They’re lazy, selfish, arrogant, entitled, tech-savvy, creative, and they are taking over the workforce. We’re talking about Millennials, or rather, the label “Millennials.”

How do you adapt this stereotyped generation to the workplace, especially to a blue-collar workplace? Or, should the question really be, how do you adapt existing workspaces to the emerging workforce? I recently sat down with Buzzittalk host Matthew Wittemeier to talk about Millennials taking over the workspace. This article summarizes our main findings from the episode.

The misconception of Millennials

A “Millennial” is broadly defined by sociologists as someone born between 1981-1996. It’s a somewhat artificial description, but let’s use it as a starting point. There are certainly some generalizable aspects of generations.

However, there’s a lot of misunderstanding around Millennials. Not all of the conclusions that are drawn are completely correct from my point of view. Take, for example, the hypothesis that Millennials would be lazy and so on, which some people claim. I don’t share that impression at all. I do think that their way of approaching work and doing things is different. To me, Millennials are a generation that has grown up with digital media and smartphones and dived into the digital life, and I think there is probably some influence on their way of thinking, obviously, from all that kinds of digital lifestyle and digital mindset.

Millennials in the workspace

Millennials obviously look and work differently in the workplace, especially in regard to their approach to leadership, organization, and innovation. Expectations have changed. There’s a certain tendency towards demanding more flexible working places as well as working times. Mobile-working, home office, and so on, is definitely something that the Millennial generation takes for granted. This poses its own challenges when it comes to employee scheduling in shift work.

Companies usually don’t choose to do shift work; it’s rather the business model that requires shift work. You need to have the machines running. You need to bring a service to customers during certain opening times and so on. That is actually what triggers shift work. You need to cover opening times of a store, or you need to cover manufacturing processes, including night shifts, including weekends. It needs to be preplanned to a certain extent. As a company, you need to make sure that sufficiently many people are available at all times. Now, what is the solution to that? You need to create shift schedules. While these shift schedules are assigned to people and they need to work those in a certain rhythm, including maybe the night shifts, and so on. This rather rigid shift-plan thinking now clashes with the Millennials’ flexible way of thinking. Some of the older generations have a very different mindset; they often want stability in their lives.

Interacting with your working times

That is a difference when working with Millennials. They’ve grown up with digital media. They are used to flexible engagement, and they expect all aspects of life to work this way. Not being able to interact with your working times on a mobile device is something that often doesn’t make sense to a younger generation. They would expect that there is digital access and even collaboration in terms of how to design and schedule working times.

We currently don’t believe that shift work, percentagewise, will reduce. But who will work these shifts, if they don’t respect the younger generations’ desire for flexibility? That’s a kind of conflict. Shift work still needs to be also done in the future, even with a change in industries, but who’s going to work those jobs?

Offer digitalization to the digital generation

At INFORM, we believe the solution to the digital interaction problem we’re now facing is obviously digitalization of shift planning. Give Millennials the ability to interact with their working times and their preferences in real-time via their smart devices. Turn a traditionally rigid system into something flexible.

Ultimately, the question that you wanted to answer with shift schedules was not to make a rigid shift schedule. The question was to guarantee a certain level of staffing at all times. While the old answer is the rigid shift schedule, it’s only one answer. It’s easy; it’s an easy answer, but nowadays, in the digital world, there can be other answers. Why don’t you flexibly schedule all of those shifts all of the time, kind of playing a big Tetris basically, getting everything staffed, but considering the wishes and preferences of the Millennials and maybe other generations as well, by interacting with their schedules via their mobile devices? Basically, give them that level of interaction and build some intelligent decision-making logic behind the scenes that solves the Tetris puzzle of shift-scheduling.

Solving the big puzzle

That big puzzle becomes significantly more challenging when leaving the rigid, “easy,” shift schedules behind. All of a sudden, you don’t only have the employer’s interest in mind – namely meeting required staffing levels – but you also bring into the process a substantial amount of preferences and wishes from the employees which vary in their own right depending on individual styles of living, individual work-life balances, individual hobbies, and so on. Algorithms can solve the puzzle and do the balancing of all of those interests in parallel.

It’s a complex puzzle. The human brain can only solve that puzzle to a certain degree. It cannot consider all of those preferences and wishes being entered by hundreds of employees. I’m not even talking about part-timers that would say, ‘Okay, well listen, I don’t work 35, 38, or 40 hours per week. I work 20 hours per week, and I can work on Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon and Friday afternoon,’ and taking those availabilities into account. Algorithms look holistically at the complete problem-space and do all of the balancing and accommodations of the different aspects behind the scenes. The digital technology enables us to think differently about shift work. It is the key to meeting Millennials’ requirements in terms of what they expect of working times in a shift work environment.

Meeting great expectations

The more expectations and preferences that can be met, the more satisfied people will be – this is basic logic. What’s more, when you work with people’s preferences, you actually tap into a very diverse workforce. This is a sort of hidden success factor. Take a relatively simple preference – some people are morning people and some like to work late. They complement each other in terms of the overall workforce, and through embracing this natural balance, you lead to a better overall schedule and improved working conditions for employees.

Why should you put everybody into the same scheme, into the same rigid roster if you can meet their individual expectations, and it both satisfies the company’s requirements and accommodates the individual employees nicely?

Listen in on the full discussion between Matthew and me on Buzzittalk.