and so the Millenials ruled the corporate world for the next 70 years…

80 million baby boomers will retire over the next 25 years and so the baton is handed to the next generation to lead the brave new world.  As a person of generation X, you might think this is my time but statistics show that the Gen-X reign will be short lived if it happens at all.  When the 80M boomers depart their cubicles, there are only 46M gen-Xers waiting in the wings.  No, the world will not be gen-X but will more likely skip, Prince Charles style, straight to the 75+ million Millenials who will dominate the workplace for the next 70 years. 

In the US, the number of available jobs could outnumber workers by 4.3 million when the baby boomers start leaving in 2011.  A study by the Employment Policy Foundation concludes with the staggering prediction that the gap will then widen to a terrifying 35 million workers by 2031.  The graying of America will affect every industry and its effects are already being felt.

If you are in any doubt about the importance of attracting and retaining talent in your workforce then you better think hard and fast or you will not be in business for long.  So it becomes very important for us to get a grip on what drives this new generation and what can we expect from them?

As a Gen-X I need to come to terms with the fact that I am not the generation that will change the world and if I want to stay in tune with the culture, I need to look to those now in their teens and twenties.  There are some similarities but as I have noted before, I struggle to overcome my own facebook fatigue.

So what do we mean by these definitions?  lets address that first.  There are many debates about where exactly to draw the lines and those discussions miss the point because no culture shift happens that precisely.  By definition, these changes happen gradually.  That said there are some distinct characteristics we can observe and caveats aside, this table may help.

  year of birth characterised by:
Veterans 1922-1945 Company loyalty
Baby boomers 1946-1964 Financial success
Gen X 1965-1979 Strongly independent
Gen Y/Millenials 1980-2000 Personalised work

So what has shaped the millenial generation?  This is the generation that has grown up amongst corporate scandals, the outsourcing and downsizing of companies.  They've seen the .com bubble burst and are not pinning their hopes on a pension scheme paying out.  It's not surprising to find then that they have little trust in corporations and are quick to ask "what's in it for me?".  A job is a route for them to achieve their personal goals and success and is very short-term in perspective.

Unlike Gen-X who may have adapted to the rise of connective technologies such as the Internet, millenials have never even thought about it, they just use it, effortlessly.  They have a very relational view of life, a job becomes an activity where you enjoy getting things done with your friends rather than a place you go 9-5.  Millenials are very open, with virtually no prejudicial attitudes towards issues such as ethnic or racial diversity. Indeed they are the most diverse and most educated generation ever.  From single-parent and dual working families, they are also the most "coddled" generation ever having had parents who would take them from football to piano lessons to whatever hobby appeals.

All this means Millenials are easily bored, very focused on relationships and working in a great team of friends.  They want to build community and unlike their parents, are just not interested in selling their souls to the corporation - they will gladly sacrifice pay and prospects for having a life. They care about social responsibility too so if your company does nothing much for society then you'll have a job convincing them to join you. 

Millenials are not easily bullied either - they will work how they want to work and when they want and frankly don't care too much if that seems to buck your status quo.  They will use whatever tools come to hand, and with remarkable dexterity.  If they can solve a problem by calling up a mate in another company they will - probably before considering if that breaks confidentiality or some 'regulation'.

Recent examples of the facebook generation driving large companies such as the recent HSBC case and the Cadbury Wispa bar show how major corporations are starting to adapt to the new world. 

Of course this is why we talk about People Ready business at Microsoft and why it is the central vision for the Microsoft Office system. 

Whereas other companies say the future is all about understanding your information and how it can drive greater advantage for you, we say no, its all about your people.  Are you thinking hard enough to understand them and how they will drive success for you?

Comments (5)
  1. Great post Darren. It’s very useful in understanding the new team of guys and gals that I am now working with who are much younger than me with many diverse areas of interest.

  2. jafi says:

    When looking at generations, I think there are finer distinctions to consider for inclusion. These generational divisions are thankfully being challenged by a number of marketers and researchers, since they’re monolithic and not really accurate (google yields lots of discussion about more accurate cultural distinctions than just using a birth curve).

    I’m not a boomer, my parents are boomers. Strauss and Howe in their book Generations use 1943-1960 as boomers  (which personally strikes me as more accurate since it would make the Beatle’s themselves and many other iconic 60’s figures Boomer’s and not Veterans).  

    I wasn’t anywhere when Kennedy was shot, I don’t remember the Beatles, the Summer of Love, Bobby Kennedy, or MLK. The big event of my childhood was the release of Star Wars:-) I was 13. It rocked our world. There was before Star Wars and after. The cut off for the significant effect of Star Wars appears to be age 17.

    I’m a tweener (also called Baby Bust or Generation Jones), caught between the boomers that I will spend my entire friggin life living under their fallout, and the Gen X’rs. I’ve heard this discussion many times with others who were born after 1960 who aren’t happy about being lumped in with our parents.

    Hilary Clinton(1947) – a classic boomer. Barack Obama (1961) – a tweener.

    Strauss and Howe also offer types for each cycle placed in context. Worth checking out.

  3. dstrange says:

    excellent comment jafi. yes I did hesitate to use a grid because it is by definition a crude tool, introducing hard lines in a concept that must be more gradual and fuzzy.  I myself often feel more like a gen-Y than a gen-X in many settings, finding I relate to the gen-Y perspective even though strictly speaking I’m a bit old (or immature maybe).  You are right too in flagging the need for finer distinctions and I’m very persuaded by the idea of matching cultural waves to eras rather than to generations.  The description of the ‘hero’ group that millenials align to is telling:

    "Heroic leaders have been vigorous and rational institution-builders, busy and competent in old age. All of them entering midlife were aggressive advocates of technological progress, economic prosperity, social harmony, and public optimism."

    thanks for adding this

  4. I find myself morbidly drawn to my own impending obsolescence. When I joined Microsoft at the age of

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