Are millennials different or just younger than you?

22 July 2016 -


Dealing with a multi-generational workforce is one of the biggest tasks facing any modern manager. But is there actually that much difference?

Matt Scott



Employers must wake up to how different millennials are

Millennials’ expectations from life and work are very different.

In my generation, most people viewed their careers as long term, to be spent at one or two employers. But millennials are a lot more demanding in terms of their expectations of work.

They want their employers to match their values, they want to be stretched, their tolerance for assignments they don’t agree with is pretty low, and they’re a lot more particular when it comes to where they work.

The millennial generation is also the first to grow up truly connected.

Millennials are used to having a voice and expressing their preferences, because social media allows for instantaneous communication and feedback.

While they are similar to prior generations in some ways – such as wanting a partner for life, financial security and to own a home – they don’t want these things at the expense of their values.

As Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey shows, two-thirds of millennials say they plan to leave their current employer within the next five years. For employers, this should be a big wake-up call.

David Cruickshank is global chairman at Deloitte

They want connectivity and job rotation

Millennials, especially younger millennials and teens, are clearly distinct from previous generations.

The key thing is that they’re highly connected – to each other, to information, to diverse ideas and to opinions – and that’s had a huge impact on their attitudes to work, culture and society.

They understand that plugging into an ecosystem of diverse people, disciplines and networks creates more value – both in a personal and business sense.

As a result, they’re vocal in expressing themselves and suspicious of hierarchies.

In a 2015 report on the subject, Deloitte wrote that: “Millennials are refusing to check their identities at the doors of organisations and they strongly believe these characteristics bring value to business outcomes and impact.”

I think that’s pretty significant, and potentially quite hard for traditional businesses to adapt to.

Younger companies, especially those in the media sector, such as BuzzFeed or Mic, nurture this mindset by enabling their millennial employees to move roles and embrace new challenges on a regular basis.

Christian Ward is a senior editor at the innovation research and advisory firm Stylus Media

Millennials are shouting: ‘Show me the training plan!’

Our attitudes to work are generally shaped by a range of factors: social, economic, cultural and, in particular, technological.

That’s why someone growing up in the 21st century will have different expectations and assumptions about work than someone who grew up in the 1950s or 1960s – even though they may be rubbing shoulders in the same workplace.

This is a challenge for today’s multi-generational organisations, which now have to contend with up to five different generations in the same workplace – each with its own assumptions and attitudes.

For millennials, working life is a much more transactional experience – they expect work to fit around their social lives, rather than dominating their existence, as it has done for previous generations.

Again, this is partly down to technology, but it also reflects the changing relationship between organisations and employees.

Once, individuals had to make themselves valuable to organisations through on-going training and engagement with the corporate culture. Now, organisations are under pressure to make themselves relevant to individuals who, through their skills and knowledge, are already valuable.

You don’t recruit millennials, you pitch to them. And once they’re on board, you keep them not with the promise of job security, but with ongoing training and development.

Generation X proclaimed ‘Show me the money!’ For millennials, it’s ‘Show me the training plan!’

Dr Paul Redmond is director of student life at the University of Manchester

There’s little hard evidence that they’re different

The ebullient claims about the millennial generation follow a familiar line: this is a unique, digital cohort that’s grown up in a time of globalisation and seismic change, with fundamentally new attitudes to work and play.

The problem is that no one has tried to separate out genuine one-off shifts from the fact that millennials are simply young.

The British Social Attitudes survey has been running every year since 1983, and is a representative survey that uses robust random sampling. In 2014, in answer to the question, ‘How important is it to choose products for political, ethical or environmental reasons, even if they cost a bit more?’, 8.5% of 25–34 year olds (aka millennials) felt this was ‘very important’.

Ten years earlier, in 2004, 7% of the same age group felt this way. It’s hardly a staggering rise, let alone proof of a generationial transformation.

If you want a good ethical shopper today, look to the baby boomers: in 2014, a whopping 15.7% of the 65–74 age group thought ethical shopping was ‘very important’.

I also looked at the question, ‘How important is it to be active in social or political associations?’ Here, 13.4% of 24–34 year olds answered ‘very important’ in 2014, up considerably from 8.5% in 2004.

So, a stronger millennial effect here. But it’s also a polarised effect: the proportion of 24-34 year olds who answered ‘not at all’ to the same question rose from 7.9% to 9.4% between 2004 and 2014.

Millennials are utterly different? I’m still waiting for evidence.

Matt Robinson works in social impact investment and formerly served as deputy director in the prime minister’s strategy unit

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