If you open the newspaper on any given day, undoubtedly, you will come across an article about “Millennials.” A Millennial is loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 (after Generation X and synonymous with Generation Y). There are demographers that argue this generation group stops at 1996 and those that coined “Generation 9/11” as individuals between the ages of 10 and 20 years old on September 11, 2001. I am on the upper end of that definition, and I certainly remember September 11th very well, but I offer this piece as one man’s… scratch that… one Millennial’s take on the press… and the research.
Companies across North America spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay professionals (mostly Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) to decipher the trends of the coming “Millennial Wave.” The wave is here, and according to Cushman & Wakefield Global Business Consulting’s publication Facing the Millennial Wave, almost 40% of the current workforce is comprised of Millennials, with the number expected to grow to 75% in just 10 years. People will continue to hypothesize on what this generation will continue to do to stay ahead of the curve until these same Millennials find themselves looking for retirement homes… Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation before them.
The fact of the matter is, Millennials are a huge population wave coming into adulthood that, for the most part, are the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation (as so appropriately deemed by Tom Brokaw) that began families after World War II. The cultural influences of those fighting the rebellious fight before them are so readily apparent. This Millennial Generation has had phenomenal grandparents that imparted their influence of surviving the Great Depression and taking on and defeating fascist dictators in foreign lands. Their grandparents knew respect and there was a level of compassion deep down below the tough facades. After all, they may have been conservative and family-oriented, but many of their peers made the ultimate humanitarian sacrifice.
Millennial parents are the Woodstock generation. The Baby Boomers wanted to rebel from their parents. They found a need to express themselves in a way that differed from their parents. They redefined traditional values and ways of thought. They shook the working world when they came into their own, and corporations across American did not know how to deal with them…does this sound familiar??
In Allison Linn’s Today Money article “Millennial: Lazy, entitled – or maybe just young,” Allison very appropriately analyzes this: The Baby Boomers were considered so spoiled and self-absorbed that the writer Tom Wolfe dubbed the 1970s the “Me Decade.” Then came Generation X, which was considered to have so little interest in working hard that they were called “slackers.” Now it’s the Millennials turn. The youngest generation of American workers is entering the workplace amid accusations that they are self-centered, unable to take criticism and unschooled in the art of working hard: “The Me Me Me Generation,” as Time magazine put it.
As nature would have it, baby boomers grew up and, like their parents, they got jobs, bought homes, paid taxes, and had children. Now baby boomers are recognizing the same rebellion that their parents saw in them. However, Millennials have grandparents who, no matter how wayward the grandchildren seem to get, continue to believe in them and believe that they too will turn into tax-paying, responsible citizens.
The psyche of this Millennial generation is actually pretty predictable. Children want to be rebellious. They want to be different than their parents. But as the Proverb goes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Mark Twain is credited with saying, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
Come to think of it, I never wanted to be a real estate broker like my father. I am a great case study.
History is slowly repeating itself. Following are trends attached to the Millennial generation along with personal anecdotes supporting the hypothesis that we are following closely in our families’ footsteps.
Lifestyle: I have told my wife countless times that the chatter I hear about how Millennials think is wrong… I should know… As should she. One inaccuracy is that Millennials will not get married, and that their children will be born to unmarried parents. Josh Zumbrun writes a great article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Coming Soon: Millennial Married with Children.” In it, he states, “The millennial generation has been stereotyped as beleaguered and averse to marriage and having children. But the demographic trends suggest they will increasingly be married, college-educated, well-to-do parents.” He discusses the fact that Millennials where forced to put off big lifestyle decisions like marriage, children, and (taking it a step further) home buying because of the recession… Part of the reason I lived in an apartment for so long was due to the Great Recession. As I was getting out of college and entering the workforce, I simply could not afford to buy a house even if a bank would have given me a loan.
Employment: There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal written by Dana Mattiolo on November 8, 2011, entitled, “Generation Jobless: From Ivied Halls to Traveling Salesman.” I remember this article well because there was a picture of a 2009 LSU graduate who wanted to get a job in marketing but had to take a job selling insurance for Aflac because of the times. It is an excellent article that, in retrospect, very accurately portrays the psyche of this demographic. The experiences of the Great Recession caused Millennials to learn to interact with people and adopt practices of those before them (face to face meetings, letters, and phone calls). The downturn in the economy and lack of employment caused some Millennials to start their own businesses and become entrepreneurs. Wall Street was not hiring, and they needed an income, so they created something new.
Workspace: As it pertains to workspace, much of the open, collaborative, lofty, techy, dense space, in my opinion, came out of necessity… a very Mies van der Rohe, “less is more” concept. I remember big plush offices in the good times, especially in the late 80s and 90s. In contrast, Millennials, myself included, were so happy to have jobs when we got out of school, that you could have put us in an open floor plan or a closet (I had both, seriously). People adapt to their environment, and in the same way that the Greatest Generation washed and recycled foil, Millennials don’t necessarily feel the need for huge Mad Men-style offices.
Ultimately, Millennials are not that hard to figure out. They are a lot like every other generation before them. They want to compete and strive to win. They like to try experiences and do new things. They like to be independent and “figure it out on their own” which can come across as wayward sometimes (thereby learning through the process). They do like instant gratification, and lastly, they really want to live the American Dream focused on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.