In recent years, our workforce and consumer base has experienced a substantial influx of individuals who are part of the Millennial generation. Millennials represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population, about 83.1 million (United States Census Bureau). Though an exact definition is unclear, generally speaking, people who were born between the early 1980s and early 2000s would fall under the Millennial or Generation Y category. If you haven’t had the chance already, it’s probably time to get to know the demographic.
At first glance, the Millennial generation has not had the warmest reception to the workforce. Many Millennials are subjected to generalizations of being “entitled, lazy whiners” who lack understanding and haven’t truly grown up. Certainly there are individuals who deserve this categorization from each generation, but it is unfair to paint with a wide brush. Let’s see what the scientific literature has to say about this emerging generation.
Millennials are often instilled with the drive to achieve. Partly due to being surrounded by an encouraging and highly involved environment of parents, teachers and coaches, Millennials greatly value personal achievement (Myers and Sadaghiani, 2010). To some extent, Millennials have been saddled with a reputation of being unwilling to put in their fair share of time at work. Many workers, including Millennials, are now working more hours than ever before (Deal et al., 2010). With an increasing number of high school graduates continuing their educations in pursuit of college degrees, the field of applicants for higher-level jobs and careers has become more competitive. With this in mind, most Millennials will find that a drive to achieve is not optional in reaching their goals.
Millennials like social responsibility and ethical conduct. In one study, when they were asked to rank five different corporate social responsibilities in order of importance, workplace practices including peer and supervisor relations, occupational health and safety, and antidiscrimination measures were ranked highest among Millennials. Corporate governance was ranked as the second highest, involving topics such as ethical business conduct, audit compliance and shareholder relations (Leveson and Joiner, 2014). According to the 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study, 61 percent of Millennials feel obligated to make a difference in the world (Glass, 2007). More than half of those surveyed claimed they would turn down a job offer from a company they perceive as being irresponsible to society.
When it comes to value structure, evidence suggests the Millennial generation may be a bit of a throwback. Millennials are seemingly more similar to their grandparents, who usually belong to the Silent Generation. Generation X and Baby Boomers, labeled as the two most recently preceding generations, respectively, are the parents of most Millennials, yet seem to differ somewhat with the values and viewpoints of their own children. This conclusion may seem shocking due to the fact that it is a mainstream idea that younger generations want to change everything for the sake of change. In a study involving generational differences in basic human values, Millennials rated conservative values higher than openness to change values when compared with Generation Xer’s, but Baby Boomers and Silents did not differ in the ranking with Millennials (Lyons et al., 2007). Conservative values included aspects such as tradition, conformity and security. Openness to change values included aspects such as stimulation and self-direction. Overall, the Millennial generation may not be as different as some would suggest.
Millennials tend to support businesses that carry out responsible ethical decisions. Consumers in general value the security of knowing the products they buy are safe and high-quality, but it is likely the Millennial generation will ask for more. As you consider this idea, here are a few questions to get you started:
Is your business operated in an ethical manner? Are relationships taken seriously between employees, supervisors and consumers? Is your business using verification tools, such as audits, to ensure you are doing what you say you are doing? Does your business strive to provide information regarding how your products are made in a quick, transparent and an easily accessible way that a growing sector of your consumer base (the Millennials) expect?
These are all questions businesses must take into consideration when trying to appeal to Millennials’ values and interests.
As you get to know the Millennial generation, you might find they are not as different as you thought. NP
Faith Baier is a Millennial undergraduate student majoring in animal science and lab coordinator in the Animal Welfare Lab at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is advised by Dr. Kurt Vogel (also a Millennial).
- Deal, J. J., Altman, D. G., Rogelberg, S. G. (2010) Millennials at Work: What We Know and What We Need to Do (If Anything). J Bus Psychol, 25, 191-199.
- Glass, A. (2007) Understanding generational differences for competitive success. Industrial and Commercial Training, 39, 98-103.
- Leveson, L., & Joiner, T. A. (2014) Exploring corporate social responsibility values of millennial job-seeking students. Education & Training, 56, 21-34.
- Lyons, S. T., Duxbury, L., & Higgins, C. (2007) An Empirical Assessment of Generational Differences in Basic Human Values. Psychological Reports, 101, 339-352.
- Myers, K. K., Sadaghiani, K. (2010) Millennials in the Workplace: A Communication Perspective on Millennials’ Organizational Relationships and Performance. J Bus Psychol, 25, 225-238.
- (2015, June 25). Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers and Are Far More Diverse, Census Bureau Reports. United State Census Bureau.