Millennials at Work

November 02, 2015


No one knows the exact date, but sometime this year Millennials took over the workforce … literally. With approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every single day, and Gen X occupying a comparatively small but steady percentage of the workforce, Millennials now take up more positions at work than either of the two generations that preceded them.

Although every generation has its outliers, it would be a serious mistake to view the Millennial generation as monolithic. Those who entered the workforce prior to the Great Recession—and survived it unscathed—continue to exhibit many of the characteristics most frequently associated with this generational cohort: they are optimistic, confident multi-taskers who expect to readily achieve their goals.

The Millennials who lost jobs or struggled to land a job at the height of the Great Recession, however, exhibit very different characteristics. In many ways they more closely resemble Gen Z, the generation born post-9/11 that is now progressing through high school and entering college.

Following are five particular characteristics worth noting:

Pragmatism rules

I am not suggesting that every Millennial who entered the workplace 15 years ago expected to automatically become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Paris Hilton. But nearly every Baby Boomer manager remembers the surprise he or she felt, when they first encountered a sense of entitlement frequently associated with older Millennials.

One 2007 new associates orientation stands out in my memory. During a 30-minute presentation, a law firm partner explained the firm’s bonus system, adding that no new associate could expect to receive a top ranking, which required demonstrable proof of business development success. The partner’s detailed and logical explanation didn’t stop a brand new associate from inquiring why her work product wasn’t worthy of the firm’s top bonus.

Employers are thrilled to find that the Millennials who struggled to find employment throughout the Great Recession possess a far more pragmatic outlook toward work. They are genuinely grateful to have a job and to put in the long hours it often requires. They do not anticipate immediate elevation to the upper echelons of management. All indications are that Gen Z will approach work similarly.

Cautious about taking risks

Around 2005, I lost count of the number of employers who complained about the investment they made in training Millennial employees only to see these junior workers move onto greener pastures at the drop of a hat. Most Millennials readily admitted that “learn what you can and move on” this was their preferred professional development strategy. They fully anticipated working between 10 and 15 different jobs during the course of their careers.

If older Millennials sought out “flexibility” and “freedom,” younger Millennials want something very different … like “steadiness” and “security.” Most junior Millennials, like Gen X, are far less interested in jumping from job to job. Increasingly I hear new graduates say that they hope to work a total of three different jobs, not 15, over the course of their careers.

Unique relationship with money

When all you’ve witnessed during your formative years is a stock market on a long steady climb up, odds are you’ll anticipate that climb will continue. While older Millennials witnessed the 2007 market crash, as long as they retained their jobs, they maintained a positive attitude about their future net worth.

Younger Millennials know all too well that vast amounts of wealth can be wiped out overnight due to forces completely out of their control. They are genuinely worried about their student debt and seek ways to control their own financial future. Look for your junior employees to develop an interest in business development early … because already they are extremely skeptical about the long-term viability of Social Security.

Prefer face time

When older Millennials entered the workforce, BlackBerrys were the new toy of choice. I dreaded when clients gave them to new hires before one of my programs. Once they were in hand, I knew darn well that gaining and keeping the attention of program attendees had suddenly become nearly impossible.

To say that younger Millennials dread receiving a BlackBerry at work is only a slight exaggeration. They know full well that a smart phone is an important business-communication device. But they’re not crazy about the impact they know these devices can have on their personal lives. (They still resent the fact that their Moms and Dad paid so much attention to their BlackBerrys throughout important childhood events, like soccer games and birthday parties.)

By the way, a dozen years ago employers found that many Millennials did not do well in the interview settings. A generation accustomed to texting lacked practice when it came to the art of conversation. Today’s younger workers hunger for face-to-face exchanges.


Having watched televised accounts of brilliant financial analysts carrying their personal effects away from an imploding Lehman Brothers, younger Millennials don’t anticipate that a benevolent employer will forever exist to provide employment. Many junior workers express a strong desire to eventually open their own businesses. According to one survey, nearly 75% view themselves as future entrepreneurs, proof positive that they seek to take charge of their own futures rather than depend upon the vagaries of an uncertain economy.

Beware of an ever-diminishing attention span

The Millennial generation arrived on the scene when computers moved from huge corporations and into the home. They grew up with Macs in the classroom and quickly embraced every new technology as it appeared. Personal computing and Millennials matured together.

Younger Millennials and Gen Z have been “connected” almost from their conception. In some cases, their socially connected parents created Facebook pages for them prior to their births. Before they could speak, younger Millennials intuited how to manipulate an iPhone and iPad. At the age at which I learned how to write cursive, your junior employees created their first PowerPoint presentations.

Our hyper-connectivity has already yielded unintended consequences. Study after study reports that younger Millennials and Gen Z possess a dramatically reduced attention span. How reduced? According to at least one study, the average attention span of a member of Gen Z is 8.5 seconds. For comparison’s sake, the average attention space of a goldfish is 9 seconds.



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