If you read any reports on Millennials in the workplace, you’ll probably see the phrase “entitled.” But, people often forget that Millennials were raised in a different time than Gen X or Y and went to school under a different style of learning than most of us.
Back in the early 2000s, a style of learning and teaching in primary schools was introduced called the Individual Education Program or IEP. This program was introduced to combat the issues that children with learning disabilities experienced in the standard classroom. The most basic definition of an IEP is a customized learning plan. It was the first type of pedagogy that worked to tailor the learning experience to the student’s individual learning style.
When I was going to school, the focus was Mainstreaming. It was a concept that students of all abilities were put in the same classroom, and each student learned from each other. It was more peer-based learning. While it worked for some, many children were left behind when they could not keep up with the median scores, and more advanced children were not challenged enough. Therefore, IEPs became standard practice for children of all levels to make sure that the experience in the classroom was the most beneficial to them.
So how does this affect the workplace and the work culture of today? The students and graduates of these IEPs are now entering our workforce. For the first time in their life, they’re often being told: “here is the one workstation that you’re going to work in all day. Here is the one open office environment that you need to concentrate in. Here is the one space you get to have meetings in. Here is a one-size-fits-all cube farm that you will spend a third of your day in.” When you compare that strategy to the goal of an IEP, it starts to make sense why it just does not work for most Millennials.
Now I must preface these views by saying that I was a teacher in a former life. In my classroom, we were just starting to understand the benefits of IEPs. When I switched careers to go into design, I never expected my former career path to have an influence on my designs as a workplace strategist. However, after being in the industry a decade or so, I am starting to see that the groundwork we lay for students in primary school is a direct influence on those students when they transition to employees. Tapping into how they learn is a crucial step in getting ahead of the curve on workplace design for the next generation.
We cannot teach an entire generation of new employees to learn and work independently and then invite them into the office and expect them to work and learn in another way. The customization needs to continue in the workplace. If we’re going to successfully market to Millennials, we need to give options and the personalized attention they expect. Companies are starting to offer employees freedom and autonomy when finding the best place for employees to work. The best place for a Millennial to work might not be a desk; it may be a café or a private retreat or even a loud collaboration space. It may not even be in the physical confines of the office. Working at Starbucks or even working from home has become commonplace. In a growing digital world, employees can work from anywhere with Wi-Fi and a tablet.
Millennials are one of the fastest-growing populations in the workforce today. Employers who shrug off the request of Millennials and ignore their work style are bound to get left behind. To members of the Baby Boomer or Traditionalist generation, it may seem like we are creating a party atmosphere in the office with no boundaries or constraints. That is simply not the case. If we are expecting our employees to work longer hours while producing more work with fewer errors, we, as workplace strategists and employers, must create a workspace where Millennials want to work. The success of the IEP in the education industry shows employers what individualized and customized experiences can do. We may be making small concessions for a new generation of workers by creating options in the workspace for different types of learning, but the result is a stronger, more engaged, happier, and more valued workforce comprised of all generations.