Photo courteous of Getty Images
At Quicken Loans' headquarters, young employees play table tennis on breaks, ride scooters between offices and have management's ear whenever they want it.
The mostly-Millennial workforce - 55% of the 10,000 employees were born after 1980, the generation also known as Gen Y - also likes working in an urban area, so the online mortgage lender's downtown Detroit location can help attract them.
While other employers might scratch their heads - or pull out their hair - over Millennials' approach to work, Quicken CEO Bill Emerson says he embraces it. The company's brightly colored, free-spirited offices are designed to get the young workers' creative juices flowing and help chart the company's direction. Experience, he says, is overrated.
"It doesn't matter how long you've been inside of this organization, if you've got fresh eyeballs and you see things that can get better, please tell us what those things are and we will execute on those things," says Emerson, 50.
For Baby Boomers who grew weary of answering their toddlers' constant questions, Millennials' workplace "whys" can get tiresome. "Because I said so" may have worked when it came to kids and winter coats, but it's probably not the right answer to most Gen Y employees. Neither is: "Because we've always done it that way."
After all, workplace cultures need to adapt to both a younger workforce and tougher competition in this economy.
"Most managers don't think they owe explanations to people and can be offended by these young people who ask questions like, 'Why are we merging with this other company?' And 'Why aren't we adopting this new technology,' " says talent expert Leah Reynolds, a senior vice president with human resources consulting company Aon Hewitt. "It can be seen as insubordinate instead of saying, 'Wow, great energy and great initiative.' "
Besides, many young workers actually did get good answers to those "whys" growing up. Parents might have explained the family finances when they were breaking it that the vacation was off, says Reynolds. So they expect answers at work, where they are gaining on Baby Boomers, who currently make up 37% of the workforce, compared with the 25% that Millennials comprise, according to a report by non-profit company Catalyst.
Annual performance reviews and the seniority system are two workplace institutions that Millennials simply don't get. Reynolds says they don't make much sense anymore, anyway. After all, in many companies' tech-oriented offices these days, the younger workers often can be as valuable as older ones. And letting them move "a few boxes on the org chart" may be key to keeping them, Reynolds says.
"They bring more of a sense of urgency to their career development than we've found in previous generations," says Reynolds. "The pace at which they think they need to add meaningful bullet points to their résumé is much quicker."
Many twentysomething workers were in college during the recession and may have seen their own parents lose their jobs. That's given them the idea they "need to be able to own their own careers," Reynolds says.
It isn't necessarily that young workers don't want to stay long at their company. It's that they doubt it will happen because of factors beyond their control, such as mergers and downsizing.
That's one reason they don't want to wait a year between job reviews. They expect managers to help them understand what their best skills are and where they need to improve, Reynolds says.
Helping them helps Quicken adapt to the times: "We want to make sure we're continuously focused on technology and ... new and innovative solutions," Emerson says.
Among the changes Quicken has Gen Y to thank for: an app that helps people find meeting rooms in the company's buildings and another that helps them track where the shuttle buses are.
Tapping Gen Y for ideas keeps them "engaged and excited about staying at a place long term," he says. In fact, the average tenure for a Quicken Gen Y employee is six years. Most studies show the average Gen Y employee stays only two years.
Reynolds says this approach can feel uncomfortable to traditional businesses.
"A lot of our assumptions of how we should work together in a 20th-century workplace need to be rethought," she says.
That's especially true of the idea that someone on the "lowest rung can't go talk to someone at a high level because everyone in between will get upset," she says.
"It's unprecedented to reach down and pull people out" of lower levels in an organization and use them in highly strategic ways, Reynolds says. But it's critical to businesses of the future.
"This is not about catering to a bunch of kids," she says. "It's about a shift in the way you do business to embrace young talent, particularly the tech savvy they bring to work."