How Can Millennials Change The World Of Work?

Following the news that pensioners are, on average, £20 a week better off than working-age people is there any good news for working millennials?

How Can Millennials Change The World Of Work?

by Vicky Spratt |

The way we work today looks vastly different to how it did fifty years ago. When my mum who’s in her early fifties and dad, who is only just sixty, started the world of computing was nascent and nowhere near as central to the working day as it is now. There was also no Internet, there were no mobile phones and I can pretty much guarantee nobody was talking about mindfulness breaks or flexible working.

There was, however, a lot more money flowing around. I’ve heard tales of mythical final salary pensions, long boozy lunches, jobs for life, little or no student debt and house prices that were less than six times the average salary. This week the research from the Resolution Foundation made headlines after finding that pensioners are, on average, £20 a week better off than working-age people, partly because of housing costs. This followed on from a report, published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) last September which found that if you were born in the 1980s (like me), then you’re half as wealthy as those born in the 1970s because of stagnant wages, falling home ownership, weaker pensions and low interest rates.

So far, so bleak if you’re reading this and happen to be under the age of thirty-five. Neither of my parents went to university, I’m pretty sure neither of them ever enjoyed their job as much as I do and, in many ways, the level of privilege and quality of life I enjoy is on a scale that they and their peers would have struggled to dream up in their early twenties. However, on balance, there’s no doubt that when you account for all of my expenses (rent, transport, food shopping) I am definitely empirically worse off than they were. In my darker moments (when I’m reading research by the IFS or Resolution Foundation), I must confess that I do catch myself thinking that I would swap my university education, iPhone and boujislifestyle for a mortgage and gold-plated pension in a heart beat. Woe is middle class millennial me etc. etc. etc. Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink.

Ok, great, we’ve got the self pity out of the way. Let’s move on. In all seriousness, things aren’t great for our generation. That’s not my self-indulgent opinion, it’s a fact. Report after report warns that social mobility is in slowly going into reverse and even the government have admitted that this country’s housing crisis turned into a disaster. Can there really be no good news for working millennials? Is there any way of taking a glad half full to the current economic situation that our generation has inherited? After all, millennials are, reportedly, approaching the world of work differently to our elders so, maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance we can reshape things? Sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t have triple-lock pensions doesn’t really seem like a viable way to spend the rest of our lives.

Benedict Dellot, Associate Director for the Royal Society of Arts’ economy, enterprise and manufacturing team, researches self-employment and capitalism in the 21st century (among other things). He told The Debrief that it’s difficult to know whether millennials are actually ‘different to those generations who have gone before’. ‘How much of it is a conscious choice?’ he asks, ‘and how much of it is because of factors forced upon this generation for the worse.’

Everyone wants more ‘freedom and flexibility’ he says, because there are serious ‘practical benefits’ to having it. Indeed, it’s well-documented that the number of people opting to become self-employed has risen in recent years, with a 7 per cent rise in the number of under 35s doing it for themselves.

Millennials are often referred to as ‘slashies’; a generation for whom working life doesn’t necessarily comply with the traditional 9-5 schedule, we know anecdotally that many people have side hustles, personal projects and work outside of work. Benedict notes that for an increasing number of people ‘work is an end in itself. It’s more than just a way to put bread on the table’ which, he says, could ‘explain why self-employment has become more prevalent. We surveyed people and asked what they wanted from work and the main thing was autonomy, the second was flexibility.’ In terms of side hustles, Benedict explains that this speaks to ‘work being much more important to our sense of self and identity’ than it might previously have been. So, while our generation may have to work later and, on balance, not be quite so well off as previous generations were at our age, perhaps the idea that you simply clock in and out of work every day and the notion that work for a period of your life and then retire are becoming increasingly outdated. If more of us are doing jobs we want to be doing, on our own terms then retiring when we hit sixty or sixty-five so we can ‘enjoy our lives’ stops making as much sense as it might once have done.

However, as much as we might want to work for ourselves, work more flexibly and have more autonomy, Benedict points out that there are still some pretty serious obstacles to overcome. He explains that entrepreneurship is still, on the whole, the preserve of the privileged. ‘One of the key things we’ve spotted’ he tells me, ‘is the importance of assets and wealth in starting up a business. This is likely because people come to a point where they own their homes outright, have lower outgoings and are likely to be able to take more risks. This speaks to a bigger issue in terms of wealth when it comes to starting a business. If you’re given inheritance you’re twice as likely to start your own business, if you own your own home your three times more likely…’ Indeed, he notes that people who own their home outright are 30 percent more likely than renters to last three years or more running their own business.

Depressing as that might be, it is likely that things will continue to evolve so all is not lost. As we sit here, at our desks, on the cusp of what the World Economic Forum (WEF) are calling the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ it’s becoming clear that the world of work is changing once again. We might not have the financial security that our parents had (right now) and we might feel like the odds are stacked against us, but perhaps it’s time to focus on what we do have, rather than lament what we don’t.

In their Future of Jobs report, the WEF list how the top ten skills needed in the workplace will change by 2020. What’s interesting is thatthey list critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence as the key skills that will be needed in 2020. As a generation who’ve grown up online, are more critical of received wisdom than any other (despite the media’s propensity to caricature us as narcissistic lemmings) and have been encouraged to be in touch with our emotions from a young age (i.e. we’re not as repressed as people used to be) this skill set could well play to our strengths.

Progress might be slow, Rome wasn’t built in a day and the world of work won’t change over night. However, there are already so many examples of young people doing things differently. 10 years ago who would have predicted that Instagram would become a platform from which people build entire businesses? Who would have guessed that there would be entire jobs which involved managing social media? It might not always feel like it but we have the power to shape the world of work. Benedict notes that, perhaps, while we should continue to ackowledge the benefits of self employment we should also be asking 'what more businesses can do to support and nurture their employees'. We can make work work for us and aim for more than a standard log in/log off 9-5.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

It's Equal Pay Day So We Asked The Government What Their Doing About The Pay Gap** **

Non-Shit Tips For Dealing With Stress At Work

Reddit Users Share Their Tips To Help You Get Your Own Way

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us