The Millennial View: Fast Four Questions with Mike Smith, IBM MD

As part of our Millennial Series this October, we interviewed Mike Smith, Champion for Change and Managing Director of IBM. In our Fast Four Questions feature, we discuss the unique benefits that millennials bring, and the ways that IBM is supporting employees to balance home and work life.


Global Women: The lines between home and work life have blurred somewhat in recent years. To what extent, and how, do you show a duty of care for your staff?

Mike Smith: Flexibility is the key for a diverse workforce. Employees can choose to adopt a more flexible approach to working – working from home or working school hours, working part time, job share – at different times of their career and this ensures we have an inclusive and diverse workforce that is truly global and able to adapt to what is required at any given time to meet the needs of our clients.

As a technology company, we have of course invested in social and mobile tools that encourage collaboration in a different way. For example our Sametime messaging platform and moving away from office/desk phones and almost exclusively to mobile phones.

We provide programmes and benefits for our staff, from free health checks and immunisations, scholarships for tertiary study and other benefits. We also offer staff a “floating cultural holiday” which they can use at any point during the year to observe whatever special cultural day they choose.


Young people today are experiencing record levels of anxiety and depression. How can we best support our employees to balance home and work responsibilities without burning out?

Mike Smith: New Zealanders are increasingly aware of the importance of protecting and maintaining our mental health. We offer and actively promote a free Employee Assistance Programme if they want to talk with someone confidentially about their challenges and get professional advice and support.

Our flexibility programme encourages all staff to balance their work and home life. But as much as it’s important to provide options for flexibility and working offsite, it’s equally important to have a pleasant workspace or hub for employees to connect, collaborate and celebrate.

We opened a new Auckland office in Wynyard Quarter last year, and it was designed with agility and flexibility in mind. IBMers move among hot desks, collaboration zones, and meeting areas that can be fully customised to the way they want to work on any given day. It’s really given the team a boost.


What strengths do you think millennials bring that differentiate them from previous generations?

Mike Smith: Interestingly, IBM published a report a few years ago: Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths; The real story behind Millennials in the workplace which discussed the misconceptions on millennials and revealed that millennials are actually not that different from their predecessors.

What does make millennials unique is that they are digital natives. They are the first generation to grow up immersed in a digital world. Using mobile and social technologies, immediately accessing data, ideas and inspiration and instantly communicating and collaborating is second nature to them. That’s why we’ve created some initiatives at IBM to harness their energy and creativity, to leverage their different perspectives and ideas, and to maximise the value they can provide to IBM, our clients and our partners.

The Millennial Forum is a group of approximately 25 IBMers, meeting once a quarter across Auckland & Wellington to address the needs and interests of millennials at IBM NZ. They bring forward recommendations to Mike and the Leadership Team on proposed activities and initiatives.

Reverse Mentoring – for almost a year we have been pairing members of our Leadership Team with a millennial from another part of the business. They form a social contract and identify areas of interest and value, particularly around digital tools, social media and developing a personal brand.


Millennials are a purpose-driven generation and want to work for employers that are socially responsible. How do you ensure that IBM New Zealand walks the talk when it comes to living its values and ethics?

Mike Smith: IBM has a long-standing, global commitment to corporate responsibility globally and right here in New Zealand. Corporate citizenshipis at the core of our culture, values and purpose, and we also run internal recognition and awards programmes that are designed to align with our core values.

We take the same technologies and expertise that make us essential to our clients, and apply them to the communities where we live and work. Our aim is to enable them to become stronger, more connected, and more innovative. Our dedicated Corporate Citizenship Manager which works in partnership with not-for-profit organisations such as Youthline and the Graeme Dingle Foundation, co-ordinating the contribution of IBM technology and expertise.

IBM also offers grants and financial support to the organisations and causes where our passionate IBMers volunteer their time. In New Zealand, more than 30% of IBM employees are volunteers and have shared their skills and expertise with organisations including the Cancer Society and Ronald McDonald House, Multicultural Learning and Support Services, Literacy Aotearoa Wellington, SPCA, Citizens Advice, SPACE Trust and Blind Foundation among others.

Finally, our very popular Corporate Service Corps programme provides IBMers with leadership development while delivering high-quality problem-solving for communities and organisations. The programme empowers IBM employees as global citizens by sending teams of 10-15 individuals from different countries, and with a range of skills, to an emerging market for four week, community-based assignments. Since the programme’s launch in 2008, 20 IBM NZ employees have participated in CSC projects, with another eight accepted during the 2018 intake.