When Gen Y Runs the Show

The work environment will be reshaped to accommodate flexibility and flat structures when this generation takes charge.

Kristine Harper thinks she and her millennial colleagues will run things better when they're in charge.

"Our generation will be a little bit more fun, encouraging, flexible, positive. There'll be fewer meetings, more networking, more teams," she says.

Flextime will be ubiquitous, and managers will support employees in their efforts to balance work with other interests. Good jobs will be those that always challenge. A day's work will be measured by results, not hours at the desk.

Make no mistake: The workplace that this 27-year-old software developer envisions a decade out won't look like the typical office of the 20th century. "If I were a manager in the future, I would focus on increasing motivation and community in the workplace," she says. "I would try to emphasize the importance of employee get-togethers outside of [work] to promote a stronger sense of community and friendship. I think when you feel strongly about the workplace and the people involved, there is a sense of motivation that comes with that."

Generation X'ers and millennials -- those from Generation Y -- are now becoming managers, and they'll take on more of the top positions in the coming decades. As they do, they'll bring their own philosophies about how the workplace should operate. Expect a more open and flexible work experience, where careers don't necessarily just advance up the corporate ladder but rather move laterally and possibly down, too, depending on changing personal and professional ambitions and needs.

"We want to be successful in our jobs, but just in a different way. It doesn't mean being in our office every day 9 to 5, it means getting your job done, whatever your job is," says Harper, who works in research and development at Neon Enterprise Software in Sugar Land, Texas, and is project manager of zNextGen, an offshoot of the IBM user group Share for young professionals.

Fulfilling the Dream

Workforce consultants say this expectation of flexibility and accommodation signals a new way of working, built on what the previous generations have pushed for.

Gen Y workers "don't see career paths in the traditional sense. They're looking for companies that are much more flexible," says Celia Berenguer, co-author of the June 2009 report "Catalyst for Change: The Impact of Millennials on Organization Culture and Policy," from Monitor Co., a Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy. "The traditional development and training processes are probably the least effective for millennials."

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