How millennials helped me create the work environment I always wanted

I like to make jokes about millennials, but make no mistake: I love this younger generation for a lot of reasons. Millennials have entered the workforce and insisted on things I always wanted but was too scared, too pessimistic, too much of a conformist to ask for. For example:

1. Beards. I always wanted to wear a beard at work, but the generation in charge when I started working wasn’t having it. Millennials have come along and made beards cool again. Screw it, I’m growing one now!

2. Jeans. I always wanted to wear jeans to work, but the generation in charge when I started insisted on suits. I hated it. Millennials have come along wanting to wear jeans too, but they had the courage and power to make it happen. Now I wear jeans nearly every day and it’s almost embarrassing to admit how such a simple change has made me so much happier at work.

3. Bike rides and kayaks. When I was stuck in a suit every day, I could not take a bike out for quick spins around the block or into downtown for lunch. Once we relaxed the dress code, the folks here (myself included) started riding the share bikes we keep in the lobby. We even bring our kayaks in and take advantage of the easy access in downtown Akron to the Ohio and Erie Canal and Towpath Trail for staff floats down the waterway after work.

4. Vacations. I always wanted to go on vacations and forget about work, but I came up in a work world in which a week vacation in year one of a job was rare. I never took a day off during the first year of any job I’ve ever had. And as much as I am amazed (and occasionally frustrated) by millennials’ insistence on work/life balance, I long for it in my own life. So I now grant it to them in hopes that, by watching them, I’ll learn to live in a more balanced way.

5. Being friends. I have always wanted to be friends with people I worked with in an authentic way, but the culture of organizations that I came up in just weren’t set up for people to be in a true community. Top-down management kills culture and tilts the power game, stunting real relationships at work. But millennials don’t do top down. And they don’t do separation between personal and professional life. So relax and be friends, people!

I give a huge thanks to this new, optimistic, smart, hard-working, occasionally annoying, but deeply transformational generation. They definitely have led me to create the work world I always wanted, but was too scared to ask for. I have a hunch a lot of other people feel the same.

Daniel Flowers is president and CEO at Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank