Millennials Turn Corporate Culture on its Head

upsidedown

The new generation of workers challenges stereotypes of entitlement, personal boundaries and work-life balance

Some say that youth is wasted on the young. But at last week’s HR Technology conference in Las Vegas I got a glimpse of what it means to be young in today’s business world, and it doesn’t look like there’s much going to waste. It also doesn’t look like the corporate culture, codes of conduct and privacy policies of today will survive.

As Molly Graham talked about working at Facebook, it became clear that a new philosophy is emerging in business and today’s young workers are driving a change in corporate culture. The 27-year-old HR professional painted a picture of a company that leverages youth to rewrite the rules.

Founded by a millennial and with a workforce consisting of about 50 per cent millennials, Facebook provides a glimpse into a possible future for corporate culture. Millennials ask why things are the way they are and pose alternatives. They threaten the status quo, challenging our thinking about company codes of conduct and business philosophy.

Work is Personal

Graham talked about concepts we don’t always hear in business conversations. For one thing, she stressed the importance of interpersonal relationships at work. Ok, maybe not the kind we generally think of when we talk about interpersonal relationships, but friendships. She said that being friends with your co-workers makes you faster. Yup, faster. And happier. That one makes sense.

Graham gave an example of how her friendship with one of her coworkers allowed her to request his help on a project with a quick, informal e-mail, rather than a long, formal explanation. This, she says, saved her time.

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She didn’t touch on the possible loss of productivity when friends spend work time discussing personal matters. Nor did she touch on the legal and ethical implications of personal relationships that go awry and increased risk of workplace harassment.

She stressed the collaborative culture that emerges when co-workers are friends. “Collaboration that comes out of personal connections is amplified,” she said.

Work is Life

Traditional ideas about maintaining a healthy work-life balance don’t belong in Graham’s world. She said that there should be fewer barriers between work and our personal lives and that “you should do work that you want to devote your life to”.

Graham’s work world includes the occasional all-nighter, where employees work from 8pm to 6am in what is termed a “hackathon”. Live streaming connects different locations of the company and reinforces the company culture during these work-fests.

That she describes working all night as fun says something about the way Graham thinks about work and her co-workers. To garner that kind of buy-in, Facebook must be doing something right.

Stereotypes and Millennials

Graham acknowledges the stereotypes that paint millennials as having a sense of entitlement. In fact, she agrees that they do, but sees a positive side.

“Attitudes and behaviors that define millennials might be a good thing,” she said.

“Entitlement means someone who thinks they have a right to something, a right to know, a right to be part of a process, part of decision making,” she said. “We have a different word for this. We want to build a company where people believe they have a right to something – we call it ownership. Everyone should feel like it’s their company, they are responsible for the success of the company, for their decisions… This, for us, is a good thing.”

Open Culture

The culture of transparency that defines Facebook works for Graham’s generation, the generation that has been reported to care least about personal privacy.

“We are an incredibly open company,” said Graham. “We don’t have cubicles, just desks. We think there’s a lot of conversation that is really important.”

She described Mark Zuckerberg’s office as made of all glass. “Anybody can ask anything… we take openness seriously,” she said. “And we don’t block Facebook at work.” That garnered a laugh.

It does sound like a fun way to work, but will it continue to function well as millennials mature and become parents? Tomorrow’s corporate culture is likely to be very different from what we see today, but how this will all play out remains to be seen.

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Article Published October 11, 2011

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