They've been called lazy, spoiled and entitled by the media. But the truth is, millennials are poised to make a major economic impact as consumers, employees and entrepreneurs.
Every generation looks at the younger one and thinks, “What’s wrong with them?” Last year at a workshop, a woman complained about her lazy millennial employees, which reminded me of a lyric from the 1960 musical “Bye Bye Birdie”: Kids “are disobedient, disrespectful oafs! Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy, loafers!”
The workforce is filled with millennials, also known as Gen Y, and they’re not exactly young. According to “Millennial Life Stage Segmentation,” a report produced by Frank N. Magid Associates and appearing in MediaPost, “millennials aren’t kids anymore.” The report shows that only 11 percent of millennials (about 10 million people) are between 16 and 18, and approximately 15 percent (13 million) are college students. Twelve million (14 percent) “are in flux — not working or married.” But most are “grown-ups” — 36 percent (31 million) are working and 24 percent (21 million) are parents.
Depending on whom you ask, millennials are either “lazy, know-it-all” employees or “born entrepreneurs” who will be your savviest competitors. So which is it?
Millennials are the largest American generation ever, numbering about 88 million, and boast an annual spending power in excess of $200 billion. Leah Bell, president of UQ Marketing, a collegiate marketing company, says, "Millennials are misunderstood because they aren't motivated by the same things that motivate [older generations]. Millennials value their time, are used to instant gratification and expect the freedom to make choices.”
Millennials as consumers
If you want to sell to Gen Y, targeting college students is a good place to start. Bell believes they’re “an ideal target,” not just because of “their worth in future buying power,” but because they “will spend $69 billion on discretionary items this year alone. If companies can hook a student on their brand in college, their lifetime value significantly increases.”
We all know that ratings and reviews are influential in shaping consumer purchases. According to a UQ Marketing study, the proclivity to share information this way starts young. Bell says her firm discovered that college consumers prefer to share experiences and opinions about products they love (94.6 percent) and dislike (91.6 percent) in person, not via text or social media.
Bell advises businesses marketing to this group “to interject themselves into these real-world conversations. [Businesses] wanting to build the next generation of brand loyalists and customers should use online efforts to drive off-line recommendations and interactions.”
Millennials have high expectations from the companies they do business with. They are very receptive to cause marketing. A research study from the Boston Consulting Group, Barkley, and Service Management Group shows 37 percent of Gen Y (compared to 30 percent of non-millennials) is more likely to buy products if their purchases help support a cause.
This isn’t an only-in-America phenomenon. Mike Farrell, senior vice president of research and strategic insight at Conversion, a digital consulting and communications company in Toronto, notes the similarities between young people in America and Canada. He cites a survey conducted by Conversion showing that 61 percent of young Canadians “will purchase a brand if it stands for something [they] believe in.” Farrell says they expect their “favorite brands to be transparent, honest, socially and environmentally responsible, and generally culturally aligned.”
Millennials in the workplace
The workplace is a breeding ground for major mischaracterizations of millennials. The standard line is that Gen Y employees are lazy, disengaged and disloyal. Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting company, says if you’ve experienced that in your business, it’s likely your fault.
“Millennials,” he says, “are only lazy when they feel unsatisfied with their work. They want meaningful work that makes a real business impact. … Companies need to do a better job of positioning millennials for success by understanding their needs and differences.” In fact, Schawbel and PayScale, a salary analytics firm, recently released a study, “Gen Y on the Job,” revealing that while millennials generally only stay on the job for two years, they would stick around for almost five if offered career opportunities.
Why the misperceptions? Entrepreneur Week founder Gary Whitehill attributes it to a shift in the mental model. “The way we assimilate information is different than older generations,” he says. Whitehill also credits technology, “which enables us to be quicker and faster, and gives us the big megaphone of social media. It’s not that we rebel and think we know everything,” he says, “we just want to be efficient.”
Scott Gerber, founder of the YEC (Young Entrepreneur Council) and #StartupLab, acknowledges there’s a generation gap. “Previous generations worked hard in the traditional sense, creating in a different way. People think we’re lazy because it now takes seconds to do what used to take hours. So we’re not challenged. And we get bored. We’re working smarter, not harder,” and older generations don’t understand it.
If you want to “get great results” from your millennial employees, Bell advises that you “change your [management] approach.” She suggests you offer flexible work schedules and open work spaces. And she agrees that “millennials who don't feel like they’re really making a difference will quickly grow frustrated and begin looking for the next challenge.”
Millennials as entrepreneurs
On the other hand, many think Gen Y is the most entrepreneurial in history. Millennials instinctively understand how to wield the power of technology. And they’re not willing to wait to pay their dues. The Kauffman Foundation has released several reports indicating:
- 54 percent of American millennials either have already started or want to start a business.
- 29 percent of entrepreneurs in the United States are ages 20 to 34.
- 65 percent of millennials want Congress to “make it easier to start a business.”
- 83 percent think Congress should increase the availability of startup loans.
According to Empact co-founder Michael Simmons, a survey of the companies featured in the Empact Showcase (businesses owned by entrepreneurs age 30 or younger) shows the average age of the entrepreneurs at startup was 21, and collectively they’ve earned more than $1.1 billion.