Generational Insights | Generation Y / Millennials
Cam Marston is the leading expert on generational change and its impact on the workplace and marketplace. He explains how their generational characteristics and differences affect every aspect of business, including recruiting and retention, management and motivation, and sales and marketing.
We grouse about their participation trophies and helicopter parenting. We stereotype them as overly entitled and self-absorbed. We laugh about their reactions to pop culture standards from before they were born. But instead of mocking millennials, we should perhaps be worried about them.
A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St.Louis found that many millennials have never gotten over the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The study found that the net worth of a typical family whose head was born in the 1980s, the front edge of the millennial generation, was 34 percent below expectations, and lost ground between 2010 and 2016, after the recession ended.
The Federal Reserve study found that the recession “significantly widened the wealth gap between young and old.” Setbacks were less steep for those born in the 1960s and ‘70s – 11 and 18 percent below predictions, respectively — while older generations were worth a bit more than expected.
The timing of the recession for the first wave of millennials could not have been worse. They were just entering college or the workforce. The cost of tuition was skyrocketing — and still is. Home ownership was decreasing – and for millennials, hasn’t really rebounded.
According to CNN, fewer than 45 percent of those 1980s-born millennials had bought a home by 2016. Yet they still carry high levels of debt, primarily in the form of student loans (surprise, surprise), car loans and credit card debt. Where a mortgage finances an investment that can rise with property values, these types of debt only sap wealth.
It is this, and not income, that is hurting millennials’ ability to bounce back.
The good news is, they still have time to right the ship. But the debt load is keeping it listing hard to starboard.
That’s right: Somewhere in this country are 10 millennials who apparently had never tried Chick-fil-A until Business Insider stuck a camera in their faces and shoved a chicken sandwich in front of them.
One said she grew up in Europe. One was from Montana. One was a former vegetarian. One just said “the lines are always really long.”
This worn-out trope has come in many forms, perhaps the best of which was kids listening to hard rock bands like AC/DC and Metallica for the first time. But while seeing a kid’s mouth drop with the blast of a James Hetfield power chord is cute, the millennial subgenre of these videos seems much more like it’s mocking a group that have turned into our favorite generational punching bag.
Business Insider, in particular, has become notorious for nit-picking millennials, faulting them for the demise of everything from chain restaurants to beer. Other outlets, like AL.com here in my home state of Alabama, have done their own variations of the millennial reaction theme, such as asking them about classic movies made before they were born.
Why are there so many? Because people watch them and share them on Facebook, and media companies justify their online ad rates through clicks. Why do people watch them? To laugh at millennials.
The fries are too “potato-y”? They think The Godfather is about a cat? Hilarious!
Videos like this seem to confirm what we think we know about millennials, but all they really are is a cheap attempt at humor designed to look like it confirms what we think we know about millennials. If these twenty-somethings didn’t say something silly or seemingly naïve, would they have been cast in the video at all?
Have these things finally reached critical mass? Can there be anything left they haven’t tried? As long as we keep watching, they’ll keeping finding something else.
In my last “What’s Working with Cam Marston” episode, we looked at the value of reverse mentoring. Forbes contributor Erik Larson goes one step further, however: For the best chance at desired results, younger employees need to be part of the decision-making process.
A study by Larson’s company, Cloverpop, found that inclusive teams arrive at better decisions — and make them faster — than individual decision-makers. Furthermore, the study found that teams of younger members outperformed older teams by 40 percent in reaching decisions that led to positive outcomes.
What’s more, teams that included members of a wide range of ages did even better, as they were more than twice as likely to reach decisions leading to outcomes that met or exceeded expectations as teams comprised by members less than 10 years apart.
One reason for this is that the study found older teams were far less likely to include viewpoints of other generations. Making decisions from a bubble does not typically offer the best chance for success.
While wisdom comes with age, so too at times comes hubris. What, after all, can young people bring to a decision that their older, more experienced peers wouldn’t have already lived through?
Well, as we saw in our discussion with Mark Tibergien and Kayla Flaten, older managers can learn plenty of valuable things from their younger counterparts – particularly differences in communication and relevance. Including these younger voices in the decision-making process only furthers the likelihood that these differences will be considered in reaching a decision.
Larson suggests, however, that the obstacles to true inclusive decision-making aren’t just from older managers unwilling to consider the opinions of younger co-workers, but from the propensity of younger workers to defer to older members of the group.
If given our preference, we are predisposed to work with others in our own age group. But we must challenge ourselves to encourage and listen to voices from other generations in we want the best chance for success.
Larson offers digital methods as one way to make this happen. Or a forward-thinking manager can simply reach out across the generational divides and ask the pertinent question: What do you think?
What can we learn from millennials? The best flavor Frappuccino at Starbucks? What all the emojis mean? The appeal of a standing desk?
Actually, at least one 60-something CEO believes there’s a lot more we can learn from millennials. That’s why he’s accepted one as a mentor.
Mark Tibergien, CEO of Pershing Advisor Solutions, says reverse mentoring – younger employees mentoring their older peers — isn’t just a retention tool for hiring and keeping talented millennials. He and his millennial mentor, Pershing VP of Business Development Kayla Flaten, share how it has been a beneficial tool for both of them and their company in this episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston.”
Tibergien says reverse mentoring at Pershing began with an epiphany. “The primary driver,” he says, “is that one of my fellow board members looked around the room and saw we were surrounded by middle-aged white men trying to serve a diverse community ethnically, from a gender standpoint, even from a religious standpoint, that wasn’t being represented within our boardroom.”
How to keep the company relevant to the emerging generation – both employees and clients? One way might be to ask members of the emerging generation to share what they want, how they operate, what motivates them.
As one might imagine, understanding technological advances and their applications within the company is one of the main ways younger employees can help their older peers, but Tibergien said there are other benefits as well – understanding differences in communication, emerging trends, having a firmer grasp on what’s relevant today.
And yes, Flaten says the program has greatly improved employee retention. From a millennial perspective, it’s a recruiting tool and an opportunity to have a voice and a greater understanding of the operation, which in turn has led her to feel more connected and loyal to the company.
“I used to be pretty quick to make an assumption about a decision,” she says. “But learning that there’s a lot of care that goes into that decision from the top of the house has really made me rethink immediate reaction.”
But how do you convince middle-aged managers and employees eager to maintain a firm grip on their jobs to buy in to such a concept? Join us to hear tips from Tibergien and Flaten on how even small businesses can get started with reverse mentoring, and why it’s important to build the environment of inclusion and collaboration that it can help create.
“This is not the Army. This is not the Marines,” Tibergien says. “In business, it’s a collaborative process.”
Herman Edwards has pretty much seen it all in a football coaching career that started in 1987 at San Jose State and ended up including head coaching stints in the NFL with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.
But Edwards, who at 64 fits right in the middle of the Baby Boom generation, is having to learn a few new tricks now that he’s accepted a job as head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils. Since it’s his first coaching job since 2008 – he’s spent the last decade in broadcasting – what he doesn’t have a lot of experience in is coaching millennials.
But Edwards appears to be a quick study.
In a recent interview on the Sports Talk show with Bo Mattingly (and shared by footballscoop.com), Edwards shared what he’s learned about coaching millennials. And it’s not the same old participation-trophy gibberish.
Be direct. “Their minds work a bit different,” Edwards told Mattingly. “They multi-task.”
Be spontaneous. With shorter attention spans, you’ll lose them with the same old spiel.
Be cognizant that they all learn in different ways, and keep it interesting. But that goes for all of us, doesn’t it? Who wants boring?
Teach in small doses. Let them take a break now and then and walk around a bit. Short attention spans, remember?
Being the head coach of a major college or professional football team is similar to being a CEO. Edwards is the head of an organization that includes a large group of assistant coaches, trainers, equipment managers, off-field analysts, video personnel, and of course, a hundred or so “employees” who are highly trained at their specific jobs, but require constant professional development – practice.
So while Edwards tries to help the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 and possibly make the college football playoffs, you can put this wisdom to use in your company as well. They could be the first steps toward putting together a winning millennial team of your own.
Many Baby Boomers think millennials are lazy, coddled and have entitlement issues. Many millennials find Baby Boomers out of touch, technologically illiterate and over-judgmental.
Frank Sinatra or Kanye West. All in the Family or The Walking Dead. Encyclopedias and card catalogues or the internet and smartphones.
These two generations can’t have any common ground, can they?
Actually, it appears they do – when it comes to travel.
Lisa Iannucci, a contributing writer for travelpulse.com, recently talked with several travel industry professionals who saw many similarities between Baby Boomers and millennials in what they want in a vacation:
Learning about other cultures
Both generations, it seems, enjoy traveling for pleasure and exploring new areas. They like to go off the beaten path, even to remote destinations, but while taking their creature comforts with them. They want to stay within a budget. And as they retire and leave the screeching race for wealth and status behind, many Baby Boomers are starting to lean toward the millennial ideal of valuing experiences over things.
Where differences still remain is in the best ways to market these vacations. While traditional advertising methods may still be best to reach Baby Boomers, social media is a better route to target a millennial generation that tends to get its news from Facebook and Twitter rather than straight from the New York Times and Washington Post.
But some of the messages that entice millennials, according to the travel professionals cited by Iannucci, aren’t as different from their parents as one might think — nostalgia for childhood familiarities, and a connection with something beyond the digital world.
Baby Boomers want to leave the world of stuff behind and have an adventure? Millennials want to put down their phones and live in the moment? Do we even know these people?
So take your old man to Iceland, Johnny Millennial. Bring your twenty-something daughter along to Barcelona, Brenda Boomer. You guys have more in common than you think.
Data shows millennials typically consider themselves cautious investors. The Times cited survey data from Legg Mason showing that only about one-third of them own stocks and more than 80 percent of them consider their investment strategies to be “conservative.”
Despite all that, millennials’ expectations may be a little too bullish. The Times cited a 2017 survey by the AMG asset management company that found the typical millennial investor expects an average annual return of 13.7 percent, compared to the 7.7 percent return expected by Baby Boomers. That bullishness could only have grown after the market began this year with its best January in three decades.
All of which left many of them unprepared for a 1,800-point plunge over a two-day period earlier this month that hemorrhaged thousands from their portfolios.
At least one millennial the Times spoke with said she’ll be hesitant to invest again, but others planned to wait it out and allow the market to correct itself. Many are finding cryptocurrency alluring, the Times reported, and they are often turning to robo-advisers as many believe they aren’t yet investing enough to warrant a professional adviser.
Not having a relationship with an adviser — who could have talked them off the ledge, so to speak – may have made this month’s plunge seem even scarier.
Of course, none of this is necessarily specific to millennials. Most of us have experienced the shell-shock of looking at our 401ks or IRAs after a particularly bad week on Wall Street. But we know that those losses are typically regained over time if we’re patient.
The good news for millennials is that they have more time than us Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers to build back any money they lost. If they’re patient, the same market that knocked them for a loop this month will likely help them get back up.
Quick question: Which generation would you think is doing the best at saving for the future?
Baby Boomers? They’re the closest to retirement, and therefore the benefits of saving should be most immediate to them. Generation X? They’re in their peak earning years, and should have the most resources from which to feed the piggy bank.
Either would seem to make sense, and either would be wrong. According to a new Discover Bank survey shared on Nasdaq.com and elsewhere, it’s millennials who are doing the best job at saving. In a nation study of over 2,200 people, 81 percent of millennial respondents are saving in some capacity, compared to 77 percent of Baby Boomers and 74 percent of Gen-Xers.
Sure, it may be easier to save while you’re living at home. But the fact that the workplace generation furthest from retirement is saving at a greater rate than the others should also be a wake-up call to Gen-X and Baby Boomers: Don’t slack off now.
Some Baby Boomers are already retiring, of course, and others may be content enough with their portfolios to coast through their final working years. Many Gen-Xers are sending their kids off to college, which would eat up a sizeable portion of funds that might ordinarily be set aside for savings.
But millennials have their own hurdles to clear in order to save, as well – like a higher rate of student loan debt.
Trends are continuing to favor millennials as well. Thirty-five percent of them reported saving more in 2017 than in the previous year, compared to only 25 percent of Gen-Xers and 22 percent of Baby Boomers.
This might be written off as a result of millennial wages rising at a higher rate as they climb their respective company ladders. But the survey also found that 40 percent of millennials surveyed who were saved more in 2017 reported that they were able to do so through a better understanding of how to set up a budget.
If you look hard enough, there is usually something you can cut from your budget in order to increase savings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, millennials were more likely than Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers to save money through taking public transportation, while Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers were more likely to save through eating at home more often or using coupons.
While more than three-fourths of survey respondents were saving in some capacity – with nearly half of those using more than one resource to do so – 17 percent of those who weren’t said they didn’t have a reason for not doing so.
While most of us can certainly relate with the 35 percent who said they didn’t have sufficient income, the 17 percent who said they had too many bills and the 10 percent who said they had too much debt, there’s one very good reason to scour your budget and find a way to put a little something aside: Your retirement isn’t going to pay for itself.
Want to get away? If you’ve seen its commercials, Southwest Airlines believes the universal answer to that question is “Yes.”
But a large segment of Americans aren’t ready for a vacation. The thought of taking paid time off from work makes them feel guilty. They tell themselves they can’t afford to get away from the office, because no one else can fill their role. They feel the need to prove their dedication to the job, to appear indispensable.
Nearly half of those American millennials surveyed believed it is a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by their bosses, and 35 percent want to be seen as such by their colleagues – percentages that far outpace other generations and the average.
A study by Alamo Rent A Car similarly found in a 2016 survey that far more millennials (59 percent) were guilty of “vacation shaming” – feeling shame for planning or taking a vacation – than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (41 percent combined).
Wait, haven’t we been told that one of the millennial ideals is valuing a work-life balance? And that they’re quick to leave jobs they don’t feel meet their expectations in a workplace?
Project Time Off noted that millennials’ general lack of tenure in their jobs may be a symptom of their work martyrdom, which would make it a recurring theme for those who change jobs often.
But the main cause, I suspect, is an acute knowledge of how hard it is to get those jobs – and to keep them. Millennials have grown up in an economy where jobs are often scarce and layoffs increasingly frequent. So who can blame them for wanting to seem indispensable at the office?
They’ve also grown up in an era where technology has made communication easier and more constant – meaning fewer people (44 percent, according to the 2016 Alamo study) unplug from work completely when they do take vacation.
And if getting away means taking the office with you, why take the time off at all?
But work martyrdom carries negative consequences, according to Project Time Off, and not just to airline, car rental, hotel and beach chair rental industries. As millennials move into more management roles, their attitudes will define the workplace. While a strong number of them recognize that time off is important to relieve stress and avoid burnout – and ultimately improves productivity – too many them aren’t practicing what they preach.
Go ahead and book those tickets. Bury the guilt. You’ll be glad you did – and it may just help you become a better employee in the long run.
When we discuss the differences between generations, between millennials and Generation X and the Baby Boomers and iGen, it’s important to recognize that some traits or trends that may look like characteristics of a generation are really just characteristics of all people of a certain age.
It’s with this understanding that we now see that home ownership is on the rise. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. Census figures show that home ownership in the U.S. increased to 63.9 percent in the third quarter of 2017 – the highest level since 2014.
That’s still below what the Journal calls the “historic norm” of about 65 percent, but still a trend in the right direction for the housing market. And its main driver is the nation’s largest generation, millennials.
Not necessarily. It just means more millennials are now of an age where it makes sense to them to buy a house. About a fourth of the age range, give or take, is now over 30 – an age where even the most reluctant millennials are more likely to plunge into marriage and home ownership.
A byproduct of the rise in home ownership, the Journal notes, is a slump in the residential rental market. More millennials buying homes means fewer millennials renting them.
If you’re a landlord who got in on the gravy train while it was rolling, good for you. If not, you may have to wait a while until iGen starts hitting the market, and the cycle will begin anew.
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