Freelance flexibility with full-time stability
The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017
Anxiety may be partially responsible for millennials’ wanting to remain in their jobs, but the allure of flexible working options might be just as influential.
Stability, flexibility, and automation
We discussed earlier how millennials are concerned with a large range of global issues and, particularly in mature economies, have a generally pessimistic outlook regarding economic and social progress. Our data suggests these uncertain times might be driving a desire among millennials for greater stability. The 2016 Millennial Survey implied that young professionals lacked loyalty, as many anticipated leaving their employers in the next two to five years. After 12 months of political and social upheaval, especially in developed markets, those ambitions have been tempered.
Last year, the gap between those who saw themselves leaving their companies within two years and those who anticipated staying beyond five years was 17 percentage points. This year, the balance of millennials looking to leave “soon” is only seven points. The suggestion that millennials are showing signs of greater loyalty is far stronger in certain markets, with the balance looking to leave “soon” falling from 32 points to 12 points in the UK; from 18 points to 5 points in France; and, from 7 points to -3 points 7 in the US. In fact, millennials in the US are now more likely to say they will stay beyond five years than to leave within two. While these results signal better news for employers, the 38 percent of millennials globally who would leave their jobs within two years, if given the choice, is still high.
We have reported how millennials seem especially concerned about issues that directly impact the individual or which create an atmosphere of threat and uncertainty. This anxiety might be why most would currently prefer a permanent, full-time job rather than working freelance or as a consultant on a flexible or short-term basis. Irrespective of perceived across-the-board advantages 8 of working as freelancers or consultants, nearly two-thirds of millennials prefer full-time employment. This preference accounts for six in 10 (61 percent) within emerging markets and seven in 10 (70 percent) in mature economies. The reasons most often given for preferring a permanent role are that it offers “job security” and “a fixed income.”
Flexible working practices, loyalty, and the foundation of trust
Within the workplace itself, flexible working continues to be a feature of most millennials’ working lives and is linked to improved organizational performance, personal benefit, and loyalty. This year, we also observed the solid foundation of trust that enables organizations to increasingly offer and operate flexible working arrangements.
Compared to our 2016 survey (67 percent), the proportion able, within certain limits, to start and finish work at times they choose is largely unchanged. However, we see a significant expansion in the numbers able to work from locations other than their employer’s primary site. The current figure of 64 percent is fully 21 points higher than last year’s survey, reflecting how rapidly technology is facilitating mobile working, and how employers are becoming increasingly comfortable with such arrangements.
Overall, 84 percent of millennials report some degree of flexible working in their organizations. Meanwhile, taking these four arrangements together, 39 percent of millennials say they work in organizations that offer a highly flexible working environment, compared to about three in 10 whose workplaces feature moderate (31 percent) or relatively low levels (27 percent) of flexibility.
Such arrangements are not simply nice to have, but are strongly linked to improved performance and employee retention. For example, those in organizations that offer a high degree of flexibility in working arrangements seem to reward their employers with higher levels of loyalty. In highly flexible working environments, the difference between those who see themselves leaving within two years (35 percent) is just two points above those anticipating to stay beyond five years (33 percent)—among those in the least-flexible organizations, there is an 18 point gap (45 percent versus 27 percent). The difference is significant.
Such flexibility is regarded by millennials as having a positive influence on each aspect of work we enquired about. In particular, they say that flexible working arrangements support greater productivity and employee engagement while enhancing their personal well-being, health, and happiness. Compared to those in “low-flexibility” environments, those employed where flexible working is highly embedded are twice as likely to say it has a positive impact on organizational performance and personal well-being. As shown in Figure 16, those in highly flexible workplaces are two-and-a-half times more likely than those in more restrictive organizations to say that flexible working practices have a positive impact on financial performance. This, if nothing else, should encourage businesses to further explore what might follow from having more flexible approaches to working arrangements.
Accountability and flexibility are highly correlated; those working in the more flexible environments report higher levels of personal responsibility. For example, where flexible working is most deeply entrenched, 34 percent take “a great deal” of personal accountability for their organizations’ reputations. This compares to just 12 percent within enterprises where there is low flexibility.
As organizations have adopted flexible working, any early misgivings that the opportunity would be abused or that productivity might suffer appear to have been unfounded. There is clearly potential for employees to feel colleagues are taking advantage of flexible working opportunities, or for line managers to be suspicious of those who regularly work from home or vary the start and finish of their working day. However, the potential for a distrustful atmosphere is largely unrealized with three-quarters (73 percent) of those offered flexible working opportunities saying they trust colleagues to respect it. An even higher proportion (78 percent) feel trusted by their line managers. Perhaps as one would expect, where flexible working is most embedded, the levels of trust are greatest with only one in 10 suspicious of colleagues or believing that their line managers doubt them.
Millennials appear to want the best of both worlds—freelance flexibility with full-time stability. Employers are increasingly offering flexible working arrangements while respondents believe such flexibility improves things for everybody. It also encourages greater levels of accountability—which they want—and their proven ability to assume accountability is leading to greater opportunities.
Automation: Threats and opportunities
While the use of flexible working practices has accelerated over the past 10 years or so, it is automation that likely will bring the next big change in working practices. Our survey shows how millennials recognize the obvious potential benefits of automation in terms of productivity and economic growth; they also see it providing opportunities for value-added or creative activities, or the learning of new skills. In many respects, therefore, automation could be regarded as a route via which, if they adapt accordingly, millennials (and other employees) can increase their influence within organizations rather than see it diminished.
Of course, though, there are potential downsides: 40 percent see automation posing a threat to their jobs; 44 percent believe there will be less demand for their skills; a majority believe they will have to retrain (51 percent); and 53 percent see the workplace becoming more impersonal and less human. This may be a factor in some respondents’ pessimism over general economic conditions or future prospects.
Those who currently make the greatest use of social media especially recognize the potential for workplace automation to support more creative and expanded roles for millennials. Looking at our “super-connected” millennials, we also see how those who are most willing to engage with new technology have a more positive outlook. Within this group, only 15 percent believe automation will reduce the number of jobs available to people like them; 64 percent think there will actually be more jobs available. In contrast, those making relatively little use of digital communication/social media are three times more likely to predict a reduction (45 percent) rather than an increase (15 percent) in jobs.
Automation might be expected to have different varying impact depending on the sector or size of business in which it is deployed; to some extent, we see this in the data. Within technology, media, and telecommunications (60 percent); manufacturing (55 percent); financial services (54 percent); and energy and resources (50 percent), at least half of survey respondents say their employers have done a “great deal or a fair amount” to reduce human involvement in certain tasks by using automation/robotics/artificial intelligence. The average across all sectors is 48 percent and, perhaps naturally, is greater among large organizations (1,000+ employees) than small ones (fewer than 100 employees), 51 percent to 42 percent.
Manufacturing (47 percent); technology, media, and telecommunications (37 percent); transportation (28 percent); energy and resources (25 percent); and life sciences (23 percent) are most often cited as having made the best use of automation/robotics to benefit customers. In each sector, though, respondents are less likely to say this has had a positive impact on employees.
Any negative impact on job availability is thought to be greater among those working in life sciences, not-for-profit organizations, and/or the broad area of distribution, retail and, travel. The threat to jobs is thought to be less acute among those in technology, media, and telecommunications; manufacturing; financial services; energy and resources; and education. These latter sectors have already adopted automation to a large degree and are more comfortable with it, perhaps because the early adoption of technology and new process has taken place throughout their existence. As regards the size of business, it is only those working in medium-to-large organizations (250-999 employees) that expect automation to have little impact on job availability. It is, perhaps, to be expected that while there is not a strong correlation, opportunities for personal development as a result of automation are predicted to be higher in those sectors where any negative impact on job numbers is expected to be lowest.