Millennials versus Perennials: how will the multigenerational workforce affect what you offer business customers?

The rise of the Millenial worker
Did you know that 75% of the working population will be Millenials or Gen Z by 2025?
This is a fact often overlooked by B2B service providers which have a tendency to build for yesterday, or at least for now, rather than for tomorrow. This risk is that the huge changes that businesses are going through – in terms of needing to enhance employee experience and build the future of work – are often not reflected in the products offered to the business market. To be successful, B2B service providers need to understand not just what middle-aged decision makers want, but what both Millennials and Generation Z want and need in order to build propositions to support the changing dynamics of the business market.
While many B2B service providers struggle to put together a coherent story on IoT, for example, their customers are embracing its opportunities and threats wholesale. That can be seen in the adoption of wearables by employees or whole industries preparing for the opportunities IoT will deliver.
Take the retail sector, 96% of decision makers are making changes to ready for IoT adoption, according to recent research by Zebra Technologies. These retailers are investing in beacons, RFID, AI and IoT platforms – readying themselves for hyper-localised, AI-enhanced, and personalised experiences that enable them to delight customers and sell more.
Now consider Millennials and Gen Zers themselves. According to a study by Deloitte, 43% of Millennials say they will leave their job within two years. They perceive short-term jobs and freelancing as the way of the future – with 62% saying they are willing to leave for these kind of opportunities. Gen Zers are even less loyal or willing to be employed. Sixty-one percent say they will leave their current jobs within two years if they can.
Even amongst those who intend to stay with a firm, a large proportion (55%) note that this is partly because the firm has become a lot more flexible in how its employees work, allowing greater choice of where and when employees work compared to three years ago.
Thus the enterprise of the future faces much higher worker churn, more contractors and short-term employees, and far greater challenges in terms of recruitment. These workers will want to come with their own mobile and wearable devices (BYOD). They will expect organisations to be easy to connect to and work with – all of which will increase the risk profile of organisations. Saying no to them, or making their working conditions too restrictive, will simply make it impossible for organisations to recruit enough younger workers.
Enterprises will have to refocus on the balance between productivity and innovation versus risk and security – a balance that will become ever-more challenging as workers and objects within the smart workplace become more connected. How do you tell a Generation Zer that they cannot wear their connected coat to work, or use their connected umbrella?  How do you prevent an Alexa-enabled headset in someone’s bag from listening to sensitive corporate information? (see Younger workers not taking enough responsibility for security)
The persistence of the Perennial
Of course 75% of workers being Millennial or Gen Z assumes that older generations actually retire when they’re eligible, but evidence suggests that many will work well beyond retirement age. In 2018, the UK added 473,000 jobs, with two-thirds of those taken by the 50+ age group, as the number of retired people dropped to a 25-year low. In the last 10 years, the number of people in their 70s in the UK who are still  working more than doubled, with 1 in 12 septuagenarians now working compared to 1 in 22 ten years ago. There are also 53,000 octogenarians still working, with 25% of these working full time.
As such, we are rapidly moving towards a truly multi-generational workforce that will see teenagers working alongside septuagenarians or even octogenarians. Such a working environment will mean that many assumptions about workers will be challenged, and a much broader range of needs will have to be accommodated.
As challenging as it is to anticipate the needs of Generation Y and Z in the workplace, B2B service providers must also not overlook the needs of older workers (the Perennials). How do you tell an older worker that their blood pressure monitoring device may compromise your enterprise security? How do you compensate for failing eyesight or hearing? How do you assist older workers in making the transition to new technology? Or accommodate their needs for more flexible working?
The poster child for Perennial Flexi-work is a US pharmacy called CVS. They had long noted that their customers migrated south towards the sun during winter (to Florida or Arizona). However, they discovered that many of their older employees wanted to do the same thing. The company realised that by allowing their workers to temporarily relocate to stores further south, they could actually resource stores that got busy during the winter due to customer movements, as well as meet their employees’ needs.
The German auto manufacturer BMW also realised it had an aging workforce. In response, it retooled its production facilities for older workers, installed ergonomic seating, enlarged the type on computers, and supplied more supportive work boots. The result was higher productivity and fewer sick days.
In the UK, not only are people working longer but research by the TUC says that many are taking part-time work, including night shifts. Its research revealed that there are now nearly 1 million night shift workers aged over 50 in Britain, with virtually all of the growth in night shifts since 2014 accounted for by this group, resulting in one-third of total night shifts now being conducted by older workers.
And it’s not just younger workers seeking to accommodate the needs of childcare, study or travelling that value flexible working; older workers may want to be semi-retired rather than fully retired – either for financial reasons, or to pursue holidays, study hobbies or travel; or they may need to balance work with looking after sick or older relatives, or seek to work part-time because they are not fit enough to work full time.
Changing workforce dynamics and expectations represents an exciting opportunity for B2B service providers to create products that cater for the needs of the multi-generational workforce, while helping protect business customers from new and emerging risks. The question is whether they can think outside the box to benefit from supporting these changes and position themselves to capitalise on the future of work.