Millennials seem to be a puzzle that every previous generation is keen to solve. News constantly churns out content on how we refuse to buy houses, are doing nearly every activity under the sun differently than previous generations, are “killing industries” with our shenanigans, and, of course, how we are lazy and entitled.
I was born in 1988, and the generally accepted definition of a millennial is someone born between 1981 and 1996. As a bonafide member of the millennial generation, I’m here to help shed some light on millennial trends, and to explore whether we really are all that different from other generations or not.
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What Do Millennials Want Out of a Job?
The stereotype of millennials in the workplace is a bit of a contradiction. We’re seen as hard workers who refuse to take time off due to vacation shaming, with 25 percent of millenials saying they feel nervous even asking for time off, while only 14 percent of Gen X’ers and 6 percent of workers 55 and above felt the same. This, unfortunately, leads to higher incidences of burnout in our generation.
At the same time, we’re described as entitled and lazy, wanting the world handed to us on an ethically-sourced gold platter, and ready to job hop at a moment’s notice. The joke among our generation is that entry-level jobs don’t pay a livable wage and require more years of experience than the actual job has been around. What, then, do we need to do to be seen as good workers?
A Worthwhile Job
According to a Gallup poll, only 29 percent of millennials are actually engaged at work. This compares to 32 percent of Gen X, and 33 percent of Baby Boomers. At 55 percent, a majority of millennials are not fully engaged, while 16 percent are actively disengaged. In other words, millennials aren’t putting any passion or energy into their jobs, are indifferent about what they do, and only show up to make money and pay the bills.
As such, we are seen as always on the lookout for a new job, always trying to make more money with a side hustle, with no loyalty to any one company. We may not buy in to the company culture attached to our places— that is, if one even exists amongst an endless sea of cubicles.
The underlying reason that millennials tend to be so fluid with employment is that we aren’t given compelling reasons to stay in one spot; we have no incentive to be loyal. There are no pensions waiting for us if we put in 20 years with a company — unless it’s a government job. Even then, while government jobs are seen as secure, they are also hard to get. Since we have no pensions, we need to focus on how we’ll save for retirement, because we will otherwise have nothing. That means we’re always looking at a higher wage and even benefits or savings programs like an IRA. If another job with better pay comes along, and we’re already not engaged, with no clear incentive to be loyal, of course we are going to apply to the new job. Who wouldn’t?
How can companies increase millennial engagement? Feedback. Most millennials consider feedback essential to improving work, but only 19 percent of millennials say they receive routine feedback from managers, and 17 percent say the feedback is actually meaningful. Millennials, being the most wired and connected adult generation, thanks to the internet, are used to constant, instantaneous feedback. Communication is fast-paced for us, and a question posed is often expected to be met with an answer in a very short time frame.
Ironically, only about 15 percent of millennials strongly agreed that they routinely solicit feedback from managers, while 33 percent strongly agreed that they had told their manager the number one thing they need most to get their work done effectively, as well as why they needed it.
Actively eliciting and soliciting employee feedback can actually lead to higher rates of engagement; millennials who regularly meet with their manager and receive feedback are twice as likely to be engaged at work. Those millennials with the highest engagement meet with their manager at least weekly. However, the Gallup poll found only 21 percent of millennials met with their managers weekly. This figure is still higher when compared to 18 percent of non-millennials. More than half of the employees surveyed (at 56 percent of millennials and 53 percent of non-millennials) meet with their manager or supervisors less than monthly.
In short, if managers are only doing yearly reviews, or even just checking in once a month, their millennial employees will likely not be actively engaged. Lack of engagement translates to a lack of care on the employer’s part, and leads to employees looking for new jobs — there’s no reason to be loyal to employers who don’t even care enough about us to make us feel engaged.
What Do Millennials Want From a Relationship?
Millennials are waiting to get married and have kids. They want a true partner, a 50/50 divide with someone they can count on, be intimate with, and support each other emotionally and financially.
The average age for millennial marriages is 27 for women and 29 for men, with major urban areas like New York City seeing even higher average ages. While the Huffington Post speculates that it’s due to the economy and lingering student debt, there’s actually a multitude of reasons for these figures.
Having children at an early age is not a priority for our generation. Part of that is not wanting to commit until we find the perfect mate; part of it is, indeed, the economy. Additionally, our generation was hit hardest by the 2008 recession; even simply finding jobs is harder for us, as entry-level jobs are often awarded to members of older generations who may have more accumulated experience than a millennial entry-level applicant.
As mentioned, we don’t feel the need to commit to partners or marriages right away. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, there’s plenty of apps that can connect us with possible partners in a matter of minutes. If one does not fill or tick all the right boxes, no problem: there’s always someone else out there. If they are not equal partners, empowering each other synergistically as a “power couple,” they might move on to bigger and better relationships.
A Strong Connection
HuffPo also notes millennials want a strong connection to their significant other — which circles back to being a power couple — but the partner can’t be the only thing in their lives. There must still be a life outside of the relationship. In other words, millennials are resolved not to give up friends or hobbies just because they are now in a relationship. At the same time, they want someone who values intimacy and sex — in other words, someone who values the balance in dichotomy between an active public life and an enriching, intimate relationship with their partner.
Fewer Taboos and Gender Stereotypes
Our generation tends to be more open about these subjects, with taboos falling away and women becoming more independent as time as gone on. In line with this, millennials want a fair partnership, with a partner who will do their fair share of housework. It’s not just the guy paying for the gal on every date; it’s about being a team. Modern women are often making more money than their male partners, and our generation sees this as simple contributions to “the team” instead of as threats to either partner’s gender identity.
What Do Millennials Want to Do for Fun?
Millennials approach “fun” a bit differently than older generations do. We’re not into “stuff” as much as we are into making memories and cultivating experiences.
Millennials are big on experiences over material items. In fact, Eventbrite found that 78 percent of millennials would rather spend money on a desirable experience than buy an item of similar monetary value. Going to a music festival is more important to us than upgrading an oven might be.
Part of this paradigm’s driving force is a “fear of missing out”, better known as FOMO. According to Eventbrite, 69 percent of millennials have FOMO, which can be exacerbated by oversharing of experiences on social media, something that didn’t earlier generations never had to contend with.
As discussed earlier, millennials tend to job-hop if they are not engaged, and that often means moving. Experiences live on as memories, while lugging more and more items only becomes harder and more expensive as they are accumulated. This, again, feeds into the stereotype of millennials as flighty, but it’s actually just us being practical and pragmatic. It’s yet another reason millennials are renting instead of buying; we might have to move for a new job soon (especially if our employers don’t start actively trying to engage us!).
Millennials try to be healthy. In 2013, a quarter of millennial men and 17 percent of women went to the gym, exercised, or play indoor sports on a regular basis. The majority of us, 3 out of 4, go to the movies, and 70 percent of men and 53 percent of women of those go at least once per month. While these help us keep mentally and socially healthy, sitting is the new smoking. However, that’s also a key to millennials — we are focused on mental health just as much as physical health.
We binge on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO GO, watching as many of the latest shows as we can, and lamenting what we’ve missed due to FOMO. We watch video gamers streaming what they play as a way to wind down, experiencing the game without having to buy it.
Are Millennials Different From Past Generations?
We are different. We have been shaped by the economy and what past generations have done before us. Our financial status — with student loans eating into our paychecks and often no end in sight — means we need to be frugal. People under the age of 35 have the burden of half of the nation’s $1.5 trillion student loans. We simply don’t have the means to live like older generations, buying new cars and houses at young ages.
Nevertheless, we know how to treat ourselves — and in different ways than older generations too. We live for experiences, and for sharing those experiences with our friends and family. We want to create memories instead of buying the latest, greatest kitchen gadget (ever heard of the Juicero?).
And yet, Gen Z after us is already shaping up differently. They are learning from the cynicism our generation exudes as a direct result of the 2008 financial crash, as well as our nation’s continued involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts long after G.W. Bush announced “mission accomplished”. The perception may be that our generation harnessed that cynicism and skepticism to create the phenomenon of internet memes, Gen Z has perfected the use of memes in communication. They are on social media more, digitally connecting and communicating at earlier ages than millennials ever did. Indeed, we shaped the internet as we know it today, maturing in step with the growth of the world wide web; Gen Z, on the other hand, has known no other way, and were essentially born and taught to live “in the internet”. As it is, Gen Z has massive spending power, eclipsing what we millennials have at our disposal. Gen Z has influence and potential, and they are striking their own digitally native path.
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