By Adam Booth
Much has been said regarding the idiosyncratic ways of the Millennial generation, particularly in regards to the way they work. As Baby Boomers finally adjust to the unique aspects of generation X/Y in the workplace, they are now challenged by the unique characteristics of the Millennials. Popular literature provides conflicting reports on how Millennials work and how they are changing our workplace. There are many buzzwords describing Millennials including creative, globally aware, entitled, power seekers, hoodie wearers, relaxed and even lazy. We suspect that Millennials are as unique and able to effect positive change in the workplace as generations before them. But to be sure, we asked Tina Wells, CEO and founder of Buzz Marketing Group Inc and expert on the Millennial generation, to help us peek behind the curtain of the “Millennial Myth,” to get some real answers.
LSI: Now that the core group of the Millennial generation is not only entering the workforce, but beginning to make serious impact, what do you believe is the current perception of this generation in the business world?
Tina Wells: I think the biggest perception is that they are entitled and they expect to move up the career path rather quickly. I always say, if you think Millennials are entitled, you need to follow the trail and how they became that way. What’s really interesting to me is that, if Millennials are reporting to “Generation X” or “Baby Boomer” bosses, those are the same people who made them feel entitled. The Boomers empowered our children to think this way.
I think they are engaged. I think they work hard and they have changed the definition of work/life balance. You can find one who says, “Hey, I need to do these things for myself, then I can start work again from 8-9.” Which is very different. I feel generations before leave work at 5 and the work stops there. If you think that what they are doing is wrong or off, you have to remember you were a part of creating that.
You can’t create them as human beings and be annoyed with them as employees.
LSI: One observation we often hear about is an assumption that this newer generation grew up technologically savvy, having proficiency with much of the technology being used in the business world today. This is likely to give them a leg up in the workplace. Do you feel there is merit to that assumption and is it a part of the success of this generation?
Tina Wells: Absolutely, I’m 36 and I’ve been in this business for a long time, and when I look at my 6-year-old niece and how easy it is for her to use Snapchat (A photo sharing app for your phone), which is the first piece of technology that I haven’t been able to wrap my head around, as natively as I have everything else. I can manage Facebook ads and I serve on boards with people 10 to 20 years older than me, and they cannot wrap their heads around what I do. For the first time I’m feeling that with Snapchat. I absolutely believe the younger you are the more fluid you are with the technology of that time. I don’t think it's true for all technology, but whatever is big in that moment I think you find people working that moment.
Generation X and the Baby Boomers struggle because a lot of this doesn’t come native to them. If you had an iPod from when they just came out until now, you’ve been trained on those devices. It’s not like the older generations can’t learn, it’s just not second nature.
Technology and social media integration into business comes second nature to Millennials. Is it always appropriate? That’s a different conversation. But it’s much more native.
LSI: Is this younger generation a victim of the hype surrounding it? Do you believe there is pressure from Boomers, GenX and GenY regarding Millennials perceived strength in the workforce?
Tina Wells: I totally agree. But I’ll say something that might seem a little controversial. I think Millennials and Boomers are so similar, and that’s why they don’t get along. Boomers are incredibly demanding bosses. Then Gen X is in the middle, which is the calm steady version of management, and it has them doing a lot of managing up and down to the Boomers and Millennials.
Companies say they will “Bring in that young guy and that will solve our, tech, diversity and image issues” and my response is, “All in one person?” It’s not that simple.
LSI: How do you feel Millennials approach work in comparison to their older counterparts?
Tina Wells: I think Millennials are the hardest working people in the workforce today. Getting married older, gives themselves more time for their careers. They still want to have a personal life, but what I appreciate is the fact that there is no start and stop. They may ask you to leave early so they can go to yoga, but they will still devote three hours at night and end up more productive than the Baby Boomer.
A lot of Boomer/Gen X conversations go, “I want to do this thing but my son has basketball and soccer and my daughter has ballet, we have this, then my parents are coming to visit and then that.”
It’s interesting that Millennials will ask, “What do you need done and by when and I am going to get it done.” It might not be in the structure most are used to, but I would bet they have a stronger work ethic.
Women in the Boomer generation put in a lot of effort just to prove they could be just as successful as a man. So it was very much, “Should I even talk about my children?” Now we have this generation where they say, “My kids are everything to me and they should be to you.”
Millennials fall into this middle where they say, “Meh, I don’t think we need extremes of either. It’s important to be a happy healthy person, and my work life fits into that.”
LSI: Businesses and organizations have been known to pander to different groups in order to gain their business or overall recruit people to their groups. In what ways do you believe companies try to gain favor with Millennials or to catch the eye of this new workforce?
Tina Wells: You have to embrace and understand what’s going on with them. I heard the other day from one of the campaigns for President that “Millennials don’t go out and vote anyways.” Which shows a disconnect that some people have. The oldest Millennial is 34 with kids, and they do vote. The generation that is still in college isn’t even Millennials, they are “Gen Z” now. By saying things like that you are proving your lack of knowledge on this group and it is telling.
They want to feel that person is authentically engaging them and half the time it isn’t really the case and they can feel that.
LSI: Companies need a nice injection of youth and fresh ideas from time to time. But with this generation it feels like companies are focused too much on finding the next young brilliant mind. Do you feel that’s a fair assessment or is this something that just happens?
Tina Wells: Fair Assessment. Zuckerberg naturally happened. Now people are trying to find the next instead of just letting it happen again. I think we often see what people are willing to pay for the type of talent they think can change their company. Like the idea of the “Unicorn CEO.” Are they really unicorns or are they just a product of believing the hype.
LSI: There is also a perception that Millennials will job hop until they are satisfied. Do you think that’s true, and if so do you think it’s an effective strategy?
Tina Wells: I think it’s a myth. I definitely feel millennials are good at deciding what works for them and what doesn’t. But I feel like everyone is doing that right now. We are all trying to look for and move on to the next thing. I feel like the idea is getting hyped up for them, is interesting because if you actually thought about it, they want steady employment. 45% of Millennials are underemployed so of course they are not unemployed, they are just not employed at the level which they would like to be.
You have to think, if a good portion feel they aren’t getting the jobs they want, doesn't it make sense that they would want to leave once they had it? I think it’s something a few people said and now it's, “of course, those Millennials don’t want to work."
I was recently working with a group of older people who kept on groaning on about the Millennials to the point where I turned around and said, “Maybe you are the problem. Maybe you should change your approach and how you talk to them and try to approach them in a different way.” One of them came back to me later and said “I’m glad you said that. Things have been so much smoother since I took a step back. They aren’t really the problem.
There are 80 million Millennials out there today and a lot of companies tried to hold off change as long as they could, but when you have a demographic that is 80 million strong, you’re eventually going to have to do what they want to do.
We would like to thank Tina Wells for sitting down with us on such an important subject. The Millennials are now 80 million strong and the largest workforce the United States has ever seen. It’s nice to confirm some previous thoughts, as well as dispel a few myths. We are looking forward to what the Millennials have in store.