Workforce of the future: the impact of millennials in the workplace

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Workforce of the future: the impact of millennials in the workplace

26 Feb, 2018 02:39 pm

We spoke to Clara Gaymard and her daughter Bérénice Bringsted on how they see the world of work. How will they cooperate to build the business of the future?


From family to business, the values espoused by millennials are having a profound impact. In this interview, Clara and Bérénice, from the post-baby boomer generation and Generation Y respectively, compare their viewpoints and discuss their book, published by Plon, Faut qu'on parle! Le monde a changé [We need to have a chat! The world has changed]*.

Tell us about the book you have co-authored – why did you decide to write it together? 

Bérénice: It was originally my mum's idea. Mum, you were hearing a lot of criticism of millennials, also known as Generation Y, although you found them quite bold. There are big disagreements between your generation and mine, causing a lot of resentment on both sides. Without a doubt, this reflects the profound social transformations of our era..
Clara: Whereas we were often in conflict with our elders, I find that my generation gets on well with its children. However, behind this apparent harmony lurk enormous misunderstandings, since millennials share different values from us.
When I was 20, work was a means of achieving freedom. Now, even young people who graduate from top universities want to become freelancers! Millennials prefer to accept a level of risk – not knowing what the next day will bring – in order to have the freedom to live their lives differently. They have very different approaches to security and status. 
From my point of view, diversity is a key strength. It is possible to disagree about something but to work very well together. Well-established companies need to understand that millennials are beneficial in managing disruption within the company. That is where the idea for this book came from.
"Well-established companies need to understand that millennials are beneficial in managing disruption within the company."

Clara, how do you see Generation Y? 

As a director, two attitudes stood out for me among millennials.
Firstly, their willingness to question the world and their curiosity. The "work ethic" seems to have been replaced by the "creativity ethic". 
Along with their unwillingness to accept a top-down hierarchy, they are confident in what they believe in and are certain they can challenge established processes and structures. 
But although they may only be 25, millennials can teach us a thing or two. They have no time for the formality of baby-boomers. They challenge the things we took for granted and are much more capable of successfully navigating a jumbled mass of information. This is a completely new way of reasoning, almost a new civilisation.

Bérénice, what do you think about what your mother has said, in light of your own professional experience? 

I am part of the generation that entered the employment market after the crisis of 2008. It seems clear that it's no longer possible to simply rely on your career to get a foot on the social ladder. Our attitude is perceived as arrogant, whereas it stems from genuine frustration. 
But I think that companies are beginning to adapt. There is a growing awareness and flexibility. The fact that we have been invited to discuss our book by so many companies also reflects the scale of this movement.

Bérénice, in your opinion, what do millennials want from the workplace? 

I would identify four key elements:
The meaning attached to our work. As Millennials we want to feel that we can change the world, even in a small way. That is fundamental. Ecology is a good example of responsibilities equal to their skills. Motivation is a vital factor.
Quality of life. We have seen our parents exhaust themselves at work, in a symbiotic relation with the company. Work provided security and status. Today, we no longer identify ourselves solely by our job – we've inherited a great deal of caution regarding that. 
Remuneration is no longer universally important. There has been a shift in the value of money. For my generation, the ways in which we consume have been completely transformed by new technologies, the collaborative economy and the use of smartphones. 
And finally kindness, which is vital in the company, especially since the human dimension improves the quality of everyone's work. 

What advice would you give to companies to attract and retain millennials?

Bérénice: I think you need to be honestYou need to have a relationship of trust, be on an equal footing and be able to express yourself freely towards your manager: "I suggest this. What could you do?", "I would like to do this. Do you trust me? And if not, why not?" 
And our generation also has very different skills from your generation, Mum! Yes, we grew up with the internet and new technologies, but above all it's a matter of agility and being at ease with the new behaviours which have sprung up. To retain young people, it is vital to harness those skills.
"(...) above all it's a matter of agility and being at ease with the new behaviours which have sprung up."
Clara: I think it is important to respect the human factor. Remove the sense of guilt from the employee. Having worked in the United States for 10 years, it seems to me that there is more respect for the work-life balance there. This aspect is still lacking in French culture. I was very interested in Cynthia Fleury's book, Les Irremplaçables [The Irreplaceables]. Everyone must feel that they are "irreplaceable", everyone plays a vital role in the sustainability of a social [i.e. democratic,ed.] organisation. Instead of wanting to change processes, managers must learn to develop a new approach to human interactions. 

Clara, in your experience, have large companies already begun launching these types of initiative? 

Some companies, particularly in the telecoms and hotel sectors, have understood the urgency of embracing change as a way of defending themselves, by incorporating millennials and working with start-ups. All sectors will need to face this issue sooner or later. 
Raise, for instance, has brought together Henri de Castries, the former CEO of Axa, and Paolin Pascot, a young start-upper who created Agriconomie, a market place for farmers. At just 28 years old and with a laid-back look, Paolin has been able to present his vision of the world and convince a former CEO of a CAC 40 company of the benefits of his project. At the end of the day, legitimacy is based on competency. Although it may be less conventional, this generation is able to provide a new impetus, another approach to business models. 
The greatest virtue of a senior manager today is to be humble. The challenge is no longer having the knowledge, but being able to organise how that knowledge is shared.

Clara, do you have anything to add? 

A question actually. In order to reconcile these two generations, won't 40-somethings have a vital role to play? Aren't they in the best position to understand seniors and communicate with millennials?

*The book is currently available in French only.
Clara Gaymard
Co-founder at RAISE France and President of Women's Forum
A graduate of two leading French business schools, the Institut de Sciences Politiques and ENA, Clara held numerous roles in the civil service before being appointed chair of GE France. Currently chair of the Women’s Forum, in 2014, with Gonzague de Blignières, she co-founded Raise, an entrepreneurial ecosystem supporting SMEs via an investment company and a philanthropic foundation.
Bérénice Bringsted
Chief editor at Press4Kids
A graduate of the Sorbonne and the European business school ESCP, Bérénice started out as a costume designer before devoting herself to writing. She is currently editor-in-chief of Dimoitou News. She has never had an employment contract!
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