Millennials have very different attitudes and appetites to the baby boomers before them, finds Alicia Buller. But what impact will they have on the environmental, economic and social landscape of tomorrow?
The next generation of humans always defines the trajectory of society. Today, as the planet’s very existence hangs in the balance due to threats like climate change, particular attention is being paid to ‘Millennials’ or ‘Generation Y’ (Gen Y) – the incoming workforce aged between 21 and 32-years-old. This much-discussed group is the first generation to enter a world pervaded by technology, changing work parameters and intense environmental challenges. Gen Y will also be the wealthiest generation ever to have lived.
According to consulting firm Accenture, baby boomers have started to pass along their life savings to their heirs, and this process will continue over the next few decades. When done, some $30 trillion will be transferred from one generation to the next. A recent study by financial research firm Spectrem showed that a greater percentage of Millennials were concerned about caring for ageing parents than they were about their own health. They are also more apt to use their wealth for social good. George Walper, president of Spectrem, attributes both the Millennials’ financial awareness and their awareness of the world around them to two landmark events, “September 11, 2001 and 2008,” he says. The terrorist attacks and the onset of the recession at once opened them up to the world and caused them to protect their futures. But Gen Y is also financially freer than the generations that came before. Timothy Sabol, an Ameriprisefinancialadvisor,says:“GenYdoesn’tseesuccessthe same way their parents do. They want to travel. The availability of liquidity means they are more free to take the money and run.”That desire for relevance, rather than the other benefits of riches, is a key differentiator between generations.
According to the Future Workplace ‘Multiple Generations @ Work’ study, Millennials will hold between 15 and 16 jobs over the course of their careers. This contrasts with the three jobs that Boomers would have typically held. Millennial loyalties to any one job are weaker than the previous generation and they place high precedence on company values.
Future Workplace asked Baby Boomers and Millennials to weigh the importance of ‘doing good’ (purpose or mission-driven work) versus making more money. The results indicated a substantial divide in attitudes between the two generations. Respondents from the Baby Boomer generation said they were 67 per cent more interested in making more money than doing good.
Conversely, Millennial respondents weighed making more money on par with ‘doing good’. Whether this is attributable to life status (lack of financial obligations such as children and long-term home loans) or a true value difference is yet to be determined. For now, it is safe to say that Millennials entering the workforce are significantly more purpose-driven than members of their parents’ generation.
What’s more, a recent study conducted by Bentley University’s Centre for Women & Business found that 84 per cent of Millennials view making a positive difference in the world as more important than professional recognition.
So there is mounting evidence that society’s next generation is more purpose- driven. But what’s driving this trend? Emma MulQueeney, CEO of Elbi Digital and founder of Rewired State and Young Rewired State, agrees that Millennials’ attitude to work is vastly different from the generation that went before. She says this work-life shift is freeing young minds to focus on more than just money and a ‘job for life’. MulQueeney says: “In a lifetime they will have many jobs, but they will also be micro-entrepreneurs because it’s so easy now. If they have a spare room, they can put it on Air BnB; if they want to walk dogs, they can register on Dog Buddy, and the list goes on. They are going to become mini-entrepreneurs without even knowing it.”
MulQueeney, who is also a commissioner for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy and a Google Fellow, is convinced that the pervasiveness of social media has helped to create a generation of compassionate and confident Millennials. “First of all, social media connects them to lots of people they don’t know in real life; up until the dawn of social media you would meet people in your life and maybe you would have a pen pal but you wouldn’t really engage with them, they would still be like an invisible person,” she says. “Young people tend to – unwittingly – build communities around the things that they are interested in.” MulQueeney says that social media connects children and young people in a direct way that hasn’t happened before and they can now see what’s happening in other lives with a new transparency and openness.
Despite frequent media reports of online bullying in schools, the Google Fellow insists that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow young people to see beyond their own worlds and into the lives of others, which then hones their compassion from an early age.
“With social media you have to quickly learn how to fit in and work with other people where you are not the centre of the universe. They see online that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Their natural behaviour is to be compassionate.
“Today they get online at 11 and 12-years-old – they are getting news in their newsfeed, they are reading articles about things like female genital mutilation and they are saying ‘I feel very strongly about that’.”
Other experts remain unconvinced that compassionate expression online actually leads to compassionate action. Rohit Talwar, who is a futurist at research firm Fast Future, is sceptical about the power of social media as an activator of empathy. He does however believe Millenials have increased global awareness and a hunger for change.
SPIRIT OF REFORM
Talwar explains: “I don’t think that we will see masses of Gen Y selling off their parents’ homes and then using it to home the homeless and cure diseases, but I do see that there will be a different attitude towards material wealth in that generation. With Gen Y you will see a lot of people coming through who are imbued with the spirit of reform and a zeal for change and an ability to ignore the doubting voices.”
Talwar continues: “Social media isn’t uniformly compassionate, it has enabled people to share their ideas but does it increase compassion? It varies – I see moments of compassion; an issue comes up and everyone ‘likes’ the issue but then everyone goes back to watching a video of Justin Bieber being smacked in the face.
“I don’t know if social media has made us more compassionate, but I definitely think it’s made it easier for people to raise awareness of issues across the planet.”
Jason Dorsey, Gen Y expert and co- founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics also believes Millennials are much better informed. He says: “Social media has made Gen Y much more aware of the challenges facing our world, especially on a global level, and our hope is that this awareness ultimately translates into action over the long term.”
Sue Honoré, associate research consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, says that while GenY has the opportunity to relate to and empathise with a wider group of people, “are they more compassionate? I think that is open to discussion.
“From our research, Gen Y looks for organisations that not only meet their job
criteria but also have ‘green’ or corporate social responsibility credentials. It is part of the decision process in accepting a job. So Gen Y is far more discerning in that respect.”
Honoré explains that Gen Y is more influenced by their peers than previous generations, so social media plays a strong part in their decision process about employers. The reputation of a company is not as strongly controlled by its own marketing efforts as in the past – previous customers and employees have a big influence, driven by social media communication.
Dorsey says the starkest global changes will be seen in around 2035 when Gen Y will reach peak age in terms of influence, earnings and voting power.
“Gen Y will likely have a more compassionate view about the world as they’ll have seen firsthand what happens when change is not made, as well as when changes are made that directly create positive outcomes. And all of that change will be documented in real-time in video, audio and photos.”
Dorsey believes that Gen Y will have children later in life than previous generations so they’ll be older parents with younger family. At the same time, he says Gen Y will live longer so they’ll be expecting to work longer to support themselves and their children.
“Finally, Gen Y will have the benefit and challenge of a world ripe with artificial intelligence and virtual reality which will introduce opportunities and challenges we literally cannot imagine today.
“Combine all that together, you’ll have a massive generation influencing governments, leading governments and increasingly trying to solve problems on a global scale as that will be the only scale that matters.”
11 Things you Should Know About Gen Y
1. They hate to be sold anything
2. They have always been rewarded for participation and not achievement
3. They don’t seek to acquire stuff
4.They can self-organise friends for grassroots activism
5. They trust peers first and parents second 6. They actively research prices and read reviews before making a purchase
7. They are driven by a desire to make a difference
8. They expect exceptional service
9. They seek to do business with ethical, trustworthy organisations
10. They value customisation
11. They remain detached from institutions, but closely networked with friends
Source: Sarah Sladek, author of‘Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now’
Gen Y by Numbers
92% believe that business success should be measured by more than profit.
80 % prefer on-the-spot recognition over formal reviews.
61% want to personally make a difference in the world.
50% want to start their own business, or have already done so.
2 years is their average employment tenure.
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