Here Come the Millennials

March 1, 2005 | By Bob Nelson

Just graduating college now, the Millennials are the latest generation to join the work force. Who are they, what are their values, and what motivates them?

Neil Howe, Bill Strauss, and Bob Filipczak, in their forthcoming book Millennials in the Workforce, describe seven core traits that define this generation:

  • SPECIAL: From the precious-baby movies of the mid-1980s to the media glare surrounding the high school class of 2000 (now in college or just graduated), the Millennials have the sense that they are, collectively, vital to the nation and to their parents’ sense of purpose.
  • SHELTERED: The surge in child-safety rules and devices, and trends such as the post-Columbine lockdown of public schools, have made Millennials the focus of the most sweeping youth-protection movement in American history.
  • CONFIDENT: With high levels of trust and optimism, Millennial teens are beginning to equate good news for themselves with good news for their country.
  • TEAM-ORIENTED: Millennials are developing strong team instincts and tight peer bonds, the result of everything from Barney to soccer to group learning experiences.
  • CONVENTIONAL: Because they’re comfortable with their parents’ values, Millennials adhere to the traditional belief that social rules and standards can make life easier.
  • PRESSURED: Pushed to study hard, avoid personal risks, and take full advantage of opportunities they have been provided with, Millennials feel a “trophy kid” pressure to excel.
  • ACHIEVING: With accountability and higher school standards rising to the top of America’s political agenda, Millennials are on track to be the best-educated generation in U.S. history.

This new work force could have values that are more in common with their grandparents than their parents. As one representative put it, “It isn’t all about sex, drugs, and violence. It’s about technology, discovery, and coming together as a nation.”

Refreshing, I believe, and good news for employers—but also alarming. What will it be like to motivate a generation in which everyone on the team received trophies just for showing up? How can employers hold the interest of a generation that grew up in the electronic age? It’s estimated that the average Nintendo player receives 80 bits of feedback a minute. Can someone who has mastered the speed and agility of such games ever be equally challenged in his or her job?

Only if we make some changes. If they can feel that what they do really does make a difference and they can have fun doing it, Millennials are apt to have boundless energy for their work. This generation’s workers may not get satisfaction from a years-of-service program, but they may want to see if they can beat their personal best in sales or come up with ideas for saving money or improving processes. And if they are allowed to celebrate their successes—and those of their co-workers—the workplace may buzz with team spirit and accomplishment.

Millennials see a definite connection between effort and payoff, and they define success in life as the reward for applied efforts and thorough planning. They will be receptive to the chance to learn and grow if those opportunities are presented and encouraged on a routine basis by their managers.

There’s every reason to believe that this new generation will seek to change the world—not just through wishful thinking and idealism, but through systematic planning and applied efforts. Let’s hope we can help show them the way.


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