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A Millennial Take on the Impact of COVID-19 on Work

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Dr. Steffi Burkhart. 

Most of you know me as an authority on “Millennials” and the “Next Level of New Work” in Germany. I have been researching and speaking about this topic for over six years now, always looking at it from the perspective of my generation (1980 and onwards). I was inspired to do this work for two key reasons: (1) Millennials have no political lobby in Germany to hear our voices and (2), we are, at the same time, perhaps the most relevant generation in the labor market today.

By 2030, due to Baby Boomers leaving the workplace, there will be a shortage of around 6-8 million skilled workers in the German employment market. In parallel, far fewer young people will be entering the job market, resulting in an enormous workforce void that can only be filled through AI, digitization and technology development.

Despite our smaller numbers, Millennials have an outsized impact on work today. We are the ones who have primacy in interpretation over the most important mass technology of our time, the Internet. We are the ones who will have to solve the future world and economic problems and who will be tasked with saving the planet over the next 50 years.

And we are the ones who are intensely developing work even further.

Millennials today want to work and live differently. It is important that there is an optimal dovetailing of what I call First-Place (home office), Second-Place (office), Third-Place (anywhere else - roof terrace, park, lake or restaurant) and Fourth-Place (virtual space) in all work zones, so that we can work at any time, optimally, productively, meaningfully and, above all, with pleasure - which, sadly, is currently lacking almost everywhere.

Millennials want to work in an agile, iterative, cooperative and networked manner, test innovations and, as a matter of principle, strive for the permanent development of their own skill set. They want to learn from the best, on-the-job and along-the-job. Among other things, the workplace is perceived as a point of experience. Companies must take note and pay into this account as well.

Of course, we all find ourselves in a new world now, with the COVID-19 global pandemic affecting workers around the world of every generation. Ensuring the health and safety of workers has become even more important than ever before. It is now the role of organizations not just to wait for bans and edicts from the Government, but also to proactively develop it's own policies for keeping workers and customers safe. We have seen this in the United States with companies like Target and Walmart instituting country-wide mask requirements though the federal government has avoided doing so.

Beyond just making their own policies, organizations should also use technology to keep physical locations and employees and customers as safe as possible. Over time and largely through the use of social media, populations have become much more comfortable giving up privacy for connectedness. During the pandemic, as Kronos research recently showed, most employees are comfortable having their employers collect data on them to make meaningful contact tracing possible.

The last few months have proved that working remotely - a rarity for many before this crisis - will be indispensable in the future. However, in my opinion the following challenge also arises: Working remotely can reduce the quality of communication leading to a loss of creativity and problem-solving skills.

An answer to this problem may be to focus on teaching all employees but especially Millennials those “soft skills” (written about in detail here by my fellow Workforce Institute board member John Hollon) such as emotional intelligence, communication skills, active listening, critical thinking, empathy, and teamwork. By doing this, we can improve remote work overall and help employees of every generation reach their full potential as their organizations succeed along with them.

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