The generation gap has never been as great as it is now argues Mark Hadaway.
Without a degree in social politics it’s not possible to highlight all the ways in which Millennials or Generation Y are different from their parents – and why they are – but the differences are there and are keenly felt by both sides.
The astronomical change in technology since the turn of the century is one of the more obvious factors creating a divide between children and their parents, and this cannot be underestimated. To get a snapshot of the vast impact it’s had on society in such a short space of time, consider that today there are an estimated three billion mobile users in the world, with global internet penetration standing at 57%.
Moreover, the app industry didn’t even exist in 2008 yet just a decade later and 105.3 billion apps were downloaded during 2018 alone. And if we think that social media - which has gone from a standing start to the most influential media in the history of the world in just two decades - has now reached saturation point, then we need to think again because more than 42% of the globe is on social media now. Last year a million people used mobile social media for the first time every single day.
If we’re shaped by our environment, it’s hardly surprising that Millennials are ‘different'. They are the first technology native generation. And those generations that follow, Generation Z and Generation Alpha, have their own distinctive characteristics, likely influenced by technology’s advances.
When it comes to business success, understanding those differences has become paramount because today Millennials are our employees, our colleagues and, most importantly, our customers.
From next year Millennials are expected, for the first time, to become the dominant age sector in the global workforce – and making up 75% of it by 2025. But understanding them, and what they want, has confounded many with accusations such as entitled, mollycoddled, narcissistic, and lazy laid at the door of most 20 somethings. While some of these terms are justified, much of it is down to misunderstanding.
Millennials are the first generation to have grown up in a digital world that is essentially 24/7. They expect to be able to carry out their business – renew car insurance, pay bills, do their shopping – at any time of the day or night. They don’t recognise the ‘9-5’ which shackled their parents, and that attitude follows them to work.
A Millennial is very likely to answer emails at 9pm, but in return expects the traditional working hours to be less rigid. Blaming Millennials for wanting more is fruitless. Instead, employers could turn this to their advantage by bending their rules and reaping the rewards. There are proven gains for both sides when employees are allowed greater flexibility – they are more engaged, more productive, morale is higher, and they are less likely to leave.
That said, retention of Millennials is tricky. From some viewpoints they don’t stick at anything, they leave when the going gets tough and are too easily discouraged. It’s certainly true that a job for life is a thing of the past. Most people entering the workforce now will have at least 14 different jobs, which is all-the-more reason to do whatever possible to keep the people you have.
There are no guarantees, but two common misconceptions are that money and job perks will be enough to satisfy an employee. In fact, money is ranked third in the list of priorities for Millennials. Instead, employers should focus on training and feedback.
Lack of career development is the prime reason Millennials go job hunting. They are more life-centric than work-centric, and if they feel they have plateaued they will go somewhere else to learn new skills.
In terms of feedback, this is often mistaken for praise. Millennials have grown up in a world where what they do gets an immediate response – largely through social media.
That expectation follows them to work, and while they may not be seeking praise, they do demand a reaction. They don’t want to feel that their work has gone unnoticed. If they’re doing something good or bad, they want to know. Managers could adapt by replacing annual reviews with regular, on-the-job comment.
As customers, Millennials are also changing the rules. Urbanisation is a global, and seemingly irreversible trend. Millennials do not care about ownership as much as experience and convenience. Sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb have taken advantage of this change in mindset.
While owning a car used to be a status symbol, what matters more now is connectivity, a solution that makes their lives easier, and an experience that can be shared with friends. Quite simply Millennials want to get in, connect and go – hence, in part, the evolution of car sharing, car clubs and subscription-based mobility services which all broadly fall under the mobility as a service (MaaS) banner.
To wow a Millennial – and to connect with them marketing your business online – it’s not enough to aim for customer satisfaction. By definition that will simply ‘satisfy’ them. Instead, businesses must aim to bridge what some people call the ‘celebrity gap’, in other words, the gap between the service you’d provide a normal customer compared to the service you’d offer an A-lister. That is where the competitive advantage lies and it needs to be ‘always on’.
There is a common quote doing the rounds today: Life is what happens when you’re looking at your smartphone.
For companies hoping to tap into the much-maligned and misunderstood Millennial, the following might be a better guiding principle: Business is what happens when they’re looking at their smartphone.
It’s easy to be snobby, but the world is changing and it’s changing the people within it. To continue to thrive, it’s time to forget the high ground and seek the common ground.
- Mark Hadaway is a freelance journalist based in the UK