Much maligned and mischaracterized, millennials are having their moment. No matter what the post-pandemic “normal” looks like, Generation Y is poised to thrive. Digital natives comfortable with tech, the cohort born between 1981 and 1996 was better prepared than their elders to handle 2020’s remote working demands. Yet unlike younger Gen Zers, most millennials have already moved a rung or two up the corporate ladder. That means they had mentors, guidance, and experience –– something many recently graduated twenty-somethings lacked. Chances are you’ll soon be working with –– or for –– a millennial soon (assuming you aren’t one yourself). So what are some generation Y characteristics in the workplace?
They’re Driven to Succeed
There’s a reason studies suggest almost half of all millennials expect a promotion every couple of years. It’s not entitlement. It’s reality. Many people under 40 have already shucked off the corporate yoke (and the corporate safety net). They’ve set out on their own and forged their own path. I’m not just talking about the Evan Spiegels of the world. The billionaire Snapchat founder and CEO may be sui generis but there are tons of successful millennial online sellers, app creators, and self-published authors. If you’re a member of Gen Y, you probably know someone your age who succeeded by forging their own path. Older generations had CEOs for role models. For us, its entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.
So, if you are working for someone else, you need a reason to stay. You want the company employing you to be on the cutting edge –– a showcase for your talent. If you’ve hired a millennia,l be prepared. We expect our bosses to support and promote us not based on seniority but because we are diligent, intelligent, and uniquely skilled. We prize flexibility –– which is why many of us handled remote work better than our elders. We also value inclusivity and collaboration. But then, what company doesn’t?
Plus, let’s be honest, millennials need the money. There was a frequently reposted story that might have been apocryphal about a wealthy Baby Boomer bragging that he started with nothing. The millennial’s reply? I’d love to start with nothing! Most people under 40 graduated with student loan debt of around $30,000. For advanced degrees, a six-figure debt load is common. Yet the average millennial earns around $35,000 a year. They are literally starting with less than zero –– a negative net worth that informs every decision from buying a car to having a baby. Although in 2020 many traded pricey, tiny urban apartments for less expensive, spacious, rural homes, how many will stay in their new surroundings is an unanswered question. Just know that if you’re wondering what drives millennials and keeps them up at night it’s that huge pile of debt.
Our Boomer and Gen X parents taught us well. We believe it’s almost impossible to succeed without higher education. We attended university in droves –- it’s why 13% of Americans now holds an advanced degree. Since 2000, the number of people aged 25 and over whose highest degree was a master’s doubled. Unfortunately, it’s also why so many restaurant servers and ride-share drivers hold a bachelor’s degree. One of the main generation Y characteristics in the workplace is that they are not only highly educated in the conventional sense but developed the sort of skills that once required specialized training. Many have been shooting, editing, and posting videos online for years. They are skilled marketers, photographers, influencers. It doesn’t matter what your business, I can’t imagine a company that wouldn’t value those skills. So don’t denigrate them for being attached to their phones. Plenty of people are alive in 2021 because they spent last year “attached to their phones.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean they have plenty of friends “in real life.” According to author Jill Filipovic 22% percent of millennials listed the number of friends they have as “zero.” That’s more than twice as many boomers who say they are friendless. Work might really be better than home for many of them.
The Past Isn’t Prologue
The last century might as well have been the 1800s. Millennials aren’t hung up on how things have already been done. They’re disruptors, for better or worse. If you have a mindset that the old ways are the best ways, clashes are inevitable. Expect questions. Answering them will not only inform your younger workers but might clarify why there are better ways of doing things. Because it’s hard for businesses or people to thrive when they’re stuck in the past.