Generation Y, more commonly known as the Millennials, has been the cause of much online chatter in recent years—it seems as though anything its members do signals occasion for a study, article, blog post, or tweet.
And it's not without good reason. The cohort, born roughly between 1977 and 1994, is full of surprises and contradictions that have proven a great challenge for companies to navigate.
Optimistic about the future, and driven by their ideals, Millennials also tend to be skeptical of authority figures, shunning the guidance of experts in favor of peer input. While they are connected, they’re anything but easy to engage. Wary of long-term romantic, financial, or geographical obligations, they manage to adhere to their core values and remain in close contact with their families for longer periods of time. They've been characterized as digitally distracted, fickle, and of-the-moment, yet a shocking number of them are more concerned with their long-term growth and well-being than on instant gratification.
And, according to Erik Medina, vice president of the Futures Company, a consultancy that tracks generational trends for marketers, American Yers have in the past three years or so begun to reject the three Cs so coveted by their consumer-oriented elders (i.e., Generation X and the Baby Boomers). Millennials have shoved aside the "cash, castles, and cars" of their forbears in favor of another three Cs—"control, contentness, and community," Medina says.
With the youngest of this culturally and racially diverse population segment now reaching drinking age and the oldest approaching middle age, the pressure is mounting on marketers to reach them and tap into an annual buying power that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce now estimates at $200 billion.
Yers GOT THIS UNDER CONTROL
U.S. Millennials have been doing pretty well for themselves in the work world since Barack Obama's reelection in 2012, especially when you consider that a large chunk of them entered a labor market that was all but devastated by the Great Recession.
Within the past two years, Yers passed both Boomers and Xers, respectively, as the largest constituent of the American labor force. Research released by Pew in 2015 states that more than one in three American workers is aged 18 to 34, and 53.5 million (out of 75.3 million) Millennials hold jobs. (That number is also expected to grow as more immigrants flow into the country and hit the job boards.)
Yet Millennials are not just settling for any old job they can find. "Millennials want a job they love, which is different from a job that [their parents would describe as] successful," Medina says. The trend is for Millennials to be more attracted to companies that align with their values and attitudes, Medina says, even if it means a slight pay cut.
Perhaps a symptom of Millennials' increasing pickiness is the development of what has been referred to, in publications ranging from the New York Times to Forbes, as the "gig economy." Many young employees are taking on jobs that give them the freedom to create their own schedules. Companies such as TaskRabbit, Uber, and Upwork have been responsible for facilitating various forms of contracted, lower-commitment work.
Once they find that perfect job, members of this group seem to want to get comfortable in it. (At least for a little while.) Millennials have been characterized as disloyal, but they’ve held on to their first jobs longer than their elders did, according to a 2014 White House Report titled "15 Economic Facts about Millennials." Millennials witnessed the effects of job losses during the recent hard times and want workplace stability.
Perhaps related, more Millennials than Gen Xers and Boomers are inclined to support unions. An August 2015 Gallup poll found that 66 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds approve unions, compared to 53 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds, and 55 percent of 55-plus-year-olds. The editorial staff at the media company Gawker, composed largely of Millennials, recently voted to unionize, becoming the first online-only media outlet to do so.
Hardly quick to rush into things, Millennials often wish to gauge the opinions of their peers and are less likely than Gen Xers to trust the opinion of experts, says Mark Organ, CEO and founder of Influitive, provider of an advocate-marketing platform. Web sites such as Glassdoor serve as forums for companies that wish to sell themselves to younger employees entering the workforce by garnering reviews that can help dictate the kinds of candidates they attract. Organ, whose company Influitive claims 27 as its mean employee age, says he encourages his workers to post reviews of the company online.