution from businesses of all shapes and sizes, for small companies in particular – for whom change can be costly – the move to millennial management needs to be prepared for with extra care.

So, what do SMEs need to know while preparing to hand over the reigns to millennials or bring more millennials on to their leadership teams?

Wellbeing will move to the top of the employer agenda

Our research found that millennials put pay and retention of talent at the top of their list when asked about their priorities as future employers. Some 74 per cent said that they believe that to be successful in the future, businesses will need to find ways to support employees outside of work.

This is an opportunity for smaller businesses, which often only get off the starting blocks by putting people first. Employee-centricity is in the DNA. Built around a small number of dedicated employees, flexibility and welfare is central to how SMEs attract highly-skilled people away from larger, more established competitors.

This means that to stay relevant for millennial leadership, small businesses do not need wholesale revolution, but to simply stay true to core values while growing.

We could be facing an automation U-turn

There’s no denying that automation is becoming a workplace reality; but our research suggests that millennials are largely unwilling to automate business functions – from administration and IT, to marketing and legal.

Making careful and targeted investments in technology is important for a business of any size – but this is especially crucial for small businesses, for whom every penny counts. Before making expensive automation upgrades, it is wise for SME owners to sit down with their millennial managers – the future leaders of their businesses – to better understand their attitudes when it comes to automation and find out the ideal areas for investment.

Businesses need to adapt to be multi-generation workplaces

As the retirement age rises, it will become increasingly common for professionals of different generations to work together. This is beneficial in many respects; older workers can learn from the new kids on the block, while younger workers can take guidance from their more experienced counterparts. But there are inevitably some multi-generational differences that business leaders will need to overcome.

For example, our research found that Gen X-ers care more about a good work-life balance than millennials, while millennial managers put a greater emphasis on democracy in the workplace than their older colleagues.

To overcome multi-generation hurdles, businesses should be set up to foster a culture of close collaboration between workers of all ages, and appeal to talent with different levels of experience.

Again, this is where SMEs are already ahead of the game. As organisations that rely on people to work together on multiple aspects of a business, a huge part of what small business owners do is to encourage colleagues to learn from people with different skill sets and experiences.

While no-one knows exactly what the future holds, our research indicates that millennial leaders have big plans to change the way business is done, building on the values brought to business by Gen X. Smaller businesses are in a strong position to prepare for, and make the most of, these changes.

Jose Carvalho is senior VP and general manager at American Express Global Commercial Payments Europe

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