The Millennials Are Coming! What Do We Do Now?


Plenty of surveys like the IBM Global CEO Survey, and a similar one from GE’s Global Innovation Barometer are uncovering the need for more creativity and innovation.   GE’s last survey reported that “95% of respondents believe innovation is the main lever for a more competitive national economy and 88% of respondents believe innovation is the best way to create jobs in their country.”

So if innovation is a growing imperative, we need a talent pool rich in innovators.  One of the fastest growing groups in the corporate world is the Millennials.    For many these people are a rich source of innovation talent — because they have grown up in the digital information age and are highly experienced in using technologies to learn, connect, collaborate and create on a daily basis.

But many organizations struggle with getting the best from them and are somewhat perplexed about the best ways to attract, motivate, reward, and retain them.  This young army of tech-savvy knowledge workers just doesn’t think the same way as do the Boomers of Gen X’ers who came before them.  It seems strategically important that executives everywhere learn about what makes them tick.

Who are the Millennials?

The Millennials are the generational cohort born from roughly 1980 to 2005, in an “echo” of the Boomer generation.  But as with other generations, it’s not the exact date of birth that matters as much as their mindset and transformative experiences.  The other names that the millennials go by illustrate: Generation Y, the 9/11 Generation, the Facebook Generation, etc.  Even prevailing popular culture neatly illustrates the difference. Which resonates more to you: the Beatles, Pearl Jam or America’s Idol?  How you answer is a pretty good indicator of which generation you belong to, not just because of differing musical taste, but because the symbolism that these three different types of music each evoke reveals the different mentality that Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials bring to the world.

The demographic power of the Millennials is far greater than many realize. This generational cohort is about 30% larger than the Baby Boomers in terms of raw numbers and three times the size of Generation X.  According to a recent article in TIME magazine, “right now, there are about 80 million Millennials and 76 million Boomers in America.  Half of all Millennials are already in the workforce, and millions are added every year. Approximately 10,000 Millennials turn 21 every day in America, and by the year 2025, three out of every four workers globally will be Gen Y.”

So if Millennials are an important future pool of talent in our organizations, how are they different from older generations?

What Attitudes Distinguish Millenials?

According to a Brookings Study on Millennials, Millenials communicate differently, sending an average of 79 electronic messages daily (email, tweets, blog posts etc.) Their number one source of news is web sites of the various news organizations.  Their parents are the most influential group in shaping their political views (with celebrities and faith leaders at the bottom of the list).  They admired FDR and Abraham Lincoln most highly as leadership role models.   Who was at the bottom? . . . celebrities, business leaders, military leaders and media moguls.   57.6% of them felt that the US is currently too involved in global affairs, and almost 75% of them believe the U.S. is no longer globally respected; its standing in the world has been tarnished over the last decade.   They as a group are almost equally divided on the question who will likely rule the world that you live in … between the US and China.  And interestingly, 71.1% of them said they would be interested in attending a public service university scholarship program that then required five years of government service after graduation.

 What do Millenials expect from the work place?

Another study called “No Collar Workers”  commissioned by MTV focused more on workplace attitudes.  Some of the responses are not surprising.  As they grew of on all forms of digital technology, they expect their workplace to be equally well equipped.   In addition they:

  • Want flexible work hours
  • Need more “me time” at work
  • Expect a constant flow of feedback on how they are doing
  • They are looking for mentors and coaches to give them career and job-related advice

Oh, and the really feel they should be able to wear jeans to work.

Here are perhaps some more interesting observations that came out of the MTV study.

 1)      They value collaboration over revolution.  Boomers were the protest and revolution generation, and they were voices for change.   Not so much for Gen Y.   They are not as driven by individual achievement and like the collaborative diverse experience that comes from working in teams.

2)      They value the work more than the money.  Half of the members of Gen Y surveyed said they would “rather have no job than a job they hate.” Among the top options for job desirability, “loving what I do” outranked salaries and big bonuses.

3)      They desire chances to be creative.  If not money, what do Millennials want most? The vast majority (83%) are “looking for a job where my creativity is valued,” while more than 9 in 10 Millennials are “motivated to work harder when I know where my work is going” and want supervisors, managers, and executives to listen to their ideas.

4)      They expect to be listened to.   While Millennials as a group are respectful of most adults and authority, they also feel strongly that they can teach even the CEO a thing or two.  The MTV study found that 76% of Millennials think their boss could learn a lot from them, compared to only 50% of boomers. Generally speaking, Millennials want to feel as though they’ve been heard, and that their opinions and insights matter.

5)      They want transparency. Another report, this one by Life Way Research reveals that transparency was one of the four characteristics millennials wanted in a leader.   This makes sense when you consider that Millennials heard their parents talk openly about everything from family finances to sex.   So, they expect the same openness from their managers and bosses at work   Millennials want to feel like they are part of a community at work—nearly 9 in 10 want a workplace to be social and fun—and have a genuine desire to listen into organizational strategy sessions. Instead of being a small cog unaware of any larger mission, Millennials like being in the loop regarding their company’s vision, and how it is going to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.

6)      They believe the work environment should be flat.   They see no reason for hierarchy or bureaucracy.   They value environments where companies are agile and act quickly to enact programs.  They aren’t impressed by big titles and executive perks.  This may be why most of them cite their most admired companies as ones like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.

What does this mean?

Well, if your company is hierarchical, highly conservative, communicates poorly, doesn’t listen well to its employees, and operates in a top-down manner most of the time, you aren’t likely to appeal to this vitally important portion of the work force.   Did I mention that most millennials believe they will have multiple jobs (and employers) over their career?  They aren’t afraid to leave a job if it doesn’t enrich them.

Here is an enlightened TED talk called Millennials: Who are they and why do we hate them?

Other Related Articles

Managing Millennials: Be a Coach

What Does the Next Generation of Leaders Think?

Millennials Don’t Think Like Their Parents. How Do You Design For Them?

Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: Who Would You Rather Hire?

Or, Can you relate to this?

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4 Comments

Filed under Innovation, Leading, Managing Teams

4 responses to “The Millennials Are Coming! What Do We Do Now?

  1. Pingback: I have just seen the future of work… « talentim

  2. Pingback: Cause Fatigue | Social Change Consulting

  3. Pingback: What Workers Want in 2012! | lenbrzozowski

  4. Pingback: Building Your 21st Century Workplace | lenbrzozowski

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