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Millennial 101

Who Are the Millennials?

BridgeWorks defines Millennials as those born between 1980–1995. With 82+ million people in their squad, the Millennial generation is bigger than even the Baby Boomers. As of 2017, the youngest Millennials are graduating college, and the eldest are entering their late 30s and finally starting to #adult (e.g., having children, buying homes, doing their own laundry). Often maligned as the entitled, me-me-me generation that expects a trophy just for showing up, Millennials are actual, real grownups now with responsibilities, accomplishments, families, and an unshakeable desire to make a difference.

Technology + Social Media
Listen, we get it. Every generation has witnessed the advent of impressive technological innovations (e.g., radio, television, personal computers), but Millennials saw some of the fastest evolutions in technology the world has ever seen. Most of them were still in school when Apple released the revolutionary iPhone back in 2007. They experienced the shift as personal cell phones popularized and greatly improved and as purchasing options expanded. Millennials experienced this cycle of constantly upgrading while in their formative years, and today they’ve come to expect constant innovation and connectivity. Millennials are also the first generation to grow up with social media. Many still remember their AOL instant messenger screen names. They were on the front lines when MySpace emerged on the scene, which was rapidly followed up by Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms vying for the attention of teens and young adults. Of course, Gen Edge, the generation after Millennials, takes digital know-how and fluidity to a whole new level since they were practically born with it, hence why they’re frequently referred to as digital natives.

Homeland Violence
Technological innovation has touched every generation, but sadly, so has violence. No generation has been spared from experiencing turmoil and tragedy in some form or another, be it spiking crime rates or wars overseas. Unfortunately for Millennials, there was a surge in homeland violence during their teen years, kicked off by the Columbine high school massacre. Schools were no longer a safe haven from gun violence, and the world started to feel like an increasingly scary place. Then came the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and for Millennials, who were still figuring out who they were and learning how to navigate the world, the event left an indelible mark that played a significant role in shaping their perception of the world around them. In an effort to combat rising fear and uncertainty, parents and teachers encouraged Millennials to speak up and share what was on their minds. School counselors gathered kids to special meetings to help them feel safe, valued, and respected. The self-esteem movement of the time encouraged adults to be gentle with their children and support them however they could, which, yes, meant doling out those infamous participation trophies. For good or for ill, Millennials became accustomed to close relationships and open dialogue with their parents, teachers, and other authority figures. At work, they’re the generation that feels no compunction in approaching the CEO for a quick chat or a lunch date.

A Tale of Two Millennials
Like Boomers, Millennials are a huge generation that we sometimes split into two subgroups: Early Millennials (born 1980-1987) and Recessionists (born 1988-1995). The fairly obvious element that divides these two groups is life stage. Early Millennials are growing their families and settling into careers as leaders or soon-to-be leaders. Recessionists are only just breaking into the workforce and/or thinking about starting families of their own. But the two major factors that distinguish these groups are 1.) the evolution of technology and 2.) the Great Recession. For Recessionists, touchscreen cell phones were the norm, not the exception in high school. While Early Millennials remember a time when you had to have an .edu email address to get on Facebook, for Recessionsits, Facebook is mostly passe (“my Grandma is constantly popping up on my feed…”) Instead, they turn to the still mostly-grandma-free Snapchat or Instagram for their social media fixes. Perhaps most significantly (and where they earn their name), Recessionists were entering, attending, and leaving college as the Great Recession hit full force. They graduated into an economy that wasn’t hiring experienced workers, let alone freshly minted college grads. Despite their idealistic upbringing by Boomer parents, Recessionists weren’t spared the bleak realities of entering the working world saddled with crippling college debt and no job opportunities in sight. Consequently, this latter half of Millennials tend to be more realistic and financially-conscious than the collaborative and optimistic Early Millennials.

How Do Millennials Show Up in the Workplace?

Today, many Millennials are being groomed for leadership positions, if not already there. By 2020, they’ll make up 50% of the workforce, so the time to understand Millennials in the workplace was, uhhh, yesterday.

  • Informal + Authentic: Millennials bring their whole selves to work; they seek to integrate their work and personal lives. This means a two-way street: they bring their informalities to work, and they bring their work home after hours. You’ll see Millennials with more casual dress at work than Xers and Boomers, and you may get some emails from them over the weekend or at 9pm Wednesday.
  • Collaborative: As mere youngins, Millennials were taught that the best kind of work was team work. This collaborative mentality was reinforced by the tools (phones and personal computers) they used to stay connected. Social media opened up a whole new world of crowd-sourcing and connectivity, allowing them to always have access to their peers. Did that “teamwork makes the dreamwork” mentality disappear when they entered the workforce? Nope. Millennials love a good brainstorm session, and prefer flatter, more networked organizational structures.
  • Tech-Savvy: Technology rapidly evolved when Millennials were growing up, so they learned to adapt to and expect change. This means they’ll be on the lookout for the latest and greatest in technology for the workplace, and will be eager to revisit and revise processes and standard ways of doing things. For Millennials, there are no sacred cows.