A New Way to Look at Millennials – My Perspective

May 1, 2021 | Industry

By Vince Edivan

Everything I say here is completely general. Not any one group of people behaves exactly the same across the board. Comments, opinions, conclusions and suggestions are all based on generalities of behavior rather than individual behaviors.

I am a Gen-Xer. I’m stuck squarely between the Baby Boomers, and the Gen Z crowd. We had phones attached to the wall in my kitchen growing up. We came home when the streetlights came on. My first mobile phone was the size of a phone book (which many millennials have never seen) and had a strap like a purse.

I remember waiting in line to see the very first Star Wars movie (only to later discover that it was actually the fourth in the storyline). I’ve seen the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and many more in concert and only paid about $17 per ticket. But now I’m just bragging.

The point is that, like every generation, I have a very different perspective on things that is based on my experiences interacting with the world as it was during my formative years. I may bring a different way of solving problems than someone from another generation – as do others.

Of course, there are good and bad actors in each generation. If we’re not trying to leverage the best of what makes us different, we’re not doing what’s best for ourselves or our business. John Maxwell said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

Millennials make up the largest demographic of the workforce today (about 56 million). So how do we attract, hire, train, motivate and retain millennials to your team? It starts with understanding them.

What Do I Know?

So, you are asking, what’s my experience with millennials? Good question. Well, my wife and I raised one. And although all four of our kids are fairly close in age, our oldest is the only one who is technically a millennial. Millennials are generally defined as those born between 1980 and 1996. I started serving in youth ministry when my millennial son reached middle school. And I moved up with this group all the way through college. I’ve had a front row seat watching and interacting with his peer group – all having diverse personalities and parenting – grow into the young adult workforce that you are encountering today.

I’ve worked with millennials. I hired millennials, managed them, promoted them and even fired a few. In 2017, I was a consultant in the auto remarketing industry and worked for a company that almost entirely consisted of millennials.

I have certainly encountered my fair share of self-entitled – “everybody gets a trophy” and “I deserve more money and free education” – millennials. But let’s be honest, every generation has the misled, dysfunctional, and what I call “consumers.” They don’t really contribute, they just consume. Every generation has them. Hippies, punks, grunge, etc. And just like those groups, we tend to paint the entire generation with one broad brush colored by the few. This is a mistake. We can look back and honestly say that every generation has its heroes and zeros. How you see them depends on the tint of your glasses. Personally, I think millennials get a bad rap.

Survey Says!

Millennials think differently. They work differently. They are motivated differently.

In 2017, Deloitte Greenhouse published a study that identified “… that roughly 60 percent of millennials are characterized by two particular work styles. [These workstyles] are in contrast to those of other generations. Improving generational intelligence by understanding the work preferences of millennials … may be the key to unlocking their commitment and engagement.”

So let’s dive in. Here are some interesting facts about millennials:

• They are significantly more likely to be introverted versus GenX and Baby Boomers. This is not always easy to spot because they may appear extroverted on social media when they actually prefer solitude to socializing.

• They are likely the most studied generation to date.

• They complete higher education at a rate of about 10% higher than the generation that came before them (with women outpacing the men).

• They are the least likely generation to be married by age 25 to 37.

• They prefer causes, making a difference in the world over professional recognition.

• They earn less than their parents.

• They are significantly more in debt than previous generations.

• They have a much lower tolerance for ambiguity than previous generations.

What I’ve Learned About Millennials

As I mentioned, back in 2017 I consulted for almost a year for a company that is made up almost entirely of millennials.

I learned from that experience that:

• When motivated properly, millennials will outwork, outperform, and out dedicate most every other workforce I’ve seen.

• The line between work life and home life is a little more gray than you may be comfortable with.

• They prefer a workplace with more fun and less rules.

• They thrive on a clear vision of what success looks like (remember the bullet point about ambiguity?).

• They are more likely to dedicate themselves to the job if they believe in the mission (reference: prefer causes).

• Once they believe, they are all in.

Now for someone in my generation, walking into a work environment that has treadmill desks, bouncy ball chairs, nearly no walls, a pool table, fully stocked kitchen, free lunch, gym membership, annual corporate retreats, etc., it sure felt different.

But when you observe the fierce dedication to the brand, you cannot deny the effectiveness this environment has on driving a productive work culture. It was amazing. They worked hard and they played hard. And don’t be fooled. Fun doesn’t mean lack of structure. I was a part of regular meetings, planning, goal setting and accountability.

Some Helpful Tips

Be a coach first, manager second. Real-time feedback and informal access is key. Explain how their piece of the supply chain impacts the entire operation. Get them missionally-focused instead of task-oriented.

Praise the pet initiatives. Giving some protected time to customize a part of their job will deliver a sense of independence, and a deeper sense of job satisfaction.

Leadership versus top performers. Leadership is not always the brass ring. More so than previous generations, millennials aspire to be a top performer, expert or innovator within their position. Recognize this and develop accordingly.

Communicate clearly, concisely, and as transparently as you can. One thing I’ve witnessed about the millennial generation is they can smell authenticity a mile away. Do not shy away from direct and transparent communication. No news is not better than bad news.

Loosen up. More than any other generation millennials are more likely to deal with stress using strategies outside the office. Build in some latitude for this. Don’t assume absence is a productivity killer.

Mission Matters

Amidst all of the mangled steel, oil products, fuel, plastic, rubber, batteries and more, is an amazing mission to reuse parts, reduce waste, and recycle as much as possible. This is a core value that most millennials can get behind. Utilize it.  

Vince Edivan is ARA’s Director of Member Relations. In his role, he represents ARA at state industry events, working to connect with current and potential members.

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