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Knowing Your Workers: the Millennials


MillennialsPreviously we discussed how people from different generations view the workplace and their role in it. We’ve covered the Baby Boomers and Generation X, and now it’s time to talk about the generation everyone likes to dissect: the Millennials. The youngest generation currently in the workforce, also known as Gen Y, these workers were born in the years between 1981-2000, making the oldest of them 35 and the youngest of them not in the workforce yet.

If you ask Boomers or Gen Xers about Millennials, you’ll generally get an earful. The stereotype about this generation is that they’re entitled, lazy, and expect rewarding and satisfying work right away. Also they’re thought to resist management and bounce from job to job. Are these impressions right or are they just the kind of complaining older generations have always loved to do about younger ones? Does it matter?

It does matter, partly because the Millennials make up a larger share of the population than Generation X and the Baby Boomers are already phasing out. By some estimates, Millennials will make up 40% of the workforce by 2020. If you don’t figure out what they’re about and how to motivate them, you will soon be experiencing significant stress within your employee pool. So what makes Millennials tick?

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These are the children of the Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers. They came of age during the Computer Revolution, and they are the most tech savvy and most tech obsessed of all the generations. Unlike Boomers, they’re not intimidated by computer problems and do not have to be asked to try and fix them. The flip side of that is that they’ve never lived without cellphones or the internet and don’t really know how to. They also prefer to communicate via email and texts, unlike the Boomers who prefer traditional meeting and Xers who’d like to be left alone.

In terms of schooling, this was the generation that was raised believing in the importance of self-esteem and getting participation trophies in school and sports. The phrase, “Dream it and do it,” is a part of their core belief system and teachers emphasized work being a part of personality, advising “Do what you love.” Millennials have also been taught to believe in and demand rights for a larger and larger group of people and tend to define themselves as individuals rather than as members of groups. They are the reason Facebook now offers so many gender possibilities to select from.

The Millennial generation grew up on the tail end of the mid-century prosperity bump which means that their parents, the Boomers, had enough to live on and probably a number of luxeries earlier generations never dreamed about. These kids went to Disney World on vacation, and they grew up with multiple large-screen TVs and entertainment on demand. However, compared to older generations, the cost of college has been exorbitantly high. Most of them heard since childhood that college was necessary for success, so they are more burdened by student loan debt than any generation ever has been. To make matters worse, they’ve transitioned to adulthood when the economy was in collapse. Good jobs have been scarce for them, and many of them are still in some way dependent on their parents to make ends meet.

Given these experiences, what do they value in and at work? Most Millennials view work more as a way to make a difference in the world. For them, impact is important, often more important than money. They also need to find their work interesting and fulfilling more than older generations do, and that can mean doing side work as necessary to fund their main goals. Millennials have not made large purchases like houses or cars the way older generations did because they cannot afford them, but not being tethered to a large mortgage means they are less likely to stay in a job that they don’t like, does not make them happy, or conflicts with their core beliefs.

Because technology makes them ever available, Millennials also feel they should not have to be chained to a desk. They want to work smarter and on the go. They don’t mind being interrupted in their personal lives if that is the trade off. They want to integrate their work lives and their personal lives so that it’s more like one larger life.

Millennials have not seen job stability in action, so they are cautious and look out for themselves. This is part of the reason why they move from job to job. They can be loyal workers, but they view that loyalty as a two-way street and something their employer must earn. They also demand positive feedback more and in a way that older generations did not.

If your organization has or is looking to attract Millennial workers, it’s important to keep their communication style, their values, and what motivates them in mind so that you can both tailor a rewards system that works and minimize conflict between generations. These younger workers do offer strengths that other generations can respect and use, but they don’t respond the same way to demands. They are the future, though, so it’s better to learn to work with them rather than fight or constantly criticize them.