Millennials: The New Normal

Do you employ Millennials? If you have twenty-somethings in your workplace, you do. Most scientists who study generations put the start of the Millennials between 1982 and 1985. Using the earliest dates, the oldest are just turning thirty this year. Sociologists can argue whether kids born in the early eighties are GenX or Y (Millennial) but the “core” Millennials are twenty-five and under.

My new friend, Dr. Ron Konopaske, has been educating me on Millennials over the last few weeks. He studies their generation like I study Boomers. Take a look at Rob’s site

Boomers make up the majority of small business owners in America. For us, the Millennials aren’t another generation, they are more like beings from another planet. Let’s begin with the world view of 25 year old employees.

  • The US has been at war since they were in elementary school
  • The World Trade Center fell when they were freshmen in high school
  • Vietnam was fought by their grandparents
  • They probably have no idea what Y2K means, or how the draft worked
  • They have always been able to make a phone call from their cars
  • Disco was dead long before they even listened to popular music

They were brought up in the longest economic expansion in history; a boom fueled by a massive influx of college-graduate Boomers and two-income households. Then they entered the job market during the worst sustained unemployment in sixty years.

Middle class Millennials, many with mid-career Boomer parents, were the centers of their worlds. They were shuttled to karate and music classes, and fed in restaurants with playscapes to keep them entertained. They were awarded trophies for participating, because their parents didn’t want too much emphasis on winning or losing. No one is a loser.

millenial employeesNow they work for Boomer entrepreneurs, the most competitive, goal-oriented generation in history. (For the reasons why, read my e-book, Beating The Boomer Bust). Their helicopter parents, who shepherded them all the way through college, can’t tell the boss how their children would like to be treated. So they do it themselves.

Baby Boomers don’t know how to react. Employees announce how they think work should accommodate their leisure schedule. They expect regular raises and promotions for showing up. (In a recent survey, Millennial employees said that they expected job advancement about every two years, and that it should not be tied to any performance measures.)

Millennials expect a pat on the back for doing what they were told to do — every time they do it. If their Boomer boss doesn’t dole out sufficient recognition, they will ask for it. They seem mystified if the employer objects. “I did what I was assigned, so I am owed the reward.” As a recent Time Magazine article noted, the Me Generation has raised the Me Me Me Generation.

But Millennials aren’t slackers. They aren’t stupid. They are wizards of technology. They can find answers almost as quickly as you can develop questions. They can work diligently, as long as you don’t mind the quick forays into texting or Facebook to arrange their social lives. (Hey, most don’t take smoke breaks anymore.) They ask questions, and like to know the reasons why they are doing what they do.

Flooded by inputs from every side, they feel no need to read boring memos or procedures. Most get their news via infotainment. Over 60% identify either Stephen Colbert or John Stewart as their primary source of “hard” news. They expect workplace communications to be interesting.

They accept workplace diversity without question. They will work in teams with any gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and share credit for the team’s accomplishments (We all get a trophy!). They want to belong as much as any generation before them. They just want to belong on their terms.

Boomer owners have a choice. They can try to avoid a whole generation of workers in a race to their retirement finish lines, or they can figure out how to work with Millennials. Start by realizing that it’s less about what you say than how you say it. All employee relations begin with communication, and good employers have always tailored communications to their audience.

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4 Responses to Millennials: The New Normal

  1. Clint Moar says:

    Thanks for this John…I know it’s very hard for some Boomers and X’ers to understand, but you’re right about the Y’s.
    I find if funny that Mr. Konopaske is a consultant for Millennials but has no ways to follow him? (twitter, linked in, fb)

    • Hi, John:

      Thanks for another insightful piece on generational differences in the workplace…an area for which we both share a strong passion. As the founder of a new management consulting company, I’m pleased to see how my first few company clients are taking a proactive approach to getting their arms around these thorny generational issues. I agree with you that there are a number of major differences in how Boomers and Millennials communicate, use technology, learn and perform their jobs, and integrate their personal and work lives. Yes, after growing up with near continuous positive feedback from their parents, teachers, and coaches (don’t forget hourly video game “leveling up” and “high score” messages, texting 100+ times/day, and continuous social media page updates/thumbs up icons, etc.), they expect to be recognized frequently from their supervisors and companies (informally through verbal reinforcement and formally through frequent pay raises and promotions, challenging assignments, continuous training and development) for doing their regular jobs with competence. That being said, I have to admit that I’m “bullish” on Millennials as a positive current and future force for businesses…they are very smart and know where to find answers quickly, entrepreneurial, globally-minded, learning-oriented, technically-savvy, balanced, environmentally and socially conscious, and keenly interested in doings things in their own (better?) way. Organizations can benefit by developing strategies to attract, engage, develop, and retain talented Millennial employees and junior managers…so that they can work closely with and learn from Boomers. This knowledge Boomer-to-Millennial transfer needs to occur before too many Boomers leave the workforce and take their invaluable organizational knowledge with them.


      Thanks for the suggestion to add follow links to my website. I recently set up accounts on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and a few other social media sites, but need to get the follow buttons added. That’ll be done soon. Here’s the link to my FB site:

      Rob K.

      • Clint Moar says:

        Hey Rob,
        Yeah, I’m bullish on them as well…they’re our future leaders and have a lot to give…look forward to following you on Twitter and Linked In (Facebook is just not in my DNA).

  2. Arlin R Lagasse says:

    You’re so right John, these Millennials are from a different world. And, as you say, boomers must learn how to communicate with them if they’re to continue to succeed in business. This is something that failed and failing businesses have not embraced sufficiently and now they suffer. A good leader always learns how to communicate to the audience at hand. If you can’t communicate through their media and ways of understanding, you will loose them and their productivity. And a good leader trains subordinates to take his/her place. When you’re not at work, how will they be trained or qualified to take you’re place and continue your business plan?

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