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Critical question for any employer today: Is at least a third of your workforce under age 35?

If not, you risk losing out, and big time. Millennials make up 1 in 3 workers in the modern labor force today — and that number is only going to get bigger. By 2025, Millennials will be nearly half the U.S. workforce.

This is one curve you don’t want to fall behind. Not having a healthy mix of Millennials in your organization in 2017 could be a sign that your workplace culture is not aligned with modern culture overall. And the consequences of such a misalignment could be severe.

Let’s investigate.


It’s clear that the way we work together is changing in organizations across America. Most people think it’s because Millennials showed up and changed the office culture. That’s not quite right. Yes, Millennials are the newest generation of workers, and yes, they’re wired to behave and think differently than their Gen X and Boomer peers.

But Millennials aren’t the only change agents when it comes to workplace behaviors — everyone is.


Every day, people of all ages and generations bring the norms of modern culture with them when they show up to do their jobs. As newcomers to the workforce, Millennials simply had no frame of reference for office life when they started and expected it to mirror outside culture right away. In contrast, older generations with their decades of work experience noticed that life on the job today became different from life outside — but didn’t see it as abruptly. That’s why Millennials were likely the first to call out the misalignment.

What’s apparent to everyone no matter their age is that the cultural shifts happening outside the office need to be happening in workplace cultures as well.

For example, information is readily available to anyone today — on any topic, at any time, and from any place on the planet with an internet connection. A person in their private life only needs to look out (as in a web search) to get the information that interests them.

But in most organizations, information tends to be on a need-to-know basis and is shared from the top down only when the time is deemed “right.” So, in contrast, a person in the office is required to look up for information.

That’s Exhibit A of a misalignment between the workplace culture and the overall culture.

Most people think it’s because Millennials showed up and changed the office culture. That’s not quite right.


Fixing this problem starts with a commitment from the top. If senior executives think “because we’ve always done it this way” is an acceptable credo, then their workplace cultures will never evolve.

But if these executives instead see that Millennials and other job-seekers don’t want to come work for their organization versus their competitors — and maybe they’re wondering why that is — then it might be time to examine their workplace culture.

In SIR’s and the Institute for Tomorrow’s engagements with clients around the country, we’ve discovered that changing an organization’s culture isn’t about first changing the mindsets of employees. Instead, the first focus should be updating the rules (i.e., HR policies) to match the expectations of workers today. Once these rules are revised — such as letting people wear earbuds at their desks — then the whole workplace environment adjusts quickly to match.

So, if you aren’t winning with Millennial employees in 2017, then maybe you need to take a hard look at your rulebook. Is that 1980s dust you see? Let us know. We can help put your organization back on track.


Just a few of the projects we’re working on:

Fostering Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces — Over the past 15 years, SIR's staff has helped leaders in the private and public sectors develop diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies. While much work still remains, we've seen organizations make invaluable progress in moving from an emphasis on diverse employee representation to creating workplaces that welcome and encourage people from all backgrounds. Most recently, we supported Dominion Energy’s D&I strategic planning through employee awareness, education, and management skills-building. SIR applauds the Dominion leadership’s message to employees that focuses on why D&I contributes to a more innovative, productive, and fulfilling place to work.

Market Research — We’re thrilled and honored to announce a new business relationship with the University of Virginia. Our open contract will involve SIR’s support for the school’s emerging needs in qualitative and quantitative research over seven years — and it lets any public institution hire us without a formal RFP. With nearly a third of our staff being proud UVA alumni or affiliates, this news was cause to celebrate. Wahoowa!


Keynote Futurist Speeches — John Martin gave a major transit talk in NYC last week and is off again to Europe soon to speak to convenient store giant Circle K’s operations leaders. Meanwhile, Matt Thornhill just returned from a whirlwind speaking schedule: in Michigan, Vermont, Minneapolis, Chicago, and North Carolina. Learn more on SIR’s Institute for Tomorrow website.


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SIR is a 53-year-old strategy and market research consulting firm devoted to providing leaders with transformative insights and solutions in transportation, government, healthcare, higher education, placemaking, and diversity and inclusion. SIR’s in-house think tank, the Institute for Tomorrow, is a nationally recognized center on future studies, whose “future maps” and keynote presentations help leaders guide organizations through change in their specific industry. For more information, visit and

Matt Thornhill