Designing a Workplace for the 21st Century Workforce

Designing a Workplace for the 21st Century Workforce
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The demographics of the U.S. workforce continue to shift: women now comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce and the Millennial Generation has overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest generational cohort in the U.S. workplace.

Traditional workplace policies and practices have not kept up, and they are not empowering--and ultimately retaining--top talent among women or Millennials.

New research reveals that companies can improve workplace satisfaction and performance simultaneously among cohorts of women and Millennials by creating flexible work policies and fostering a culture of transparency and collaboration.


Millennials desire greater levels of flexibility regarding where and when they get their work done. Flexibility is also empowering for working parents, and especially working mothers, who continue to take on the majority of household and childcare responsibilities.

New research from the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, sponsored by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, reveals that Millennials and women benefit from formalized policies that remove the uncertainty around flexible work conditions. Too often, employers approach flexibility, parental leave, and communication expectations on a case-by-case basis. As a result, employees are unsure how to act for fear that they will be stigmatized in some way by their managers or peers for choosing this route.

In order to empower Millennial and women employees, companies should create clear and structured policies inviting flexible work, and encourage managers to clearly communicate these expectations to employees.

Companies and managers should create procedures for employees to notify their managers and their team when they will be out of the office and when they will be available. Such a system can more effectively align employee and manager expectations, and make employees more comfortable asking for and adopting flexible procedures. Moreover, core hours and days can provide the structure necessary for flexibility to be successful by mandating limited days or times when employees must be present in the office. Finally, company cultures should value employees' work product over time spent in the office, facilitating greater levels of flexibility and employee satisfaction.


Millennials desire increased transparency within the workplace, which they view as critical to the quality of their work. Participants in the Georgetown study said that knowing more about a company's operations allows them to understand the broader landscape and do their jobs better. Knowing the "why" behind a company's strategic decisions also enables Millennials to see their impact within organizations and find more meaning and satisfaction in their roles.

Women, whose work styles are often found to be "less hierarchical, more cooperative and collaborative, and more oriented to enhancing others' self-worth," are also empowered by organizations that value collaboration and communication. In the Georgetown study, women said that when they take time to listen to others, they are often viewed as having a weak leadership style. In contrast, men who make decisions unilaterally are viewed as being more decisive and competent.

To empower Millennials and women, companies should value and promote transparency and collaboration. Companies should encourage managers to facilitate communication between leadership and employees, and provide a forum for employees to voice their concerns and ideas directly to leadership. This could, for example, involve a quarterly town-hall, during which junior employees are invited to ask questions to leadership about the company's strategy and tactics.

Companies could also do this by implementing or encouraging reverse mentoring programs, such as those at Target, PwC, and Proctor & Gamble. Reverse mentoring enables Millennials to help their Baby Boomer bosses better understand technology, social media, and how businesses can suit their needs. Such programs could also benefit women, inviting them to share insights about their unique experiences and how workplace policies could better support and motivate them.


It is essential that companies adjust their policies and practices to align with the new way of working expected and desired by the majority of their employees. By creating and implementing practices that promote flexibility, openness and communication, companies can empower the largest segment of their workforce, retain their talent, and grow their bottom line.

By Melanne Verveer and Tricia Correia, author of "Women, Millennials, and the Future Workplace: Empowering all Employees" and former Bank of America Fellow on Women and the Economy at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.