Tired of Talking About Millennials? Me Too. But Two Juggernauts Are Coming…

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A recruiter complained to me recently about Millennials, “I have so many Millennials who do not show up for their interviews. Once they are hired, our managers have a hard time motivating them, and their turnover is high. It’s not like when we were young.”

“Maybe it is,” I countered. I reminded her of the high turnover rate of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in their twenties. I offered to introduce her to hard working Millennials among my clients. As with any generation, there are the hard workers and the not so hard workers.

My experience as an HR leader taught me that if you could keep a twenty-something employee of any generation for two years, and certainly for five, you had a long-term employee.  The trick was getting over the two-year hurdle.

My point is that many of the traits pundits associate with generational differences are really traits of the human life cycle. College students will experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex and relationships regardless of their generation. Employees in their twenties will be impatient for career advancement, want the latest technology their age allows, be more idealistic and prone to impatience and turnover. As these employees’ transition to their child rearing years, the obligations of family will modify the traits of their twenties and raise new work environment and benefit demands on their employers.

Academic research bears this out. A recent study on generational differences in work-related attitudes found that meaningful differences among generations probably do not exist, and the differences that appear to exist are probably attributable to other factors[i]. Many can be explained by the life cycle.  However, each generation is shaped by factors of their times. These factors certainly include: technology, economic boom, recession, war, atrocity, and other generation-shaping events, such as 9/11 and the shootings of Presidents Kennedy and Reagan.

Millennials in many ways, are not different than the generations that came before, acting like previous generations in their twenties and early thirties.

There is a truly unique Millennial trend, however, that will begin to impact their expectations about employers. Millennials have been delaying adulthood much longer than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers did, at least when it comes to getting married, buying a house, and having children[ii].  Because of this, many employers have been able to attract Millennials with inexpensive perks like bring your dog to work. And, employers have shortchanged costly, long-term benefits, such as retirement, fuller and tailored health care coverage, and paid paternity leaves.  But, that is changing. Two juggernauts are coming.

The first of two looming juggernauts is that Millennials are beginning to buy their own homes, enter long-term relationships, and have children. As a result, they will want work environments like those desired by older generations, with more work life balance, paid family leaves for both sexes, and comprehensive and medical benefits and stronger retirement benefits.  This is borne out by recent surveys of Millennials on benefits.[iii] Are your benefit policies up to providing what Millennials want?

The second juggernaut is the new Generation Z. This is the generation entering college, now and over the next 15 years.  They will be 20% of the population by 2020. While many of their traits are no doubt a function of their age in the life cycle, early studies suggest that due to technology available to them and the experiences they have watched their parents endure, they have some characteristics that are different from Millennials.

There is still a forming consensus among research on Generation Z. But according to David and Jonah Stillman (Jonah is a Gen Z member) in their book, Gen Z @ Work, there are seven traits of Generation Z, that differ from Millennials[iv].

  1. All generations since the industrial revolution have been influenced by the dominant technology of their age. For Gen Z, it is what the Stillmans call Phigital, the real world and the digital world overlap. Virtual is simply part of their reality. They will want to work for companies with high digital sophistication. (Other researchers draw a different conclusion Gen Z’s digital sophistication, they will also want a more traditional approach to personal development and more face-to-face meetings than Millennials.[v]  Strong training and coaching programs will help retain them).
  2. Hyper-Custom. Due to social media, which they have known from an early age, Gen Z members have always worked hard to customize their own brand. This creates an expectation that their employers will have an intimate understanding of their behaviors and desires, from job titles to career paths. Gen Z will want to write their own job description, more so than Millennials. The will judge employers by their social media.
  3. Realistic. Growing up in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Great Recession has created a much more pragmatic cohort than Millennials, when it comes to planning and preparing for the future. They will want more stability than Millennials and to only work for a few employers during their careers[vi].
  4. FOMO. Gen Z suffers from an intense fear of missing out on anything. They will stay on top of all trends competitively and worry that they aren’t moving ahead fast enough and in the right direction. (Frankly, I am not sure this is any different from earlier generations in their 20s).
  5. Weconomists. Gen Z has only known a shared economy, from ride share to Airbnb. They will look for sharing and collaborative work environments. Gen Z will want to break down internal silos at work to leverage the collective in new, convenient and cost-effective ways. Like other generations in their 20s, they will look for partners in their employers to fix the wrongs in the world and be a positive impact on society.
  6. DIY. They are Do-It-Yourselfers. They grew up watching You Tube Videos that explain how to do everything. On top of that, they have been taught by their Gen X parents to be fiercely independent, rather than follow traditional paths. This will collide with the Millennials’ tendency for collaboration.
  7. Driven. Their Gen X parents, The Great Recession, and the ever-present fast pace of change has taught Gen Z that there are winners and losers. They will roll up their sleeves, work hard and be competitive. Companies will love the work hard traits, but may struggle to convince Gen Z to be empathetic and collaborative. It may be hard to fit Gen Z into a collaborative, innovative culture.

Back to my original theme, much of what pundits’ attribute to generational differences may be more the result of where one is in their life cycle, as well as the impact of significant world events. But, as Millennials finally roll into traditional adult lifestyles and Gen Z emerges from college campuses or begin work as entrepreneurs, employers had better be prepared to offer the benefits and work environments desired by both generations. And, keep those Baby Boomers engaged long past their mid-50s to counter the U.S. and European labor shortage.

What is your company doing to adjust to these life cycle transitions and demographic changes?  Join the conversation.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, global talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at victorassad6@gmail.com or visit http://www.victorhrconsultant.com. For innovation visit http://www.InnovationOne.io.

[i] David P. Costanza, Jessica M. Badger, Rebecca L. Frazer, Jamie B. Severt, and Paul A. Grade, “Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis,” Journal of Business and Psychology, Vol 27, No.4 (December 2012), pp. 375-394.

[ii] Lydia R. Anderson (Feb. 17, 2017), Generational differences during Young Adulthood: Families and Households of Baby Boomers and Millennials, National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Found at http://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/college-of-arts-and-sciences/NCFMR/documents/FP/anderson-families-households-boomers-millennials-fp-17-07.pdf.

[iii] Pat Didomenico, (March 14, 2016, 12:23 PM) “What do millennials want from a benefits package?” The H R Soapbox, Business Management Daily. Found at http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/45868/what-do-millennials-want-from-a-benefits-package; And The Employee Benefits Research Institute, found at https://www.ebri.org/; and Christina Merhar (Oct. 9, 2015, Noon), “What Are the Most Important Benefits to Employees?” Small Business Employee Benefits and HR Blog. Found at https://www.zanebenefits.com/blog/the-most-important-benefits-to-employees.

[iv] David Stillman and Jonah Stillman, Gen Z & Work, DAS Creative LLC, published by Harper Collins, 2017.

[v] Jacob Passey (July 10th, 2017, 7:19 AM ET) “Move over millennials, members of Generation Z are ready to work,” MarketWatch. Found at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/move-over-millennials-members-of-generation-z-are-ready-to-work-2017-07-07.

[vi] Ibid.

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