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Actually, Millennials Do Expect Work Flexibility–Reinterpreting PWC’s Survey

“We do not expect work flexibility.” That’s the headline from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PWC) Millennials at Work global survey of 4,271 recent graduates.  Wow.  A strong statement, and one that completely contradicts what I find in my work, which is that millennials not only want work+life flexibility, they expect it. 

“We do not expect work flexibility.” That’s the headline from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PWC) Millennials at Work global survey of 4,271 recent graduates.  Wow.  A strong statement, and one that completely contradicts what I find in my work, which is that millennials not only want work+life flexibility, they expect it. 

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The summary of findings concludes that, “Although the millennials seem to indicate flexibility is not expected, we did however receive many comments about wanting more flexibility.”  What?  Which is it?  Something wasn’t adding up.  And might organizations take these findings from the well-respected PWC as license to stop focusing on greater work+life flexibility, especially in this economic environment?

The PWC researchers attributed the difference between the quantitative findings and qualitative comments to the fact that, “Perhaps the millennials do not feel that total flexibility is a realistic possibility, even though it is something they might desire. We also believe that their expectations may change as they get older and the need for greater flexibility for example to look after family members may become more of a priority.”

After digging further, I realized the difference between my understanding of millennials’ expectation of flexibility and PWC’s understanding related to how we defined “work flexibility.” 

The survey asked: “Do you think your office hours will be mainly flexible hours/mainly regular office hours/ regular office hours with some flexible working?”  

The survey found:

  • 66%  Regular office hours with some flexibility
  • 18%  Mainly flexible hours
  • 16%  Mainly regular office hours

My Interpretation:  84% of millennials expect work+life flexibility

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  • 66% want to work regular office hours, but expect day-to-day flexibility which are the small, periodic changes in where, when and how they work given their work and personal realities, and
  • 18% expect a formal flex plan that allows them consistently to work flexible hours.   

My definition of work flexibility (or “work+life flexibility”) includes both day-to-day, informal flexibility in where, when, and how work is done, as well as formal flex plans.  And as I suspected, a majority of millennials do want “some flexibility” which means being able to work from home periodically, or come in a little late or leave a little early as needed without a problem. 

That day-to-day flexibility which is so important to this group is not part of the culture in many organizations. If you want millennials to work for you it needs to be, along with a more formal ability to telecommute, work flex hours, etc.  All of this adds up, as I see it, to “we do expect work flexibility.”  

PWC’s Interpretation: “The theory that future generations will reject traditional work practices is debunked.  The majority expect some element of office based working (82%).” 

  • 66% Regular office hours with some flexibility
  • 16% Mainly regular office hours

In other words, if a millennial expects to work in the office for the most part during traditional business hours, they didn’t want work flexibility.  Hmmm.  I am unaware of research that says a majority of millennials want to completely reject traditional work practices (please send me that research if you have it).  But that seems to be the definition PWC used to reach their conclusions. 

Same data, two very different interpretations.  Which is right?  It depends upon how you choose to define work flexibility.  However, I respectfully disagree with PWC’s conclusion that millennials don’t expect work flexibility.  They do.    

What do you think? Which interpretation is correct?

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