Are Millennials Really That Different?
Updated: Apr 13
Roughly once a week, I’m asked, “Are Millennials really that different from other generations?”
I figured it would make sense to share my response with you, distilled into four pivotal factors.
1. Generationally, we are different
Millennials, individuals who are now between 18–35 years old, were born and raised with different inciting incidents (9/11), different economic factors (the 2008 market crash) and a different culture (helicopter parenting, car seats and more). These factors helped to mold us as a population.
Where Baby Boomers are loyal to their company and Generation X are more loyal to their careers, Millennials’ loyalty lies with their community. We see work as a calling instead of a job, or even a career. Although subtle, this distinction does change the expectations we have of our jobs. Millennials show up looking to make an impact, be part of a team and do meaningful work — work that makes a difference in the world.
Millennials drive companies to challenge the status quo of how the workplace currently operates.
2. There is a new model for the world of work
Over the last 40 years, as technology has enabled us to automate basic tasks, the type of work we’ve done has changed. We are no longer on the assembly line, making one widget repeatedly. We’ve moved from the Industrial Revolution’s working economy to the knowledge economy, where employees come up with creative solutions to complex problems.
It is no longer sufficient to simply know the task that needs completing. As a knowledge worker, we need to see the bigger picture, the purpose of our work and the problem it is solving.
Although this type of work is completely different, the model of work has yet to change. We are no longer working on assembly lines in factories; nevertheless, we are still expecting people to show up and clock into an office. Many companies are working off a broken model where you are measured by the time you put in versus the output of the work you produce. Millennials, the gig economy, and the future of work are calling for companies to focus on outcomes, not hours.
The old model, which is contradictory to the type of work we are asking people to do, is being questioned by Millennials, as they are the first full generation to enter the workforce unbiased by the old, working economy way of work.
3. The need for “on-demand” is on the rise
Millennials have grown up in an on-demand society with pretty much everything at our fingertips. Take a typical day in the life of a Millennial, Katy.
Katy wakes up and realizes she’s out of milk, eggs and mouthwash, so she hops onto Amazon, and by the time she’s home from the gym, there’s a delivery at her door. She eats breakfast and orders her ride to work. While at work, Katy toggles between her work email, Gchat, text messages and seeing what everyone’s been up to on Facebook and LinkedIn. On her Lyft home, she orders dinner from her phone and gets it just in time to sit on her couch and choose from thousands of titles to binge watch for the night.
We live in a world where virtually anything can be taken care of in a matter of minutes, right from a device that’s the size of our palm. The impact on our habits and society is noticeable. Our need for instant gratification is at an all-time high. If we want something, we no longer understand what it means to wait.
It also plays a role in ballooning our expectations. Our social network is not an authentic place to connect with friends; instead, it’s become a place to promote the best version of ourselves, whether true or not, to the world. It’s now easier than ever to see what everyone in our social network is doing, where your friend just traveled for vacation, which friend just got a new job, which one just quit their job and went off on a three-month road trip, who’s been promoted and whose company just raised a bunch of money. In this world, the grass is always greener; it makes you examine your life and how it compares to the Photoshopped versions your network promotes on their feeds.
Our increased need for instant gratification — coupled with increased options and visibility to others’ success — drives millennials to seek success, contribution and personal growth at a more rapid rate than other previous generations. Technology has accelerated the Millennial timeline.
4. Mid-life crises are accelerating
Rob, like many teenagers, went to high school with the goal — as determined by his family, teachers and our society — to go to a good college. Once he accomplished this, the societal expectations were to get a good job. In order not to disrupt the status quo, and mostly because he’d adopted these expectations as his own, Rob found a good job.
Twenty years passed, and one day, Rob woke up asking himself, what am I doing? Why am I here, on this earth? What impact do I want to have on the world? What is my purpose?
Rob hit his mid-life crisis, a point in his life where he re-examined his goals and ambitions because for the very first time in his life, there was no one else to tell him what his goals should be. Now he’s got to figure them out on his own.
Due to a changing world of work, an increased need for instant gratification and a generation pre-disposed to seek purpose, Millennials are starting to ask these very same questions two-to-three years into their working lives. The mid-life crisis has been moved up by 20 years and has become a quarter-life crisis.
We are asking at a younger age, “What do I want for myself and my life; what is my purpose?”
Questions like these are leading to a generation of people with a stronger emphasis on finding meaningful work, connecting with others and personal growth.
When people ask me, “Are millennials really that different?” I say yes, we are.
Originally published July 26th, 2017 on Forbes.com