The Millennial Generation: Their Transformative Impact on the Workforce

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Several weeks ago, my colleague John Hollon wrote about the most recent What’s Working survey from consulting giant Mercer. While there is quite a bit of information associated with the report, I wanted to focus in on one of the more interesting aspects of the survey: the continuing look at the younger workforce.

Given that I am a bit younger, I know quite a few people who are entering (or have recently entered) the workforce. There are some struggles associated with that transition that all younger people go through, but there are some interesting differences out there that are worth looking at.

What’s different and what’s the same?

One of the contextual pieces that always seems to be missing when examining differences in generations is that there is rarely an acknowledgement that younger people will always see the world (and the workplace) differently than more senior members do.

I think back to a time when my grandfather and my father worked in the same business two decades ago. They certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye every day. But, if you look at it from the perspective of comparing a person who is nearing retirement and a person who is in the prime earning stage of their careers, you can see the commonality today between boomers exiting the workforce and Gen Xers taking their spot.

So I think any smart analysis of generational differences doesn’t focus on common differences between younger and older generations but on unique differences between past younger and older generations and today’s younger and older generations.

Younger workers are a contradiction

One of the first insights from the Mercer study is that there is a seeming contradiction with younger workers. While more of them are satisfied with their organizations and jobs (and are even willing to recommend them), they also are continuing to look for new opportunities that outpace other generations.

The satisfaction with the job part is the real head scratcher here. Given the fact that Millennials have been characterized as entitled, the survey data about their satisfaction with jobs and organizations flies in the face of that. And even with the data about higher willingness to consider other opportunities, I don’t know if any level of satisfaction could do much to reduce that number. Younger workers are exploring their careers, desires and locations.

The challenge for employers is the question of retention. If you talk to your employees and they say they are happy with the company and happy with the organization yet are willing to leave anyway, what are you to do?

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Seems like many employers are using it as a conversation point to figure out what factors would lead them to stay or, if leaving is inevitable, setting up good alumni programs to keep in touch with past employees.

Commonality among workers across geographies

Courtesy of What's Working survey by Mercer, October 2011

In the past, people have not only viewed work differently when they come from different generations, they also do so when they are from different cultures. In the past, even similarly aged people viewed work differently if one were, say, from the U.S. and the other from Japan.

One of the interesting results from the Mercer study was that the youngest people in the workforce have more in common with their generation elsewhere in the world than ever before. And when compared to other generations in the present, there is no comparison.

There could be some speculation as to why this may be the case. Perhaps technology is really bridging the cultural divide. Or perhaps, as younger employees are taking their first steps into employment, they are all facing a similar global situation

If this trend continues, the impact on businesses with a global footprint is obvious. If cultural norms become less of an issue, it could help global companies operate much easier across borders and continents.

Maybe this time around, a younger generation will have a transformative effect on businesses before they are in an authoritative position to do so. You too can check out the report here and take a look at the video below that Mercer produced about younger generations:


12 Comments on “The Millennial Generation: Their Transformative Impact on the Workforce

  1. This whole generational thing it getting a bit old.  

    I get that generations differ in values, etc. – they always have…. 

    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
    authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
    of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
    households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
    contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties
    at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

    ATTRIBUTION: Attributed to SOCRATES by Plato, according to William L.
    Patty and Louise S. Johnson, Personality and Adjustment, p. 277

    Also, be careful how we use data when drawing conclusions.  Specifically in the video one women talks about the average number of jobs being 7.  We forget that the data for that stat is pulled from when the economy was booming.  Talk to me in a few years and see if this generation shifts jobs as much as before – i’m guessing there will be less job-hopping until the next boom.
    90% of the differences between “generations” (IMHO) is driven by life stage not “generation.”  As one person in the video says – I only need to worry about me. – that is the difference.  Talk to these same people when they have mortgages, children and college funds, 401Ks or other retirement strategies – their risk tolerance will go way down and their lives will pretty much look like the generations before them.But then again – what do I know – I’m not Gen Y or Gen Z – I live in the past and don’t understand all this newfangled tech stuff (‘xept when I fix the network in the house, connect my kids ipods, fix their laptops and show them how to use twitter… but I’m not supposed to do that…. where is Andy Rooney when you need him – oh wait, check the mirror.)

    1. I don’t think I disagree with you. As I said:

      “So I think any smart analysis of generational differences doesn’t focus
      on common differences between younger and older generations but on
      unique differences between past younger and older generations and
      today’s younger and older generations.”

      The 90% figure is arbitrary but I would imagine a majority of differences are driven by typical age differences.

      But I think beyond general attitudes, I think the commonality between their global peers and their generally positive attitude toward work (while being fairly disloyal) are different from past generations. 

      1. I think the “disloyal” thing is something that is difficult to measure.  We’re basing (I think) that on the fact that many of the previous generations didn’t job hop as much – but I think that is more driven by a great economy for a while and will change in the near future.  I don’t think I was disagreeing as much as expressing frustration on the fact that we keep wanting to bestow some superhuman qualities on Gen Y when in fact they are very, very similar to the generations that came before – and their differences are more about the environment than any innate criteria.

        1. Paul: I agree with you completely that there is way too much baggage being dropped on the Millennials. As I have written many times, they are no better (or worse) than previous generations — just different. As in all generations, they range from good to bad to clueless. As a society, we should cut them some slack.

          But, the job hopping is not just due to the recession. Yes, the recession has certainly aggravated it, but it started well before the recession as employers cut the long-standing employment “promise” that so many of our generation worked under early in our careers. Whether that’s good or bad is a debate for another day, but my point is that the recession only amplified a trend that was already well under way.

        2. I think there was a fairly stable time that I entered the corporate world after college from 2004-2008 that still saw job hopping. I don’t know if we can merely attach it to recent circumstances.

          I also don’t feel like I am bestowing superhuman qualities upon the Gen Y crowd. I’m pretty reasonable about setting the context of these differences. But I think there are differences (beyond just the general age difference) and I think they are substantial enough to talk about and keep an eye on going forward.

          1. I’m suggesting that the stability of the economy allowed job hopping.  Recent events will show less of it due to uncertainty. 

            I’m not being clear – my rants have almost nothing to do with your article – but more the general discussion on Gen Y.  I don’t think you are bestowing anything but others have made money and created companies around the idea that Gen Y so significantly different that you need experts to work with them.  How’s about we treat them like adults and get off our (meaning older gen – not you youngsters) high horse and let them get some freaking work done.  Not a huge leap.  

  2. I agree that the commonalities across geographies finding is really interesting – this could bode very well for doing business across borders. Being a millennial myself, I find that a lot of people I know who are around my age all have very different views about work – but I think that their views are influenced by the stage they are at in their life. Some of them went straight from high school to university and into a job, whereas others took their time finishing university, traveled and then worried about a job. Some have only had one or two jobs and others have already had 4 or more. I think that Paul’s point about life stage is something to keep in mind. 

    1. Absolutely. Though I think most of the generational differences can be explained by age alone, I think a couple of the differences are unique in their own right. The commonality across global peers was surprising as well as their general attitudes at work (though I’ll agree with you that there are differences in my peer group, but the aggregate data is interesting).

  3. As a Baby Boomer/Gen X who’s career started in 1986 I read the post and watch the video and see no difference from when my generation entered the workforce.   The difference is we didn’t have the capabilities to share our concerns, dreams, and frustrations with the world. 

    I agree with Paul that the differences in the generations is life stage, not generational. 

    1. As I said above: “So I think any smart analysis of generational differences doesn’t focus
      on common differences between younger and older generations but on
      unique differences between past younger and older generations and
      today’s younger and older generations.”

      I think the analysis does a good job of explaining the difference here. Younger people have more in common with their global peer group than ever before and they have a very positive view about work, even if they aren’t necessarily loyal to their companies.

      I think that’s unique in it’s own right and I do agree that most attitudinal differences are age based (which is most of the video). But I don’t think we can truly say that there is no difference between past younger generations and this one. The differences may be nuanced but I believe the research supports they are there.

  4. While i can understand that there are no exact dates to each generation (nothing is set in stone), i don’t even believe that there is such a thing as a generation in the way we think about it. First, people are born in a continuum. That is, you don’t have 55 million babies born from 1900 to 1918, no one born during the next 2 decades, then 60m during the following 15 years. Second, in terms of “culture,” not everyone in a certain age group fits a certain profile. There are 50 year olds who are tech – savvy, liberal on social issues, and who like the latest entertainment. Just like there are 20 year olds who do not have a cell phone/facebook, are socially conservative, and who like the Beatles.
    This thing about generations beginning this year and ending that year is really just a mass media and marketing tool. I was born in 1979 and consider myself a Millenial because i fit their profile.

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