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Why are millennials different to previous generations?

Richard Tidswell


“A high sense of self-entitlement,” “delusional expectations,” “don’t seem to have the same work ethic,” “so needy,” “easily distracted,” “they want to choose what they do, not what I need them to do”

These are some of comments I come across in my interactions with business owners, who face the challenges of leading, engaging and retaining talent in their business.

Of course, some of this is the natural ‘founders dilemma’ and the fear of losing control.

But there seems to be more discord between the attitudes to work of the ‘Baby boomer’ or ‘Generation X’ and the new wave of millennials or ‘Generation Z’.

Millennials are, broadly speaking, those born between the mid-1980s and 2000. According to a report by KPMG, they currently make up 35 per cent of the UK workforce and are set to be 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2020.

So it’s pretty important we work out what makes them tick and how to get the best out of them.

It’s easy to stand back and accuse and label them, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s better to understand what’s going on beneath the surface and how we can support and engage them.

Why are millennials different to previous generations?

Simon Sinek has some theories about why this generation is different, which, of course, not all millennials will agree with.

He says millennials have grown up believing they can do anything they want, in a technological world of instant gratification. This reinforces the belief that they can have whatever they want, right now.

But this is also the generation leaving university burdened with debt. It is cited as ‘The first generation in recorded history which is projected to be worse off than those which came before’.

Is it any wonder the illusion they grew up with might start to shatter?

What do millennials want?

Of course, not all millennials are alike. But there does seem to be a trend among the younger workforce to value freedom and flexibility over money and security.

Studies have found millennials value the following:

  • A purposeful life
  • To be their own boss. But if they do have to work for a boss, they want that boss to serve more as a coach or mentor.
  • A collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one.
  • Flexible work schedules.
  • Work-life integration, which isn’t the same as work-life balance, since work and life now blend together inextricably.

What do millennials bring to the workplace?

Millennials grew up with the evolution of the internet, Wi-Fi, laptops and smartphones. They are highly connected with the world around them and their use of technology often sets them apart – both offering a unique perspective and useful business tools.

They also push for change and don’t accept ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’.

And they are ambitious. A study by Gallup found they want to learn and grow. A full 87 per cent of millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them in a job.

In short, they bring a fresh perspective and different skill-set, which is valuable to any team. Rather than trying to change them, why not tap into that entrepreneurial you, and adapt to find different ways to get the best out of people.

It’s critical for the business world to understand millennials, to embrace them and to engage them. If the business world wants to win, that is.

In a world where exponential change has become a reality, leaders must find ways to harness the engagement of every employee.

Including millennials. And they must understand the way we work and the kind of work that we all do is changing.

Trudy Borgeouis, President & CEO of ‘The Center for Workforce Excellence‘.

Get in touch if you would like to look at ways to actively engage with your team, build motivation and commitment.