Why are Millennials a big concern for organisations?

In a five part series Jennifer J Deal and Alec Levenson set the stage by defining Millennials and their characteristics.

Millennials (those who were born between 1980 and 2000 also called Echo Boomers, Gen Y, and NetGen) are a big concern for organisations today. Leaders in the UK and around the world are worried about how to attract, engage, and retain Millennials.

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They are worried because many leaders believe that Millennials are fundamentally different from older generations. The worries about Millennials are global; leaders from Manhattan to Manchester to Mumbai express remarkably similar concerns.

We have also found stereotypes of Millennials to be remarkably similar everywhere in the world we have done our research. Though the details of how behaviours associated with these stereotypes might differ because of the individual cultures, the basics are consistent in all of the countries included in our research.

Who Millennials are
On average, Millennials in the UK have grown up with greater access to technology than did earlier generations, and this is especially true of younger members of this generation born after 1990.

Millennials are typically characterised as being quite proficient with new technology (some say addicted to technology and uninterested in human contact). As a result of their technological skills, many believe that Millennials are an asset to organisations, which are becoming increasingly reliant upon technological efficiency for competitive advantage. 

Millennials in the UK are frequently described as needy. It is said they require endless feedback about their performance, and want to be part of a community at work, so they feel as if they belong. In addition, people complain about Millennials’ desire for development, and need for promotion.

Many deride Millennials as disloyal, uncommitted, and unwilling to work hard because they are spoiled, greedy young people who want more than they should, and are demanding when they don not get it.

How do people think these attitudes have come about? Some say it is because life was easy for them when they were growing up, at least in comparison with what their parents experienced as children and young adults.

As a result of this easy living and parents encouraging children to do as well as they could, it is believed that Millennials have grown up to think that they should have the best of everything, and are upset and protest — vociferously — when they do not get precisely what they want.  

While some people believe this attitude is a result of how easy their early life was, others believe that it is a natural result of Millennials’ experience of financial hardship. Many have experienced their families dealing with substantial financial challenges as a result of economic and social shifts.

The upheaval as a result of the global recession that began in 2008 hit Millennials entering the workplace particularly hard, and has continued to affect Millennials’ beliefs about the workplace. As result, some people posit that as a result of these hardships Millennials are skeptical of organisations in general and authority within organisations in particular. 

Millennials have good reason to be concerned about their earnings. Research has shown that entering the workplace during an economic downturn typically results in lower earnings for at least a decade when compared with those who start during an economic boom.

This is because there are fewer good jobs to choose from in a difficult economy. The jobs that people are able to find when they enter the workforce don’t pay as well or offer the same breadth of developmental opportunities as the jobs available in a growing economy. Therefore they start at lower pay in a less optimal job, and that starting point can affect the rest of their career. 

Just as the generations that lived through World War II and its aftermath have carried economic lessons with them for the rest of their lives, we expect to see the impact of the Great Recession on Millennials’ economic options and decisions persist for many years.

At the same time, we know that how this will affect the life and career of individual Millennials is a result of their particular circumstances, such as precisely when they entered the workforce.  

For example, the oldest Millennials in the UK (born 1980-1982) graduated university during the middle of the economic expansion of the early to mid-2000s. By the time the Great Recession hit, many of this group had already established themselves in viable career paths, and were able to survive the cutbacks and layoffs that happened in the late 2000s.

Their younger counterparts, the middle of the millennial generation who graduated in 2007-2010 and beyond, have had a much harder time. And the youngest Millennials, those born in 1995-99 haven’t even graduated university yet (we have not included them in our research), and will have equally unique conditions facing them in the working world. 

The bottom line is that the economic conditions Millennials have lived through will have a lasting impact on the millennial generation for many years to come. It will affect their perception of the workplace and their bosses.

It will drive a desire for feedback and development because they know they have to remain a “saleable” commodity in the workplace to retain their job and keep progressing in their current career.  It will affect both their (strong) desire for promotion, as well as their need for a community at work.

The following articles in this series will discuss who Millennials are, what they want, and what to do about it, with regard to feedback, development, promotion, and their need for community.

About the authors

Jennifer J. Deal is a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and an affiliated research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California.

Alec Levenson is a senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organisations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

This series is based on their new book What Millennials Want from Work 


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