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Millennials At Work: They're Not Different, But Society Is

03/06/2015 05:44 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2015
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The world we live in is in constant flux. Health care, insurance, lifestyle choices; the way we communicate, make purchasing decisions, choose partners -- in all these domains, there is increasing demand for greater flexibility and personalization. Nowhere is this clearer than in the modern workplace.

The Millennial workforce is the result of a generation that grew up in a fast-paced, dynamic, digital society, with the Internet and mobile technology providing customized information on tap. Millennials are surrounded by slogans like "Have it your way" (Burger King), "Empowering people" (Acer), "The Power to Be Your Best" (Apple), "Be what's next" (Microsoft), and "Expanding possibilities" (Hewlett Packard).

Perhaps most fitting is the classic slogan from British Gas: "Don't you just love being in control?"

The simple answer is yes, we do. We love being in control. We like to have things our way. Millennials have been labeled as lazy, selfish, entitled and demanding for this same reason, but all those slogans really represent is this: we value freedom of choice, the opportunity to write our own futures, and to reach our full potential.

This is nothing new, and certainly not unique to Millennials, who only want what people have always wanted from their jobs: a sense of ownership, responsibility, accountability -- essentially, to be respected for the unique contribution they make. What people want has not changed -- but society has.

Today, in a world made both smaller yet much bigger by the Internet, we have the knowledge and the technology to enable people to discover what they really want, and reach for it. People no longer compare themselves only to their next door neighbor: keeping up with the Joneses is nothing compared with logging on to Facebook and seeing what the whole world is doing. Add to that the ways in which the internet has changed the very nature of work itself -- telecommuting, 24-hour instant communication, unbroken access to the most cutting-edge information in every field -- and it is no surprise to find that people expect more from jobs that now expect a great deal more from them.

We spend a third of our lives at work -- in theory. In reality, many people are continously logged on and tuned in to their workplace. Smartphone, laptop, tablet, smartwatch; in a few years we'll be using subdermal implants, and then that irritating coworker will literally be able to get under your skin. In the office, at home, at the movies, at the kids' baseball game, on the beach during your vacation, at your brother's wedding. Watch what you say about that party last night -- your boss is following you on Facebook. Didn't get that job? Maybe it was because the interviewer thought your Twitter picture made you look creepy.

Work is increasingly integrated into every aspect of our lives. If we hate our jobs, they can feel like mobile prisons that follow us around wherever we go. Workplace happiness is not a luxury in such a world; it is a necessity if we are to maintain our individuality, patience, and sanity. To be happy at work, as in life, we need to feel in control: that we choose and own our jobs, instead of them owning us. The fastest way to this kind of job satisfaction is good cultural fit: congruence between our goals, values, and personality, and those of the organization we work for.

Research shows that workers who have good cultural fit to their organization are a third more productive, three times more creative, and almost 90 percent less likely to quit. Cultural fit accounts overall for around two-thirds of the differences between people in both job satisfaction and performance. Poor fit is estimated to cost U.S. industry $15 billion a year; 86 perent of new hires that fail within a month do so because of this.

At Good.Co, our motto is "there's no such thing as a bad employee, only a bad fit." Good workplace culture fit is good for everyone, and everyone can find good fit somewhere.

We have more information at our fingertips than seemed possible even a couple of decades ago -- information to help us learn about ourselves, about the culture of the organizations we seek to work for, and how those two things fit together to lead to finding -- or creating -- a workplace environment that makes going to work feel like coming home.

Some people say that knowledge is power. In reality, it's freedom -- the key to the door of that mobile prison. We wouldn't be without our smartphones and watches and tablets, and not because we're self-absorbed hipsters who believe everyone is interested in our tweets about what we have for breakfast (...well, maybe that too!). We value mobile technology because we love being connected to what we love -- family, friends, interests. And work? We have less choice about being constantly connected to work these days, but whether we love our work is increasingly up to us.

Personalisation matters, and cultural fit matters, because workplace happiness matters, now more than ever. Fortunately for us, it's also more attainable than ever before -- thanks to innovations like apps that can tell you how you'll fit in at any company culture, we really can love what we do.

The same technology that built the prison in the first place is offering us the key to workplace happiness. And we'll take it, because as British Gas knows, there is something else that we love: being in control.