The Pursuit Of Happiness: How Millennials Are Changing The Workforce
A white shag rug accentuates the concrete floor in front of a big, bright window where low-flung leather furniture awaits clients. A conference room with 30-foot ceilings smells like the citrus-bellini candle burning on the table next to the lookbooks. Nineteen diamond-cut, metal steps ascend to the loft, a cozy confine of computers where sounds tangle with today’s top hits streaming on Spotify.
“We have a different candle and a different DJ every week,” says Manuel Bornia, CEO and founder of Think.Shop, a West Palm Beach-based hospitality-marketing startup owned and operated by millennials.
Bornia, 36, dressed in a three-quarter-sleeve jersey that complements his Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers, opened the business in 2012, carefully and cleverly curating an environment for employees where creativity meets comfort.
“Most of us spend more time here than at home,” he says. “We wanted something that felt industrial but organic.”
The firm specializes in restaurants and has branded big-name establishments, including Pistache French Bistro, PB Catch Seafood & Raw Bar and The Regional Kitchen & Public House. It represents nearly 50 culinary entrepreneurs and their foodie-friendly dining halls.
“We get a lot of great food, which is why we’re all a little fluffy,” Bornia jokes after ordering a half-dozen milkshakes from BurgerFi for the staff’s daily afternoon snack.
He also treats his team of 12 to lunch and dinner and drinks after dark.
“It wouldn’t be unusual for you to come here at 6 o’clock on any given day and find the whole staff working, but there would be an open bottle of wine,” Bornia says.
“Or tequila,” shouts associate-project manager Hannah Rose from upstairs.
The 21st-century workplace has changed. From spontaneous games of Twister in the middle of the day to bouts of beer pong at quitting time, the grindingly stressful jobs of previous generations are falling by the wayside.
“I got this chair for meetings, but it’s not conducive to sitting in for a long time so you have to end the meeting,” Bornia says, swiveling the low-back leather piece that looks like it belongs in a barbershop.
Faxes and photocopies have been replaced by Skype and Dropbox. Employees can work remotely (i.e. at home in their pajamas), putting traditional 9-to-5 gigs to shame. More time off is given for personal days and vacations. The result is a new wave of happier and healthier wage-earners.
Those born between 1980 and 2000—the rough definition of a millennial—want higher pay (74 percent), flexible hours (61 percent), a promotion in less than one year (56 percent) and more time off (50 percent), according to a CareerBuilder survey.
Bornia has a newborn. A Pack ’n Play sits inches away from his desk.
“We love what we do, but we also have lives,” he says.
Beau Beach, president of Prowess Investment Real Estate Services in Jupiter, has four children. The 35-year-old admits to working 12-hour days but not necessarily in the office.
“Actual offices used to mean something, and now they don’t,” Beach says. “For the most part, business isn’t done in person.”
His company sells investment property in Illinois, Wisconsin and, most recently, South Florida via a pool of freelance and full-time employees.
“This idea of having a receptionist in every little municipality that you work in is not reality anymore, and it’s just wasteful,” Beach says. “That money could be spent elsewhere on things that benefit the client.”
Levatas, a digital-transformation agency, has a page on its website that points out the company was founded in a garage and brews its own beer. The page additionally touts its “What The Fun” initiative, an effort to ensure employees partake in a little pampering every now and then such as manicures, massages, movies and more. The company has grown from its two-car setting to a suite at Downtown at the Gardens.
“[Levatas] paid their first employee [with] Taco Bell,” says Joe Russo, executive director of the Palm Beach Tech Association, a non-profit entity on Datura Street that organizes membership meetups and provides co-working space. “Now they have 100.”
Levatas, which belongs to the Association, is comprised of 75 percent millennial employees with three of the five executive team leaders being under the age of 35 as well.
“What we’re seeing with the millennial workforce is that they value experiences and quality-of-life over a traditional, ‘ladder-climbing’ career,” says Chris Nielsen, founder and executive vice president of experience design at Levatas.
These demands are worth accommodating, as Nielsen says the generation brings important skills to the workplace.
“The millennial workforce is absolutely critical to the success of Levatas as an agency—both now and in the future,” he says. “Millennials are digital natives, having grown up most of their lives with access to the internet, mobile phones and numerous connected devices and, in turn, connected experiences... They crave authenticity in everything they do, and are quickly turned off by what they consider superfluous ‘busy work,’ nontransparent communications or anything that even remotely smells like workplace bureaucracy. They expect more flexibility with their schedules and seek out recognition for their work more than their predecessors.”
RepZio, the maker of an Apple-compatible app for furniture manufacturers, has hip digs in Juno Beach. In addition to “a really stinkin’ cool view,” Russo notes that the company boasts a bar employees can eat lunch at and enjoy beers at after work.
“Their offices are reflective of their leadership and their lifestyle, and that’s what they want their clients to see,” he says.
The Palm Beach Tech Association has its share of aesthetic accoutrements amid a spread of five offices, 26 desks and a collaborative area that can seat up to 30. Hammock-like swings dangle in front of flat-screen TVs.
“At the end of the day, it’s a workspace, and you’ve got to balance that,” Russo says. “But you also have to present a look that meets your ideals. Some of these companies, they don’t care if their guys wear a hoodie [to work].”
Cary Bible, co-owner of Two Fish Creative, an enlightened marketing and graphic arts outfit, wears a hoodie to the 2,700-square-foot, third-floor warehouse on Clematis Street. Partner Ian Jacob wears ripped denim that exposes bare knees in the expansively open office that is wrapped in black textured wallpaper. Minimalist chairs and a sofa surround a conference table fashioned from a wooden wine rack. A Salvador Dali melting clock is the centerpiece of the kitchen, which is stocked with snacks. Inside the refrigerator, drinks are plentiful—a few Guinnesses, a magnum of pinot grigio and a container of Coke.
“Every client we have had is extremely impressed and wants to spend more time in our space,” says Jacob, 36, who works the graphic arts half of the business.
“We were going for a posh New York feel,” says Bible, 27, the enlightened marketing half.
"At the end of the day, it’s a workspace, and you’ve got to balance that. But you also have to present a look that meets your ideals. Some of these companies, they don’t care if their guys wear a hoodie [to work].”- Joe Russo
Breaking from Routine
At Two Fish, staff meetings begin with “TableTopics” and conclude with the “U Da Man” award—a recycled soccer trophy that gets passed around to the employee who goes above and beyond to meet a deadline. Flexible hours are encouraged and late-start days are frequent.
“Our generation really looks at time as the most valuable thing you have,” Bible says. “We try to make it pretty feasible for people to enjoy everything.”
Jacob says his father, like many fathers of those his age, had a routine that repeated itself five days per week.
“I very much do not like routine,” he says. “Every day here at Two Fish is different. You don’t feel like you’re stuck in a box.”
The company’s mantra is “Swim against the current.” The two surfing buddies named the company Two Fish—reportedly after a few Yuenglings—in 2014.
“We started this with no clients,” Bible says. “In 2016, we completed 46 unique projects.”
Bible has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Palm Beach Atlantic University, while Jacob majored in photography at Daytona Beach State College. They describe themselves as bosses yet friends.
“We try to make it fun,” Bible says. “We try to let our employees be able to do things you can’t in a corporate environment. The millennial mindset is more with less. You’re always going to have people who chase the dollar, but there are a lot of people who want...”
Jacob interjects, “The pursuit of happiness.”