Communicating with a Millennial

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what I’ve been calling the millennials, others have been calling Gen Y. I think we all understand that there’s a significant change in the way this generation is looking at work and life. Certainly the world as it gets smaller and easier to access through both travel and the internet has changed our priorities. The wealth that the U.S. and other industrialized nations have is extraordinary, allowing people not to focus as much on their financial situations. And the technologies of web 2.0 bring an interactive nature to how we perceive the world around us. What this brings us, is a complex change in how we treat new entrants to the workforce, and how we’ll shape our strategies for them over the next 10 years and beyond.

Business Week featured an interview with CEO Jay Adelson who shared some great insights and ideas to what the millennials are looking for.

Today’s demographic trend is impossible to ignore and has big implications for workplaces across America. Seventy million Americans who belong to Generation Y (born between 1977 to 2002) are entering the workforce in massive waves. Add Generation Xers, who are now in their 30s and early 40s, and you have millions of employees whose visions for their jobs differ from their parents’ and most of their bosses’ old command-and-control management theories.

Adelson argues that younger workers are transforming the workplace from the “get rich quick” attitude of the ’90s to a culture of empowerment and contribution. At the end of the day, he says, these employees want to feel as though they are part of something essential and that they have contributed to its achievement.

And unlike their parents, who may have found fulfillment in a steady paycheck, the new generation of employee wants a relationship with someone they feel understands them and their goals. “Managing is no longer just about hitting certain metrics, it’s about understanding individuals and helping them grow,” says Adelson. ((Gallo, Carmine. October 26, 2006. “Digg This: Talking to Gen Y.” Retrieved from on January 8, 2007.))

Every single one of us has 5 or more ways we can communicate with other people, versus just a couple of methods a generation ago. The ever increasing possibilities has made being connected and having open lines of real communication so much more important. At the same time, a smaller world has meant that people are no longer satisfied with being a small cog in a big engine. Employees want to see their contributions in a meaningful way. We owe this generation the opportunity to change the workplace and shape it to their future. We owe them the guidance that they crave.

In a time when HR is consumed by talent management and a fear of the retiring baby boomers, we may be too focused on our immediate succession plans and insufficiently concerned with developing new graduates into successful mid-career professional. The talent management approach for each is quite different. Have you thought about each separately?

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22 thoughts on “Communicating with a Millennial”

  1. Pingback: KnowHR Blog
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  3. The Recruiting Animal is confused. Why is everybody describing Gen Y in the same terms as the Baby Boomers and the Baby Boomers in the same terms as their parents?

    What about the Hippies and The Love Generation? Didn’t they allegedly want meaning in their lives. “Do not fold, spindle or mutilate.” Remember that? What about all those now old movies about people who wanted to be independent and free. “A Thousand Clowns” and Serpico come to mind.

    It was the generation before the sixties that was more concerned about just getting people jobs. Now you’re saying that’s all the sixties generation was ever interested in.

    If that’s true, it means that all of the media blather about the wonderful Boomers only reflected the feelings and thoughts of a few noisy people in that generation. Which suggests that the same thing is happening now with the Millenials, Gen Y and all the rest.

  4. Animal: Every stereotype is both completely untrue, and has a basis in truth at the same time. You are right, and I’ll have a post soon about the societal differences that each generation has had, including technology, and the (stereotypical) impact that has had on our generations.

    When it comes to actually performing work, certainly things like myspace, IM and text messaging have a serious impact on how younger people communicate. We have LinkedIn, but we don’t have the same sense around social networking on-line that younger people do. More to come…


  5. I think it’s important that we pick a little deeper, because we’re talking about several issues. The idea that younger people make more intensive use of newer communication tools is beyond argument. Of course, part of growing up is learning to deal with other people, i.e., your boss. Older people who learn how to use IM, SMS, etc. will likely get better results out of the “kids” on their teams. Conversely, the kids who figure out how to work with their old-fashioned bosses will also get better results.

    Where I am more skeptical is the whole idealism meme as the Animal highlights. Idealism is cheap when you’re in our early 20s. Particularly the college-educated millenials hitting the scene now are coming from unprecendented prosperity, it’s going to be an interesting awakening for them as they hit 25-30 and start looking at the price of real estate in the places where they want to live.

    It’s hardly just the 60s, either- the 50s had the Beatniks, before them you had the flappers, the Lost Generation, etc. Young people have always acted their age, but what’s novel about today is that older people aren’t doing their part and moving peacefully into their rocking chairs. My father turns 70 this year and he’s hoping to get in a couple more years of skiing first. Everybody is wearing jeans in the office and parents are snarfing MP3s off their kids’ iPods.

  6. Alas, dear Collie, The Recruiting Animal didn’t mention the beatniks because they really were a fringe whereas hippiedom took over the entire youth culture. Or appeared to. I think Nixon won 72% of the vote in 1972. Whatever the figure, it was a landslide and wasn’t that the first year that people 18 and over were voting (or am I dreaming about that?). So those masses of hippified young people didn’t just grow up and trade in their VW wagons for SUV’s (not such a big switch); they never existed in the first place. And that might be the same story with every other stereotyped generation.

    Now I admit that some things change. Pre-marital sex became widely acceptable in the 1960s and stayed on as a basic aspect of the general culture. So did drugs and a general informality which the Gen Y promoters now attempt to deny. Boomers are so top down, they claim. What a laugh. Allegedly, in the 60s, they were anarchists.

    John Sumser has the most thorough-going vision of Gen Yer’s that I’ve encountered and I will be writing about it soon.

  7. WorkEcology is presently translating its vision into a model of worker sustainability, This is a very aligned fit with the discussion we are having here. i am pleased to see it. Dubs, thanks again for this great blogspot

    The Birkenstock Generation is now like Papa Sumser working on projects with people the age of their children.

    I have been invited into my Alma Mater, Boston University to begin to examine how to prepare the current workforce for work. Boston University does not feel it has failed, they feel that schools and employers have failed to prepare the new graduates and talent pool on how to move into the arena of Portfolio Work. We have others joining us from a small college in Boston, Hellenic College where I have beta tested my Foundation of Portfolio Work program with a small class studying Business and Society. The Office of the President at Wentwoth Institute is also joining us in this dialogue, since they deal with yet another type of student who is more vocationally focused and still challnged to make the transition into the workplace.

    RBC Dain’s Personal Wealth Group based in San Francisco is also asked to learn with us along with a knowledge management company in medicine that provides 24/7 searching of rmedical journals and can provide us with analysis of cost and practice issues for people facing a lifelong chronic illness, who want to or have to work.

    So the Commons of Imagination for WorkEcology is becoming an interest common from which to examine what it means to be a worker today — best skilled in what Boston U. calls the STEM professions (engineerning, science, technology and management) and business school grads.

    It’s been an interesting day at my desk this week, where I am based this week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. On Monday, I am off to join 300 people at the Society for Organizational Learning’s first conference focusing on Sustainability.

    The ethic that the Birkenstock idealists held as ideal about work was born into the generation of parents, who believed that a life long job was all they needed till they retired.

    Colleauges of mine joined through the Bionomic Institute and Cato Institute and Reason Magazine thought otherwise in the late 1990’s and the ideas I harvested and fostered, while living in the Bay Area with all these folks, now seem to very timely.

    I’m going to give considerable thought to how I communicate about our next phase of this initiative that I am co-leading with all my partners. While I have been somewhat obsessed about preparing for this thought leaderhsip for quite sometime, I know as a women this scope of change to workforce factors does not get put into practice without partners and people who liek to engage in shaping change initiatives.

    Cheerio on and all:


  8. I am a Gen-Y who is fairly new to the workforce and I can tell you, you’re right on the money. One of my biggest problems at the end of the day is not knowing what all my hard work really amounted to. And I find that managers are not giving me the appropriate guidance necessary for me to grow in the company. They’re too concerned with what’s going on above them to look at what’s going on below.

    Gen-Y AKA the Millennials and the workplace is a subject that myself and a friend have been tackling for about a month now on our site
    We feel that the current state of the workforce is not suited to our generation and are learning that many of us feel the same. I encourage you to take a look at our site as we continue to post our thoughts. You may even find us to be a valuable resource as you look at Gen-Y from an HR perspective.

  9. I didn’t know my comments on the post needed to reflect anybody elses. It must’ve been that narcissistic Gen-Y attitude taking over again.

    In reality my comments initiated above were just a plug to check out for a chance to get int the mind of a Millennial before jumping into an over-analysis.

    Just a suggestion, since you seem pretty passionate.

  10. Ryan:
    Thanks for owning up. I actually recognized it as a plug and checked out your blog before allowing it without any editing. In fact, the other comments on this thread and yours will prompt me to repost on this subject on Monday. More to come.

  11. Ryan, if you say you represent Gen Y specifically then indeed your views must diverge from those of other generations. But your comments were more of the traditional (valid) complaints of young people — not, not, not, Gen Y.

    I’m going to do a Recruiting Animal Show in which callers ask Gen Y types questions to see if they fit the image their propagandists are putting forward. Maybe you’re a candidate for the hot seat. And maybe not if you declare yourself Mr Gen Y and then deny it when challenged.

  12. First and foremost, who are the “propagandists”? It’s pretty bold move to consider propaganda in an environment that promotes the discussion of opinions.

    The “Recruiting Animal” offers some interesting and compelling viewpoints, but his focal point has not been Gen-Y, but teh downfalls of the Boomer generation. Perhaps a case of the resentment many Gen-X members feel toward their predecessor? Maybe not…

    I do however see what the “Animal” is trying to get across. Are Gen-Y’s just going through the same twenty-something phase that’s symptomatic to us all during this transitionary period? Or are we really as different as we claim?

    The Hippie/Gen-Y comparison is a perfect example of why we are so different. While Hippies initiated sit-ins and smoked pot all day to “fight the power” during a controversial era, today’s Gen-Y’s are joining interest groups, getting involved in the community and expressing their opinions through the plethora of communications resources we are priveleged to.

    The way I see it, this is less of a movement (which tends to die out) and more of an evolution. We’re demanding more and doing it through means that can’t be vilified.

    A second fact to examine is the growing interest in entrepreneurship on behalf of Gen-Y. We’re seeking alternatives to the typical work environment. A very proactive approach when judged against the Hippie movement.

    Perhaps “Animal” is right, maybe it’s just a phase, maybe we’ll grow up like our Boomer parents did and find our place in the established system. But as I’m pointing out, our actions speak for themselves. As representatives of HR you should at least take the advice of “Systematic HR” and prepare yourselves for an evolution.

    Animal: The “Gen-Y Guys” accept your challenge. Put us on the “hot-seat” and we’ll show you what Gen-Y is all about.

  13. Ryan, Hippies didn’t demonstrate and have sit ins. That was The New Left, quite different. Hippies (or quasi-hippies) had Love-Ins. Nor did I say that the Boomers sold out. Nor did I say that the Gen Yers will sell out. Nor that no changes take place in society over time. I’m just talking about the hype. It was so typical of statements about modern youth in the sixties and now I seem to hear something similar about Gen Y. They are going to change the world type stuff. Here’s anolther example of the same thing in reverse. In the sixties the WW2 generation were supposedly a bunch of narrow minded, authoritarian, racists who left their children a terrible world. Now they’re the Greatest Generation. I’ll start warming that seat for you. And, watch out; it’s gonna burn.

  14. Fun thread. Ryan, a couple thoughts. You write,

    “I am a Gen-Y who is fairly new to the workforce and I can tell you, you’re right on the money. One of my biggest problems at the end of the day is not knowing what all my hard work really amounted to. And I find that managers are not giving me the appropriate guidance necessary for me to grow in the company. They’re too concerned with what’s going on above them to look at what’s going on below.”

    As one of the characters said on the Drew Carey show, “Yeah, there’s a support group for that. It’s called everybody and it meets every day after work at the bar.”

    All the issues you cite are valid, but not unique, and you’ll find plenty of people of any age in the workforce who feel the same way. Because it’s all new to you, it’s easy to ascribe it to something profound like “we’re a whole new generation” instead of “it’s the same old @#$! everyone faces at the start.”

    Moving from college to work is an enormous life change and for me, I’d say it took about 5 years to fully digest. In college, everything is basically about you, and things happen very quickly. You do an assignment, and within days, you get a grade that tells you how you did with no uncertainty. You do have choices (and they are hard at the time) to make, but for the most part you’re given a map of your college career on day one. Post-college life, especially as you move farther away from the run-of-the-mill corporate track, is about as different from this as South Beach is from Waziristan.

    Entrepreneurialism is an interesting thing and I am (obviously) a strong supporter of it. I think one of the interesting changes that connectedness will bring is the dissolution of distinctions between “office” and “life” that still define the day for most people. I think people under 30 will redefine this because they’ve grown up with unparalleled connectivity and will be comfortable with it in ways older people aren’t.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing you guys develop your thinking on your blog.

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