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Bosses listening to millennial workers

By Allan Chernoff, CNN
As millennials play an increasingly important role in the workforce, executives are changing their policies and management styles.
As millennials play an increasingly important role in the workforce, executives are changing their policies and management styles.
  • For many millennials the priority is, "life first, work second."
  • "If you want to get the best people, you have to meet them halfway," professor says
  • One PR firm has relaxed its dress code and offered happy hours and half-day Fridays

(CNN) -- As millennials play an increasingly important role in the workforce, their likes and dislikes are reshaping the way Americans work and are forcing executives to change policies and management styles.

The CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR has already seen the benefits of being more flexible.

"What time of day do you think we should open?" veteran public relations executive Marian Salzman asks her staff.

Several 20-something employees -- a few with the giggles -- respond that 10 or 10:30 a.m. would be a good time.

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Salzman isn't about to keep the doors closed until 10:30 a.m. But even though executives many years their senior might consider some of their requests audacious, she's doing plenty of listening to her staff of about 80, the vast majority of whom are members of the millennial generation -- those born after 1980.

Her millennial employees have asked for free food -- which Google gives its workers -- a juice bar, a yoga/Pilates room, even reimbursement for a personal trainer. While Salzman didn't grant any of those perks, she understands why they may not seem outrageous for someone with a millennial mindset.

"They want the workplace to recognize that they're not 9-to-5 people. They're not people that are ever going to wear gray flannel suits," Salzman said.

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For many millennials, priorities are "life first, work second."

"I have a girlfriend, I have family, I have friends, and these are all things that are very important because we work to live, and not the other way around," said Euro RSCG staffer Greg Housset.

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Millennials have also watched their parents get burned out or laid off by corporate America, so life/work balance is especially important to them, management experts say.

"If you want to get the best people, you have to meet them halfway," said Robert DelCampo, associate professor at the University of New Mexico's Anderson School of Management. "Being inflexible won't get you anywhere."

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So, Euro RSCG does permit very casual dress -- tattoos are on display, as are toes wiggling freely in flip-flops. The company sponsors rooftop happy hours three days each week, allows half-day Fridays during the summer and offers employees time off to do volunteer work.

Hiring Director Allison Pinter recently returned from a six-month volunteer stint with the nonprofit group Yele Haiti to help after the country's devastating earthquake.

"I'm really lucky I got to do that, and then come back to the job that I've loved for five years," Pinter said.

Salzman says she feels it's best not to manage from an authoritarian position. She strives instead to be a leader, peer and student of her young employees. Why? Because she believes young workers are plugged into the social media revolution that's changing the way the world communicates, including corporate America.

"They're the new marketplace, they're the new brains. They come with all the social media tools and tricks embedded in them as natives," she said.

The public relations executive recognizes she needs to be flexible enough to accommodate as many requests as possible from her young staffers -- requests she says she wouldn't have dared make when she was starting her career in the early '80s.

Millennial generation the next big thing

Managing millennials requires executives to check their egos and build up a thick skin. Not only are young employees very demanding these days, they're also quick to voice criticism -- even online for the world to see, something Salzman has experienced.

But she's put aside inclinations to exert her power in favor of recognizing the potential of her young employees, who she argues are anything but slackers.

"You're not the smartest person in the room anymore. You may be the most experienced, you may be the wisest. You're not the smartest," she says.

It's paid off for Euro RSCG Worldwide PR. The firm has enjoyed strong growth under Salzman with clients that include Kmart and the pharmaceutical firms Sanofi and Bayer.

The millennial style of working can yield success, if the boss is willing to throw out the old rule book.

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