Misunderstood Millennials

December 14, 2016

Shameka Brown Barbosa

Shameka Brown Barbosa is a creative director/writer by trade and a woman in the midst of a reinvention. After an unrequited, 17-year love affair with advertising, she’s now working smarter and on her own terms. Although it was unbelievably nerve-wracking at the offset, she has found a way to work remotely, fuel her passions, be present for her family, and dream bigger for herself. Highlights in 2016 have included co-leading the 3% guest blogger effort (thanks for reading, by the way,) contributing to the ADCOLOR Social Media Collective, picking her kids up from school at 3pm, and turning her love of travel into a legit business. When she can find the time, she also really enjoys spontaneous naps. Peruse her storytelling skills at shamekabb.com and connect with her on Twitter.

Presented by Joan Snyder Kuhl, Research Fellow and Principal, Center for Talent Innovation and Julius L. Dunn II, Consultant, Talent and Inclusion Strategy.

There was no shortage of incredible content at The 3% Conference this year. But this was one topic that had to be included, despite the jam-packed agenda. Shared in the 3% Lounge, this treasure trove of insight on Millennials was presented by a team brought together by fate: Joan Snyder Kuhl and Julius L. Dunn, II. They fortuitously joined forces via the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) during the summer of 2016 and have been debunking Millennial myths ever since. 

Founded on the principle that “full utilization of the global talent pool is at the heart of competitive success,” CTI drives groundbreaking research on critical segments of the workforce. Most recently, it released findings on the segment du jour: Millennials. Kuhl and Dunn shared the research study, Misunderstood Millennial Talent: The Other Ninety-One Percent, with a capacity crowd and consequently opened every pair of eyes in the room.

The study focused on Millennials born between 1982 and 1994 (ages 22-34.) Dunn being an “elder” of this demographic opened by noting, “Today’s talent is looking for more than just a paycheck. There are huge reserves of talent able to do amazing work, if given clear goals and defined paths that outline the opportunity for growth.”

Kuhl began by stating that the first 10-15 years of any career are the most formative, but the Millennial generation (and Gen Z that follows) is at a marked disadvantage. In fact, Millennials face many unique challenges unlike generations before, yet the ones highlighted by the media tend to be the most trivial. Case in point, the hashtag: #HowToConfuseAMillennial.

Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 6.55.02 PM.png Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 6.55.35 PM.png

What seemed to begin as lighthearted jabs about the generational gaps that exist between Millennials and the rest of the world, quickly devolved into an unfortunate bashing. But a note to Baby Boomers: Don’t enter a Millennial space, if you can’t handle the heat. The Millennial response was swift, fierce, and angry. They are grossly misunderstood and most of the issues affecting them are well beyond their control.

So, what are some of the facts?

  • By 2025, Millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce.
  • Almost half of Millennials identify as non-white AND as a generation, they are more comfortable talking about diversity and sexual orientation.
  • Millennials have already stepped into leadership positions, due to the scarcity of Gen Xers to fill roles being vacated by Baby Boomers.

And what are some of the prevailing myths?

Millennials are job hoppers.Only 9% have the financial privilege to walk away from a job. The other 91% lack the financial safety net needed to do so, due to higher college debt and less financial support from their families. In other words: Most Millennials are “sticky” and are actually more likely to stay on the job for a year or longer.

Millennials are fame-seekers, only looking to advance their personal brand.In reality, 68% simply want to make their families proud. They seek honest feedback regularly because they want to make a positive impact on their companies and help drive results.

Millennials are entitled and money-hungry.Well, 82% percent are actually looking for financial security. Yes, you read the correctly. This generation is predicted to be the first in modern history to be worse off than their parents. They are longing for salary increases over time and that is less of a given in today’s job market, so they test the waters sooner.

Millennials are idealists and overly altruistic.On the contrary, 71% say that achieving goals (their own and those of their team) is a very important aspect of finding meaning and purpose in their work. They want to be valued contributors called upon often and early, to use their unique knowledge to help solve business problems.

All Millennials are 20-something, recent college grads with few responsibilities.There is now an influential segment known as Overlooked Older Millennials. Surprisingly, 62% of this group is already working in management roles and 15% are in executive leadership. In addition, they are caregivers for family members, including parents, siblings and their own children.

The stereotypes encountered by Millennials are homogeneous.Actually, the stereotypes faced by Millennials in the U.S. do not apply to their counterparts around the globe. But there are notable challenges in other countries that impact Millennials’ expectations in the workplace and how they live their lives:

  • United Kingdom: 76% of Millennials say that quality of life is a top priority at work. They’ve seen their parents’ retirement savings go up in smoke, so they’d rather live for today because retirement may not be their reality.
  • Hong Kong: 55% of Millennials say that high compensation is very important to them in their careers. Over the last 30 years, the cost of living in HK has skyrocketed by 30%, while the salaries of college grads has dropped by 17%. They aren’t trying to grandly, but they are trying to do more than just survive.
  • China: 82% of Millennials want recognition on the job. Chinese Millennials are uncomfortable building relationships with senior leaders – at double the rate of other countries surveyed. There’s a huge disconnect between the senior leadership and everyone is in dire need of “relationship capital” training.
  • India: 36% of Millennials who plan to leave their job within a year say they are moving on because their insights are not valued. In effect, they are not running toward higher salaries, but rather from leadership that doesn’t acknowledge their contributions.

Kuhl and Dunn went on to discuss three additional trends that rose to the top in the research:

  • The Training Imperative. Leadership training is sorely lacking in the U.S. On average, Millennials ascend to leadership roles by age 30, but don’t receive executive training until age 42. And sadly, more money is currently invested in their laptops ($1,200) than in their training and development.
  • Relationship Capital. Having rewarding workplace relationships and access to sponsorship plays a critical role in one’s journey from cubicle to corner office. While this generation is generally at a disadvantage, Millennials of color fare far worse. Current leaders need to take an interest in coaching and supporting the growth of everyone on their team.
  • Leaning In: A Hollow Promise. Despite the constant call for women to step up and into leadership roles, Millennial women continue to downsize their dreams. “IF offered a senior leadership position at their company TOMORROW, Millennial women were 55% more likely to turn down that opportunity than their male peers.”

So, given the importance of the Millennial generation, what can organizations do today?

  1. Provide true flexibility to keep Millennial managers engaged and motivated within your company culture.
  2. Establish Millennial Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to allow them to better leverage their collaborative work style in service to your company and its bottom line.
  3. Take action NOW. The numbers don’t lie: Given the rate Baby Boomers are retiring and the small number of Gen X candidates, Millennials are already your go-to workforce. Embrace them, support them and train them. Right now.

Personally, these findings were eye-openers for me. As a manager, the majority of my teams have been comprised of Millennial talent. But as a Gen Xer, I had never taken a step back to consider the global ramifications of aging leadership and the underdeveloped talent of those behind me.

Throughout my career, I’ve made it a point to mentor women and creatives of color, simply because it was something that I wished had been done for me. In doing so, I may have encouraged them to have conversations and take approaches to their careers that they may not have otherwise. But this issue goes well beyond the efforts of individuals. It demands the C-suite’s attention and those leaders must decide to invest in Millennials today—whether they “get” them or not. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. We need to invest in Millennials in order to safeguard the future of all of our companies and communities because they are entering management at an early age.
  2. Millennials need more global experience, experiential training, sponsors, mentors, challenges, growth and education about relationship capital earlier in their career journeys.
  3. This is not a challenge for tomorrow, but one we have to act on together today.

Eager to share some of these stats? Download this infographic from the Center for Talent Innovation: The Other 91%: Myths About Millennials at Work.