Maybe we’d be better off without the term ‘millennial’, or at least forget the stereotypes associated with it


When you read the word “millennial”, what comes to mind? To most people, particularly of a certain generation, the word summons Instagram-filtered clichés: avocados, unicorn inflatables, Deliveroo. Something similar seems to happen when it comes to talking about the workplace. Too often, it is assumed that young people want a workplace featuring slides, beanbags and table football.  Supposedly, this gimmickry makes young people happy at work because their generation wants to avoid the hard edges of the real world. But it’s a theory that doesn’t stack up. 

Creating arbejdsglæde or work joy requires a deeper commitment than replacing stairs with a slide

Those who attended this year’s BCO Conference in Copenhagen heard future trends speaker Thimon de Jong speak about just how entrepreneurial today’s young people are. Millennials, he said, chart higher on indicators of entrepreneurialism than their parents or grandparents. 

What’s more, the next generation – Generation Z – score even higher. Their keenness led to LinkedIn reducing its minimum age to 14, since huge numbers of young people were lying about their date of birth to use the site. Neither generation, it seems, wants to work in an oversized creche. 

That said, there is nothing wrong with trying to make young people happy at work. Enlightened employers encourage work joy, or arbejdsglæde as the Danes call it. They do so not just to feel good, but because it boosts productivity. However, creating arbejdsglæde requires a deeper commitment than replacing stairs with a slide.

Andre Spicer, an expert on organisational behaviour and another BCO Conference speaker, cited three fundamentals that make people happy at work: purpose, focus and meaningful progress. 

People want to work on something that matters, be able to focus on that work, and then see its result. Rather than fit a smoothie machine or beer tap, we are more likely to make young people happy at work by aiding these tenets. 

Of course, a workplace is only one factor here – but it is an important one. For instance, de Jong spoke passionately about the extent to which young people care about the environment. This creates an opportunity. By designing sustainable, biophilic workplaces, we can say a lot about what an occupier stands for and help young employees feel like their work forms part of a company that stands for what’s right. 

The workplace can also support employee focus. We may not be able to free up someone’s diary or inbox, but we can create workplaces that allow people to concentrate. Of course, there remains a need for open, communal space, but that can’t be the only thing offered by an office. People need private, secluded spaces to focus.

Unfortunately, it isn’t our role to help employees see the progress of their work – that’s the job of managers and team members. However, we can aid the way these groups interact. De Jong cited how young people value informality and personal connections over institutions. A workplace can reflect this through a modern, open aesthetic that encourages people to connect with each other. This may sound like a call for gimmicks, but it isn’t. Instead, we are better off creating naturally lit, spacious workplaces with centrepieces that bring people together.  

Maybe we’d be better off without the term ‘millennial’, or at least forget the stereotypes associated with it. Perhaps then we will realise that young people aren’t very different from anyone else. They find arbejdsglæde through value and meaning in their work. A slide or smoothie maker won’t achieve this, but a thought-through workplace might.

Richard Kauntze is chief executive of the British Council for Offices