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The New Rules Of Work

Why Millennials Understand The Future Of Work Better Than Anyone Else

We can learn a lot about the future of work from how millennials are approaching and redefining their careers.

[Photo: Flickr user jonny goldstein]

The 9-to-5 grind is over.

I call that traditional view, "Big Work," and millennials intuitively understand that's not where the future is. They are, in a sense, the first generation of freelance natives. They’re embracing freelancing in a way no other generation has. And now, they’re the majority of the workforce.

They are generation with markedly diverse interests—they’re into design, tech, activism, the arts, everything. They’ve been told their whole lives that they can and should pursue as many of those interests as they want. The Internet has opened more doors to this generation than any other.

That’s why the idea of a portfolio of work comes naturally to them. They’re doing web design for their mom’s coworkers after they’re done studying. They’re teaching themselves FinalCut and picking up video editing gigs to complement their shift at the bookstore. They’re aiming for a more meaningful work-life, not necessarily what their parents would call a "traditional career."


That natural flexibility positions millennials to take advantage of this new economy without fear. They are the most likely age group to freelance—38% of millennials are freelancing, compared to 32% of all others, according to a national survey conducted last year by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk.

Millennials also expressed by far the most confidence about this new way of working, with 82% of young freelancers saying they’re optimistic about the future of freelancing.

The Connected Generation

Why? Because they understand networks and hubs better than anyone—and networks and hubs are what make for successful freelancers. They grew up connected across global platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YikYak. They’re the most connected generation in human history.

They understand the power of affiliations, even the loose connections more traditional generations would have dismissed. Ask any freelancer and they’ll tell you the secret to success is the power of those loose ties.

Millennials are putting that understanding of the power of networks to impressive use. In Spain, the millennial-founded Podemos is the fastest-growing political party in the country, and one of the Europe’s most prominent for social justice and economic equality. Here in the U.S., the Occupy movement took up the same causes, building a networked infrastructure to advance their politics. We’re seeing the new activist wave starting co-operatives and social-purpose businesses at a remarkable rate.

Their Next Steps

But of course, millennials are, by definition, still young. Many aren’t raising families yet, or buying houses, or saving for retirement. It’s reasonable to wonder how aging will shape their priorities and their ideas about work.

But what we’ve seen so far is encouraging. Many young people are following in the footsteps of the "millennials" of the 20th century, the workers who were coming of age as the Industrial Revolution truly kicked in. It was the workers of the 1910s and 1920s who saw the rapidly changing economy and built the labor movement in response.

They pioneered the social unionism movement. They banded together to build worker-owned banks, housing, insurance companies, and even vacation camps. Today’s millennials are building support systems and co-working spaces.

With their comfort within the freelance economy and their understanding of networks, millennials are perfectly positioned to create the sustainable independent work economy that we—and they—need.

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