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Are "Millennials" Special?

Published: June 28, 2018

Author: David Rodnitzky

We conclude our “millennial” series with a post from 3Q CEO David Rodnitzky. David offers his take on the needs, expectations, and opportunities for upcoming generations:
Every new generation provokes great consternation from older ones. The complaints are usually centered on three areas: choices in entertainment (the music sounds terrible, there’s too much profanity), morality (the younger generation is having too much sex too soon, has poor manners, and doesn’t give sufficient respect to the older generations), and work attitude (new employees have unrealistic expectations of advancement and demand over-the-top benefits). In this column, I’ll focus on the attitude of millennials in the workplace. Are the concerns of the ruling class (Gen X and above . . .) justified?

My first observation is that workplace attitude is almost 100% correlated to the economy. In other words, when the economy is booming, employees have an inflated sense of value because they are quickly getting raises, offers to work somewhere else for more money, and are showered with praise and benefits. When the economy is struggling, employees are just happy to have a job and value stability over nice-to-haves like free food and gym reimbursements.
The Pew Research Center defines a millennial as someone born between 1981 and 1996. Assuming that a person gets their first “real” job at around 22 (after graduating from college), millennials entered the workforce between 2003 and 2018. Looking at unemployment figures during this time range, you can see that unemployment has fluctuated pretty significantly during that time period, ranging between 4 and 10 percent:

Older millennials – the ones who entered the workforce prior to “The Great Recession” from 2008 to 2011 – have experienced the job market roller coaster. It is likely that many of these millennials either lost their jobs during the recession or at least had to hunker down at a job where they were underpaid or undervalued.
My guess is that these millennials have much different expectations about work than the millennials who entered the workforce after 2011 – who have seen nothing but improved job prospects year-after-year.
I got my first job in 1999 and witnessed first-hand the economic downturns in 2001 (the Internet bubble bursting) and 2008 (the Great Recession). I’ve learned that what goes up must come down and to be humble and thankful for a job I love! There are a lot of young professionals, however, who have never experienced a recession, and I think many of these people take the good economy for granted.
In other words, I think a person’s attitude about work is shaped by their experiences more so than their generation. Sure, millennials are more digitally-savvy than older generations, and the world is much more flat than it was when I grew up, but the notion that millennials are inherently more entitled or ambitious than past generations doesn’t hold up for me.
That said, I do think there is one big change that has impacted millennials more than prior generations: increased entrepreneurial opportunity. When I was in my 20s, being an entrepreneur wasn’t a realistic option. I had no skills, no access to capital, and no support system to help me build a company. Almost 100% of my fellow college graduates took a traditional path upon graduation, often with management consulting and investment banking as the most prestigious options.
Today, there are teenage entrepreneurs making millions creating YouTube personas, or playing eSports, or starting digital businesses. Pretty much every university has an entrepreneurship program or degree, and there are even venture funds that focus on college entrepreneurs (with names like “Dorm Room Fund”, which in my day would have meant a collection to raise money to order pizza). So millennials and post-millennials have a lot more opportunities than my generation did to pursue non-traditional careers.
So the circumstances have changed and create new paths for millennials. But then, that’s the case for every generation. Heck, had I been born 10 years earlier, I doubt I would be an online marketer today, because online marketing would not have been an option when I started looking for my career. In sum, of course millennials are different than prior generations, but in many ways, we are all the same – shaped by the economy and culture of the day!

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