Millennials: A Generation in the Works


by Ann Hayes with Michelle Queiser and April Schoen

Haleigh Holmes says when she hears talk about Millennials – those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, she hears people talking about lazy, demanding, self-centered individuals who crave instant gratification.

Perhaps, posits Holmes, an O’Fallon, Missouri native and junior studying actuarial science, Millennials crave instant gratification because they have grown up in a world where almost everything is granted instantly through technology.

“The environment in which we grow up heavily influences our perceptions of the world, but this concept is not new. Many generations before Millennials adopted change as it was offered through their environments,” says Holmes.

The Baby Boomer generation—those who postponed marriage and childbirth until after the Great Depression and World War II, creating a baby boom between 1946 and 1964—adapted to a period in American history punctuated by enormous political and racial unrest. They were defined by black and white television, rock ‘n’ roll, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, landline phones and station wagons in the same way Millennials reflect a generation raised on Netflix, Spotify, digital news, Google, iPhones, social media, YouTube and sport utility vehicles.

No doubt, the times are a changin’, and Millennials are facing a tough battle against ongoing criticism directed toward their generation’s overall behavior and attitude. As Millennials emerge into the workforce and interact with Baby Boomers in a team environment, they will likely have to counter their negative perception to gain the respect they deserve.

 

Millennials in the Workforce

As Millennials continue to demonstrate creativity, companies will likely pay more attention and elevate those individuals to remain competitive. The differences between Millennials and Baby Boomers may seem challenging in the workforce, but this generation will continue to fill jobs, and industries must rise to the challenge of recognizing the Millennials’ revolutionary way of thinking, propelling the children of the digital age into the ranks of industry through leadership.

With Millennials projected by the U.S. Census Bureau to become the nation’s largest living generation this year, employers and managers are starting to seriously consider what this younger generation will mean for the future of the workplace.

According to Jeanne Meister, of Future Workplace, by the year 2020, Millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce. But they’re already having an impact on today’s workplaces and employers’ hiring practices.

Jennifer Sides, human resources (HR) manager at Anders CPAs + Advisors in St. Louis, is a 2004 Southeast graduate with a Bachelor of Science in business administration. She says Millennials bring creativity and innovation to her workplace. “From a human resources perspective, it keeps us innovative and coming up with new ideas and programs,” says Sides. “HR 10 years ago was ‘here are your duties and responsibilities’ and there wasn’t much change. Now, we always are looking at the forefront of what else can we do, what kind of new things can we do to retain our employees and keep them engaged?”

Nearly half of the employees at her firm are 36 years old and younger, and while her young professionals are focused on their careers, they don’t clash with their mentors and experienced team members who view them as the firm’s future leaders. “They do want to see a plan on how they can rise to the top,” says Sides. “But they do look up to our partners and leadership team members because they want to learn from them; they know how to grow.”

Matt Jaeger, director of human resources of Ascension and a 1986 Southeast graduate, says implementing a supportive work culture where employees can meet their professional goals is an important aspect of any organization.

While satisfaction with their career progression can vary by generation, employees and employers alike assess their current status and worth through evaluations. According to the IBM Institute for Business Value survey, Millennials, no more than previous generations, want recognition for their accomplishments. Some companies, however, have found they do want more frequent feedback than the usual annual or semi-annual review.

Fast-feedback programs and software have been implemented at Anders CPAs + Advisors, says Sides, but the challenge has been their evaluators’ struggle with being overly critical of their young professionals. “I think some of that’s human nature. You never want to give bad news or be criticized for your work performance,” says Sides. “But even though they’re getting ‘meets expectations’ and in our eyes they’re doing their job and doing what needs to be done to get that job done, some view it as ‘I’m not doing a good enough job. I need to do better, so I can get an excellent or above.’”

Extending the feeling of appreciation when their professionals do good work has become a new expectation in her role as a human resources manager, says Sides.

Jaeger has also seen this search for perfection in Ascension’s younger employees, but the increase in feedback and the discussion it creates does have a positive turnaround for everyone. “This is something that could be used for all generations,” he says. “Giving constant feedback on what they need to do and how they can improve makes sure they understand they are valued in our organization.”

One particular value Millennials do offer more so than any other generation is their aptitude, even love, for technology and gadgets. “They’ve grown up with technology and they’re not intimidated by technology,” says Jaeger, who sees Millennials bringing new ideas to the technological field. “As our IT (information technology) strategy and business development grows, we’re attracted to Millennials because they bring creativity and innovation to their work.”

While the technological innovations have been beneficial, Sides has noted a lot of their young professionals’ writing skills are weaker, either because of the increase in text message language or the overall current trend of shortened language use in all mediums. “They try to hide behind an email or an instant message versus speaking to someone face-to-face,” she says.

At Anders, soft skills training, from networking to elevator speeches, has been a robust part of their continuous training program for all employees, says Sides. Adding professional writing training was an easy addition to their schedule and benefits all employees across the board.

Millennials are thought to change jobs frequently, and retaining capable and creative young professionals can be a headache for employers. While the IBM Institute for Business Value debunked this myth, some companies have changed their recruitment of and dialogue with prospective new employees.

Sides says how her firm attracts young professionals has changed from only discussing pay and benefits to touching on the firm’s workplace culture. “The way we speak to students when it’s coming down to make a decision to take the job, we tell them you’ve got to find a good fit for you,” she says. “We really reinforce ‘do you see yourself there for the long term fit and working with these fellow peers?’”

 

A Passion to Innovate

As today’s students ponder their transition into the workforce, they yearn for opportunities to innovate, eschewing traditional channels into the workforce well paved by the Boomers. Millennials’ thirst for that innovation sets them apart from Baby Boomers, many of whom joined the corporate world in their 20s with the intent of hanging onto their job and climbing the corporate ladder over the long-haul of their career.

Millennials are entrepreneurial, and their desire to better their own futures as well as create global change pushes them to be inventive because change means acting in new ways.

“I believe that is true because entrepreneurial people tend to be self-interested,” says Matt Mason, a senior from Du Quoin, Illinois. “Most people are driven to entrepreneurship because they want to ‘be their own boss’ and not be constrained by others. This also relates back to driving community change.”

Studies have shown Millennials are actually making significant contributions to community service, global change and innovation, and their minds being “in the cloud” may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Dr. Foster Roberts, assistant professor of management and marketing at Southeast, admits there may be some truth to the stereotype, but there’s also a silver lining. “If you listen to a lot of popular opinion, this generation has less fortitude. They’ve been trained to be lazy. They don’t have to get up to go see people. They have text messages. But I also believe that the Millennial generation, although maybe not quite as hard working or trained to work so hard is more inclined to creativity. It’s a double-edged sword. Maybe they don’t want to work as hard, but they are more creative. And they should be more creative. They have much easier access to information and much more information, so they should be more productive with less time. They shouldn’t have to work as hard to do something that used to take us much longer. Technology has provided them a great benefit.”

A Kauffman Foundation research report indicates 54 percent of Millennials want to start their own venture. Southeast is beginning to mirror those findings, says Roberts who teaches entrepreneurship classes in Southeast’s Harrison College of Business. Roberts has seen a slow but steady increase in the number of students pursuing an entrepreneurship option within the management major at Southeast. This fall, 33 students are enrolled in the option, up from about 22 last year.

Roberts is teaching “Principles of Entrepreneurship” at Catapult Creative House, Southeast’s new arts and industries incubator launched this year in the heart of downtown Cape Girardeau. The students are inventing a product and then building and testing a business model to accompany it. They also are drafting a business model for products other students at Catapult are creating in the facility’s art gallery, on their letterpress or with their fashion design equipment. His students’ goal is to teach fellow students at Catapult how to launch and find a market for their product.

Innovation, however, is not limited to the Millennials, Roberts says, explaining that entrepreneurship paints a common thread among those born in the 50s, 60s and 70s as well as those born in the 90s and 2000s.

“If you look at the Kauffman Foundation data, there is actually a group of data that shows Baby Boomers who are retiring are actually starting little niche businesses to supplement their retirement,” Roberts says. “So there is an entrepreneurial spirit or push not only with the Millennials but also with the Baby Boomers.

“Employment is not coming from the big corporations like when the Baby Boomers were getting into the workforce,” Roberts says. “Now corporations are trying to do more with less. It is just as important for companies because they want employees who come in and are inventive. That’s why the Googles and the 3Ms of the world allow their employees two hours free time every day to just dream up ideas that we might launch. They want them to be creative.”

While students in this generation are easily typecast, they believe they have more to bring to the table.

“Millennials are smart. We grew up with technology changing right before our eyes and have learned to adapt to all of them as they come,” says Holmes. “Millennials are passionate and especially passionate when it comes to change. So while we may be speaking or acting on things because we constantly want our personal thoughts to be heard, we are creating discussion and push for change. I find Millennials more willing to talk back-and-forth on topics to try and understand one another.

“If something doesn’t work, or something can be done in an easier way than it’s currently being done, Millennials will find the solution to make that happen,” Holmes says.

And while Millennials and their employers may struggle with the transition in the upcoming years, Southeast graduates do bring something extra.

“Individuals who are attracted to Southeast Missouri State have grown up and know how to work hard,” says Sides. It’s “ingrained in them. Southeast students see if they put in the hard work, they’ll reap the rewards.”

 

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