Against intimidating odds—including a punishing economy and a brutal burnout rate—millennials have transformed work as we know it. As they’ve advanced from entry level to leadership over the past couple of decades, they’ve actively rejected the status quo, replacing outdated policies, practices, and tools with newer, more efficient ones. They've encouraged the mainstream adoption of collaboration tools such as Slack, Trello, and G Suite. They've reimagined the physical workspace with innovative solutions such as WeWork and The Wing. They've even helped make workplaces safer and more equitable by embracing and upholding the principles of #MeToo and #TimesUp. And now, for their final act, they're focusing on revolutionizing the workday itself.
Though the flexibility movement has roots in the 1970s, it’s the tech-minded millennial generation who have been successful at making flexibility the norm rather than the exception. As they've become the largest generational group in the U.S. workforce—with 56 million working or looking for work in 2017, representing 35 percent of the U.S. workforce—they've honed in on flexibility as one of the top criteria in their job selection process. 45 percent of millennials consider flex to be more important than salary, according to a recent report. Other research showed 76 percent of millennials would take a pay cut of at least 3 percent to work for a company that offers flexible office hours, 37 percent would take a pay cut of 6 to 12 percent, and 19 percent would take a pay cut of more than 12 percent.
"A generational change is occurring," Lionbridge Technologies' Dori Albert told Forbes in 2013, adding that millennials helped create a "new nature of work." Former Seventeen editor-in-chief Ann Shoket, meanwhile, has deemed millennials "game-changing, rockstar pioneers" for the ways they're upending workplace norms.
When jobs don't embrace the flexibility they’ve come to expect, millennials aren’t afraid to quit and look for a more forward-thinking company. The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey reported that in organizations in which flexibility increased, 55 percent of millennials expected to stay in their current position for more than five years; but in organizations in which flexibility has decreased, only 17 percent did, with 31 percent planning on quitting within two years.
Millennials' insistence on flexible work practices is a win for older generations, too, and not just because flex enables millennials to better care for their aging loved ones. "Soon the baby boomers may begin to reluctantly thank the millennials for ushering in a lifestyle," Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab, wrote in a Forbes op-ed last year. "For some older workers, the flexibility to go from full-time to part-time can provide a smooth transition into a phased retirement."
Indeed, a recent Ashridge survey found flexibility was the second most desired change in the workplace for baby boomers, only ranking below a better work-life balance. "Flexibility isn't just a differentiator—it's table stakes," Werk co-founder and co-CEO Anna Auerbach wrote in 2018. "If companies want to poise themselves for growth as baby boomers transition out and these generations take over, flexibility must be a core part of their culture."
Now that millennials are completing their nigh-magical transformation of the workplace, it's time to pass the torch to their younger peers. Generation Z is already entering the workforce, and they're focusing on flex from the jump, ranking flex within their top three criteria in their job selection process. And if Gen Z is demanding flex as their opening act, one can only imagine how they'll revolutionize work in the years and decades to come.