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Studies in Global Mobility

Millennials, Gen Y, a look into the future?

In recent times there have been numerous articles and posts about ’Millennials’ – people born between 1980 and 2000 – who have also been labelled ‘Generation Y’.

Millennials, Gen Y, a look into the future?Discussions have been fuelled by the revelation that the largest cohort of workers in the US is now drawn from this generation. They now even outnumber the Baby Boomers, who are progressively retiring.  As a consequence, Millennials and their attitudes to consumption and the work place have been subject to all sorts of pontifications from everyone from the White House to Goldman Sachs. The implication appears to be that if companies fail to understand the traits and characteristics of this generational group they will not be able to sell to them or retain their services as employees, especially if seen from the perspective of an older generation.

In fact, with only a little probing, many of the “facts” involving Millennials start to sound decidedly tenuous.

“Millennials are supposed to be more collaborative (because of technological advances such as Instagram and Whatsapp, less receptive to taking direct instructions and much keener on their companies’ CSR policies.”

Take housing, for example – in the UK, the term ‘Generation Rent’ is often quoted. Goldman Sachs reveals that the proportion of young people between the ages of 18-34 living in the parental home has been rising, especially since 2005.  Is this an indication of a fundamental change in attitude? Apparently not – the vast majority of Millennials still want to purchase their own homes, if they could only afford to.

According to the same research, Millennials are apparently very reluctant to own small consumer items such as cds or albums or larger items such as cars. This is hardly surprising. During their formative teenage years, the ability to effectively control copyrighting of music largely disappeared and consuming music via mp3 files, often for free,  became the norm. Similarly car makers have been much smarter at offering a range of payment options to enable drivers to buy brand new cars, or rather lease them.  If you can drive around in a new car (even though it will not technically be yours), for the same monthly payments as the loan on a second-hand car, why wouldn’t you?

When it comes to the workplace, Millennials are supposed to be more collaborative (because of technological advances such as Instagram and Whatsapp) less receptive to taking direct instructions and be much keener on their companies’ CSR policies. On the downside, they are variously described as lazy and likely to change jobs and companies more frequently.  There are significant pieces of research which cast doubt on these descriptions.

A joint study, by the Centre for Creative Leadership and the University of California, of 25,000 people, concluded that many of these general observations varied from inconsistent to erroneous. Amongst other findings, the study concluded that Millennials were more likely to obey management instructions than other generations.

Millennials were more competitive than other generations by a margin of 59% to 48%, but less motivated by Corporate Social Responsibility.”

In a survey of 5000 people, 41% of Millennials felt that “employees should do what their manager tells them, even when they can’t see the reason for it” – only 30% of Baby Boomers and 30% of Generation X-ers agreed with this statement.  Far from being addicted to social media, 90% of Millennials wanted to receive their performance evaluations in person.

CEB is a US-based “best practice insight and technology company”; they poll 90,000 US employees each quarter.  In their recent poll they found that Millennials were more competitive than other generations by a margin of 59% to 48%, but less motivated by Corporate Social Responsibility. 35% of Millennials put a high emphasis on CSR, compared with a 41% of baby boomers.

In truth, there is some evidence that Millennials change jobs more frequently than other generations, but some commentators maintain that this is just a characteristic of being young at any point in time – not necessarily because someone was born after 1980.

The IBM Institute for Business Value also concluded in a recent study that:

…. Millennials want many of the same things their older colleagues do. While there are some distinctions among the generations, Millennials’ attitudes are not poles apart from other employees’

This is not to suggest that companies can ignore the differences displayed by Millennials, but they might be wise not to swallow whole all of the hype that currently surrounds them.

By Andrew Harris, HCR

Find out more at www.hcr.co.uk

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