The Mil­len­ni­als Are Not Who You Think They Are

Trillions - - Contents - By Brad Red­der­sen

Young adults aged 21 to 36, those born be­tween 1980 and 1995, make up what has been la­beled the “mil­len­nial” gen­er­a­tion. This group is distin­guished by be­ing the first gen­er­a­tion to reach adult­hood in the 21st cen­tury.

It is also a gen­er­a­tion that, per­haps for the very first time in a long time, has come of age with very dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions and val­ues than pre­vi­ous generations. So for those with com­pa­nies in­ter­ested ei­ther in mar­ket­ing to mil­len­ni­als or hir­ing them, or for those gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties plan­ning pol­icy to sup­port them prop­erly, as­sum­ing they’re “just like you” is a very bad idea.

What Has Shaped Their Val­ues and Ex­pec­ta­tions

It would be hard to un­der­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of so many of the dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences this gen­er­a­tion has had, at least when com­pared to pre­vi­ous generations.

Tech­nol­ogy

On the tech­nol­ogy front, mil­len­ni­als are the first gen­er­a­tion to go through high school and be­yond with ac­cess to the In­ter­net just be­ing a part of life. In the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the In­ter­net was all about com­pa­nies like Amer­ica On­line and dial-up ser­vices. Af­ter that it shifted to wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity and the rise of so­cial me­dia through mul­ti­ple in­car­na­tions, from Mys­pace in the early days to Face­book’s me­te­oric rise later on.

On­line shop­ping be­came not just ac­cept­able but the best place to go for many things. It be­came a ma­jor rea­son why bricks-and-mor­tar book­stores like Borders closed and Barnes & Noble cut back. It is also a ma­jor rea­son why com­pa­nies like Wal­mart and many other mall stores suf­fered fi­nan­cial losses af­ter decades of past suc­cesses while Ama­zon, which started as just an on­line book­seller, has broad­ened into the biggest on­line re­tail giant in al­most ev­ery cat­e­gory.

The con­ver­sion of mu­sic – and now even books and movies – from tan­gi­ble things like CDS, pa­per-bound books and DVDS to on-de­mand dig­i­tal down­loads has trans­formed the pub­li­ca­tion in­dus­try. Even the con­cept of “own­er­ship” has changed, with stream­ing ser­vices having over­taken the dig­i­tal down­load busi­ness as the way of pro­ceed­ing.

In all of those cases this has cre­ated a gen­er­a­tion with instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion as part of the way it op­er­ates. If mil­len­ni­als want a new book, movie or song, they can down­load or stream it – now. If they want to buy some­thing, they just go on­line and or­der it.

The lack of a tan­gi­ble form for the prod­ucts many pur­chase to­day has also had the un­usual side ef­fect of dis­con­nect­ing peo­ple from the prior bonds ear­lier generations may have had with the items. The al­bum or book cov­ers of the past are pri­mar­ily on­line mar­ket­ing tools rather than some­thing one ever ac­tu­ally sees in per­son. Few of this mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion have stacks of past CDS or vinyl-pressed al­bums to dust off and play. Even fewer have collections of printed books of any kind, and the “book rooms” or dens the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion may have grown up with are non-ex­is­tent. The idea of just sit­ting and brows­ing a book from older times or flip­ping through the pages of a ref­er­ence book is long gone.

This also ex­tends to pho­tos, which dur­ing this gen­er­a­tion also shifted from tan­gi­ble form to dig­i­tal, with

the com­pany that cre­ated the mass-mar­ket for pho­tog­ra­phy, East­man Ko­dak, fil­ing for bank­ruptcy dur­ing this pe­riod. Po­laroid, a once-strong com­pany that spe­cial­ized in that me­dia’s form of instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, also al­most went out of busi­ness and is now in very dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries.

If mil­len­ni­als want to share the most in­ti­mate mo­ments of their lives – happy or sad, se­ri­ous or re­flec­tive – they just go on­line to in­stantly share them. They look for instant feed­back in the form of com­ments and/or likes. So­cial me­dia has be­come so all-en­com­pass­ing that sev­eral sources credit it and the smart­phone’s rise as a ma­jor rea­son be­hind lower drug use in cur­rent teenagers than in past generations.

Fur­ther, al­though the smart­phone it­self made its first big move with the pres­ence of the Black­berry and its in­te­grated con­tacts, cal­en­dar and phone sys­tem in a por­ta­ble pack­age, then later with the iphone and its many An­droid com­peti­tors, the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion was more im­pacted by the idea that tele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tion could be eas­ily con­ducted from any­where. The pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, likely rep­re­sented by many of those read­ing this, in­stead grew up when tele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions were most likely wired wall-con­nected sys­tems in a home or of­fice or pay phones, which are now nearly ob­so­lete in most parts of the mod­ern world. If mil­len­ni­als want to talk with some­one, they just need to lift the phone from their pocket and call or text – right now. There is no need to wait.

Be­yond those many dif­fer­ent points of con­tact with the above rad­i­cally shift­ing technologies, the fun­da­men­tal one of the In­ter­net has made other ma­jor changes in mil­len­ni­als’ lives. These in­clude the fol­low­ing:

All kinds of me­dia, in­clud­ing news, are avail­able now 24-7 on de­mand and are of­ten even di­rectly pushed out via an in­di­vid­ual’s com­puter or smart­phone. There is no such thing as wait­ing for the evening news to hap­pen.

The in­creased con­nec­tiv­ity of ev­ery­one, ev­ery­where, has brought with it the in­creased anx­i­ety of having to al­ways stay con­nected with oth­ers. Sta­tis­tics of a few years ago showed that peo­ple were check­ing their Face­book mes­sages as much as 60 times in an hour, es­pe­cially among this new young adult gen­er­a­tion. One has to stay con­nected or risk miss­ing some­thing – or at least that is how it feels.

With the rise of Google and its much-vaunted pager­ank al­go­rithm for pri­or­i­tiz­ing search, and via crowd-au­thored free on­line en­cy­clo­pe­dias such as Wikipedia, as well as through many on­line me­dia sources of oth- er kinds, mil­len­ni­als have spent their adult­hood with rel­a­tively free ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion on a scale pre­vi­ously unimag­in­able. Such ac­cess has vir­tu­ally de­stroyed the mar­kets for things like en­cy­clo­pe­dias and, to a lesser ex­tent, dic­tio­nar­ies.

Such ac­cess has made it eas­ier than ever for mil­len­ni­als to do their own re­search on many things with­out any need to go to a li­brary. Many uni­ver­si­ties, such as the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia as one no­table pi­o­neer in this area, now dig­i­tize so many things for free ac­cess to their stu­dent and fac­ulty pop­u­la­tion (in­clud­ing peer-re­viewed jour­nals, text­books and hand­outs from pro­fes­sors) that the still-ever-present and of­ten-ma­jes­tic (in size at least) li­braries are rarely vis­ited any longer.

The down­side of such ac­cess is that, as a now-fa­mous ar­ti­cle pub­lished a few years ago from The At­lantic, en­ti­tled “Is Google Mak­ing Us Stupid?” ex­plained so well, having that ac­cess is dis­tort­ing us all – and in par­tic­u­lar the mil­len­ni­als – more than we can imag­ine.

One way it has hit is in the way peo­ple read, which now con­sists – for news or non-fic­tion items at least – of “skim­ming” as the norm rather than the rar­ity. Long-form ar­ti­cles, once very com­mon in news mag­a­zines and so­cial com­men­tary pub­li­ca­tions, are now far harder to find. On­line pub­li­ca­tions now spe­cial­ize in this kind of short-form jour­nal­ism, but even print news­pa­pers have re­for­mu­lated their own for­mats to have short ar­ti­cle sum­maries of the news around the coun­try and the world. This is also be­hind the rapid growth of pub­li­ca­tions like USA To­day, which are col­or­ful and com­part­men­tal­ized into short and eas­ily di­gested ar­ti­cles.

An­other way the on­line tools have af­fected read­ers is in how they func­tion.

As one ex­am­ple of this, Google’s page-rank tech­nique, in­vented while its founders were at Stan­ford Univer­sity, ranks search re­sults based on – for most of them any­way – the rel­a­tive pop­u­lar­ity of the var­i­ous an­swers. That pop­u­lar­ity was orig­i­nally mea­sured just by look­ing for search re­sults that had the most hy­per­links “link­ing back” to the spe­cific re­sults from other sources. A sec­ond mea­sure is to rank which of the var­i­ous re­sults pre­sented in an ini­tial search are clicked on. This is what sev­eral search en­gines also use (and what Google does to some ex­tent as well, though its al­go­rithms have now be­come well-pro­tected to avoid peo­ple try­ing to game the sys­tem and in­crease their own search rank­ings). In ef­fect, such ranks are what are re­ferred to as “self-ref­er­en­tial,” mean­ing that the most pop­u­lar an­swers al­most al­ways reach the top of search re­sults.

Pop­u­lar­ity of an an­swer is never the best way to find the best in­for­ma­tion on a topic, but mod­ern search en­gines work against that. In­stead of pick­ing in­for­ma­tion that has been qual­i­fied as the most valu­able, orig­i­nal or ac­cu­rate, it sim­ply puts the most pop­u­lar ones at the top. The more im­por­tant ones are of­ten very dif­fi­cult to un­cover.

An­other prob­lem rests with so-called crowd­sourced in­for­ma­tion sources such as Wikipedia. They are mod­ern marvels, cov­er­ing top­ics on all sorts of things, from his­tory to sci­ence and even free on­line med­i­cal guid­ance, with mas­ter ed­i­tors and writ­ers work­ing ev­ery day to keep the ac­cu­racy of the con­tent as high as pos­si­ble. Be­ing crowd­sourced, how­ever, makes them at risk for er­ror (be­cause the in­di­vid­ual mak­ing the changes can make a mis­take or have bad data), used as pub­lic­ity ve­hi­cles rather than au­thor­i­ta­tive data (such as for celebri­ties seek­ing cov­er­age in these me­dia) or even de­lib­er­ately sab­o­taged (some­thing that of­ten comes up dur­ing po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, al­though most peo­ple are not aware of it at the time).

Even with the reach of the In­ter­net in the­ory pro­vid­ing ac­cess well be­yond the bound­aries achiev­able in ear­lier times, the na­ture of how the data is ac­cessed, ranked and sorted in all of the above ways has the ad­di­tional un­for­tu­nate re­sult that many mil­len­ni­als have be­gun to see these sources as au­thor­i­ta­tive in their na­ture. This is far from true and is why many ac­tu­ally be­lieve the rise of the In­ter­net has ac­tu­ally made peo­ple older than 40 more pro­duc­tive in their searches than those in their 20s. The rea­son why is that these older in­di­vid­u­als were ed­u­cated at a time when check­ing mul­ti­ple sources and dig­ging be­yond the surface were crit­i­cal in look­ing for good in­for­ma­tion. Those younger do not have such ex­pe­ri­ences and of­ten ac­cept the search re­sults and on­line data sources as au­thor­i­ta­tive on their own.

Busi­ness and Em­ploy­ment

Two generations ago it was the norm for Amer­i­can work­ers to work at a sin­gle com­pany most of their lives. For mil­len­ni­als that time has short­ened con­sid­er­ably.

Be­hind that short­en­ing are sev­eral is­sues that are im­por­tant.

Mil­len­ni­als have grown up in an era of mul­ti­ple global fi­nan­cial crises, mass lay­offs and busi­ness bub­bles – all of which have done much to shake any be­lief in the stay­ing power of any com­pany as a long-term place to work. The most re­cent of these fi­nan­cial crises was the 2008 mess that al­most brought the global fi­nan­cial lend­ing sys­tem to a halt and that was the di­rect re­sult of cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence in the “too big to fail” bank­ing in­dus­try and the so-called even more cor­rupt and in­com­pe­tent reg­u­la­tors in gov­ern­ment who were sup­posed to pro­tect ev­ery­one.

The times dur­ing which the mil­len­ni­als were grow­ing up and be­com­ing adults also in­cluded the spec­tac­u­lar bub­ble era of the 2000-2001 pe­riod, known as the “dot.com crash.” It was in this time that com­pa­nies like pets.com went on­line to sell pet food and other pet prod­ucts, raised mil­lions of dol­lars to set up their busi­nesses and then crashed spec­tac­u­larly when the world re­al­ized there was not a sin­gle unique thing about these en­ter­prises. Once again, the part about the crash that mat­ters was less the in­di­vid­ual com­pa­nies them­selves and far more about the greed of those who cre­ated and backed them, in­clud­ing banks and ven­ture cap­i­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions who felt that any­thing with a “dot.com” in its name cer­tainly had a ma­jor chance of a big pay­out soon.

Be­sides these events is that this era in­cluded many equally spec­tac­u­lar busi­ness cor­rup­tion cases. Among those was the Mad­off scan­dal, in which bil­lions of dol­lars were sup­pos­edly in­vested in valu­able in­vest­ment ve­hi­cles but with the truth be­ing that most of it was just pock­eted by the prin­ci­pals. A sec­ond was the En­ron en­ergy com­pany scan­dal, which demon­strated to the pub­lic both the fraud­u­lent na­ture of many big busi­nesses (in de­fraud­ing their clients and in­vestors while hiding the real truth of the “house of cards” na­ture of their own fi­nances) and the cal­lous­ness of those com­pa­nies to­ward their cus­tomers. For those that heard the record­ings, for ex­am­ple, who can for­get the se­cretly recorded con­ver­sa­tions in an En­ron con­fer­ence room when the ex­ec­u­tives there openly laughed about how badly they were hurt­ing those poor suck­ers in Cal­i­for­nia who needed elec­tric­ity?

Also, there were the too-many-to-count sit­u­a­tions in which the most se­nior ex­ec­u­tives in a com­pany were guilty of in­com­pe­tence in run­ning their busi­nesses, paid way too much money for that in­com­pe­tence and then given “golden para­chutes” when they were even­tu­ally let go from their com­pa­nies – pay­offs that of­ten ran in the tens if not hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. All of this left the im­pres­sion of the ex­ec­u­tives, like Nero in the old story of Rome, “fid­dling while Rome burned,” with all that mat­tered be­ing that they had their pay­days.

All of this has had the ef­fect of mil­len­ni­als re­al­iz­ing the truth of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in busi­ness: that com­pa­nies do not re­ally care about their em­ploy­ees in the long term and value them dif­fer­ently. In the comic strip Dil­bert, which sat­i­rizes mod­ern busi­ness, Cat­bert, the head of hu­man re­sources in the com­pany

de­picted there, once said that he re­sented that any­one might think he thought em­ploy­ees were of lit­tle value. Af­ter all, he said, the stock al­ways goes up when we lay them off, right?

Mil­len­ni­als also know the truth about who cares about their ca­reers too – and that list, from their per­spec­tive, does not in­clude the lead­ers of the busi­nesses they work within. Yes, there may be that won­der­ful thing called “ca­reer plan­ning,” which hap­pens within their com­pa­nies. But those plans are side­lined quickly in fa­vor of what is more ex­pe­di­tious at that mo­ment: whether to meet a quar­terly bot­tom line, bol­ster the stock or help with a bonus.

Be­sides the jaded na­ture to­ward the econ­omy and busi­ness, mil­len­ni­als are also having to deal with two other very dif­fer­ent is­sues that shape the idea of what a ca­reer is.

The first of these is­sues is what many have re­ferred to as the “elim­i­na­tion of the mid­dle class,” in North Amer­ica in par­tic­u­lar and to vary­ing de­grees in the rest of the world. Two generations ago, some of the best-pay­ing jobs in this con­ti­nent were in highly skilled man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs such as au­to­mo­tive as­sem­bly and elec­tron­ics pro­duc­tion. Those jobs are long gone. To be sure, some of them may have moved over­seas to Asia and south of the U.S. bor­der, where wages are lower. But the facts bear out that many of these jobs have van­ished be­cause of in­creased au­to­ma­tion. And with that death of the mid­dle class came an un­der­stand­ing at a gut level by the mil­len­ni­als that many of the jobs that once sup­ported North Amer­ica might not be here in the fu­ture.

The sec­ond is­sue is the re­al­iza­tion that what drives busi­ness is chang­ing so rapidly that al­most any skill be­ing used for em­ploy­ment could be ren­dered of lit­tle value rather quickly. This shows up in the form of in­dus­try dis­rup­tors of all kinds. Dig­i­tal elec­tron­ics, for ex­am­ple, is rapidly be­ing sup­planted by ag­ile soft­ware technologies that can ren­der them far less im­por­tant other than as struc­tural build­ing blocks for which to run the soft­ware. In the tele­vi­sion in­dus­try, broad­cast tele­vi­sion and all of its pro­gram­ming first had to deal with the assault of cable and its many va­ri­eties. To­day, stream­ing tele­vi­sion, rep­re­sented by com­pa­nies such as Netflix, Hulu and Ama­zon Stu­dios, has cut deeply into those mar­kets. And even the busi­ness process out­sourc­ing (or “call cen­ter”) in­dus­tries, which rely heav­ily on the warm hu­man voices of work­ers from around the world help­ing with cus­tomer sup­port and debt col­lec­tion, are quickly mov­ing to au­to­mated sys­tems us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. With all of this as the back­drop, mil­len­ni­als have learned the fol­low­ing:

• Their em­ploy­ers are far more con­cerned about their own fi­nan­cial wealth than any­thing re­gard­ing the long-term ca­reer prospects for their em­ploy­ees.

• There is no fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity in any given busi­ness, not now any­way. A dis­rup­tive busi­ness trend, a cor­rupt fi­nan­cial en­tity be­hind the scenes or even a global fi­nan­cial crash could bring any job to an end rapidly.

• There is no such thing as a ca­reer any longer. For many, the skills that might have helped pay the bills one day need to be re­placed by new ones very quickly. This does not mean mil­len­ni­als can­not be em­ployed for their life­times. In­stead it means that they must be far more ag­ile than be­fore in learn­ing new things to re­main em­ployed. It also means they must have less of an at­tach­ment to any given job of a pre­vi­ously-hoped-for ca­reer path to suc­ceed long term.

At­ti­tudes To­ward Gov­ern­ment

The mil­len­nial era has also had a tremen­dous im­pact on how this gen­er­a­tion per­ceives gov­ern­ment.

This is the pe­riod many have la­beled as the de­struc­tion of re­spect for the pres­i­dency of the United States. It ac­tu­ally started long be­fore these times, with the rea­sons for the lack of re­spect go­ing back to the very be­gin­nings of the United States, in­clud­ing sex scan­dals, in­com­pe­tence, cor­rup­tion and more.

These scan­dals started long ago, go­ing back to the days when both Pres­i­dents Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and John F. Kennedy had mis­tresses on the side and the press just looked the other way. The Water­gate mess, in which Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon was even­tu­ally forced out of of­fice and many things that went well be­yond the orig­i­nal Water­gate scan­dal were hap­pen­ing, showed how a pres­i­dent could use the power at his or her dis­posal for the most aw­ful of in­tents, in­clud­ing in­com­pe­tence in the ad­min­is­tra­tions of Pres­i­dents Ger­ald Ford, whose “Whip In­fla­tion Now” cam­paign was a cat­a­strophic fail­ure that bankrupted mil­lions, and Jimmy Carter, who man­aged the Ira­nian cap­tive cri­sis with a unique in­ept­ness. Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, with his now-leg­endary foray into in­ter­na­tional med­dling, known as the “Iran-con­tra Af­fair” (in which weapons were traded to the Con­tras in Cen­tral Amer­ica to help with the Ira­nian cri­sis), lied to the pub­lic about the coun­try’s in­volve­ment in that mess and seemed in­ca­pable of ex­tri­cat­ing the coun­try from it.

Those were bad enough, but it is the pub­lic na­ture of the re­cent scan­dals that shat­tered all abil­ity of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens to main­tain any re­spect for the coun­try’s lead­er­ship. The sex scan­dals of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in the 1990s, with his now-fa­mous line about in­tern Mon­ica Lewin­sky, in which he said “I did not have sex with that woman,” al­most forced him out of of­fice via im­peach­ment. He went on to man­age sev­eral in­com­pe­tent ef­forts into in­ter­na­tional war­fare in places like Kosovo, all of which ended in dis­as­ter.

In the next ad­min­is­tra­tion, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and his Machi­avel­lian Vice-pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, who to­gether could have used the hor­ri­ble events of Septem­ber 11 as a way of unit­ing the cit­i­zenry be­hind it, failed mis­er­ably on so many lev­els. They led the United States into a war against Iraq based on lies about the pres­ence of “weapons of mass de­struc­tion.” In the process, they also took what had been a U.S. gov­ern­ment sur­plus into the biggest deficit in the his­tory of the United States, passed laws that al­lowed for the biggest growth of greedy fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions ever and drove mil­lions again into bank­ruptcy across the coun­try. This pres­i­dent-vp al­liance also sin­gle-hand­edly un­der­mined the po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity of all of the Mid­dle East, putting in place the birth­place of ter­ror­ism, which is even now play­ing out in the dam­age it is caus­ing around the world.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who to many may have seemed more morally grounded, led the coun­try even fur­ther into global war and un­leashed the power of un­manned drones il­le­gally across the world, go­ing af­ter vic­tims the United States of­ten pur­sued with no co­or­di­na­tion with its al­lies. He also, even af­ter the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis that al­most plunged the United States into a de­pres­sion, hired the cronies of the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try that had cre­ated the mess to fill the Cab­i­net-level po­si­tions re­spon­si­ble for its over­sight. The re­sult was that not one sin­gle fi­nan­cial ex­ec­u­tive in­volved in lead­ing the coun­try into the mess was ever sent to jail or even sub­jected to sig­nif­i­cant fines.

And now, of course, the coun­try has Trump. His list of il­le­gal acts, cor­rup­tion and mea­sures of in­com­pe­tence is well be­yond the scope of this ar­ti­cle. It may sim­ply suf­fice that even those who had backed him in the past are quickly re­al­iz­ing how dam­ag­ing his pres­ence is, with much of that dam­age com­ing from the per­son that he is and how pub­licly he is man­gling the job of the pres­i­dency.

What comes from all of this for the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion is un­for­tu­nately far more than just a jaded view of the pres­i­dency. This is a gen­er­a­tion that knows un­equiv­o­cally that, when they look at the pres­i­dent, they see him, like the em­peror in the chil­dren’s tale, as “having no clothes.” The pres­i­dent is seen as far worse than “just a per­son,” which in it­self would be a ma­jor step down from past be­liefs in the pres­i­dent as a sort of com­bi­na­tion po­lit­i­cal leader, model of what many might look up to and in­di­vid­ual who is smarter than many of us in mak­ing de­ci­sions. The new im­age of the pres­i­dent is of some­one fa­tally flawed; lack­ing in vision; cor­rupt via money, po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age or more; and with a to­tal lack of moral un­der­pin­ning for his or her ac­tions. The lat­est in­car­na­tion of that pres­i­dent is also a laugh­ing stock around the world for the cra­zi­est things he says and does and a per­son who lies with the ease most peo­ple have in just breath­ing.

If that whole vision sounds harsh, imag­ine the cur­rent U.S. pres­i­dent be­ing called upon in a time of cri­sis to call to the Amer­i­can peo­ple in a na­tional ad­dress to “Ask not what your coun­try can do for you. Ask what you can do for your coun­try,” as Pres­i­dent Kennedy did al­most 60 years ago. The cur­rent pres­i­dent would never make it past the first line with­out the au­di­ence break­ing out in laugh­ter be­cause they know the main rea­son he is in this role is pre­cisely to do just that: to find out what the coun­try can do for him.

The mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion, of course, did grow up with the kind of lead­er­ship im­age Pres­i­dent Kennedy had. This gen­er­a­tion un­for­tu­nately knows all too well not just that all of the pres­i­dents they have seen are hu­mans with ma­jor flaws but that they are cor­rupt, in­com­pe­tent and liars. How These Ex­pe­ri­ences Com­pare to Other Groups Those older than the mil­len­nial group have also been through much of the same ex­pe­ri­ences. Un­like the mil­len­ni­als, though, their ex­pe­ri­ences are in con­trast with ear­lier ex­pe­ri­ences of sim­i­lar things. For the mil­len­ni­als, on the other hand, this is what they grew up with and it has had a far more sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence on these in­di­vid­u­als.

As one of those mil­len­ni­als once put it to this writer in talk­ing about the rise of the In­ter­net, “Your gen­er­a­tion grew up with tele­vi­sion and cable as things that were just ‘there,’ like ra­dio was for your par­ents when grow­ing up. For ‘us’ [the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion], the In­ter­net just ‘is.’ We do not re­mem­ber a time when it was not al­ways there.” How All of This Af­fects Mil­len­ni­als With all of the above having helped shape how mil­len­ni­als have de­vel­oped their val­ues and ways of liv­ing, the next ques­tion comes: How pre­cisely have these is­sues af­fected the adults who make up this group?

To help as­sess this, for­tu­nately there are two ma­jor

sur­veys that were con­ducted re­cently and can shine quite a bit of light on this: Cana­dian Mil­len­nial So­cial Val­ues Study, con­ducted by the En­vi­ron­ics In­sti­tute

The Deloitte Mil­len­nial Sur­vey 2017, con­ducted by Deloitte The first of these was fo­cused pri­mar­ily on so­cial val­ues and on Cana­di­ans in par­tic­u­lar. The sec­ond was more global in scale, in­cor­po­rat­ing com­ments from al­most 8,000 mil­len­ni­als lo­cated in 30 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Both are very cur­rent, with the Deloitte study car­ried out in Septem­ber 2016 and the En­vi­ron­ics re­search be­tween July 6 and Au­gust 31, 2016.

The re­ports them­selves are very thor­ough and wor­thy of a com­plete read. For this ar­ti­cle, though, the fol­low­ing high­lights il­lus­trate some of the more-sig­nif­i­cant trends re­vealed.

• Op­ti­mism is in gen­eral quite low for de­vel­oped coun­tries such as the United States and Canada. Only 34% of mil­len­ni­als felt good about the econ­omy, and only 25% felt good about the po­lit­i­cal land­scape they re­side within. The econ­omy and the world are both seen as un­sta­ble and at sig­nif­i­cant risk. (Source: Deloitte)

• Sens­ing fu­ture in­sta­bil­ity in the econ­omy, the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion is show­ing that it is a bit more loyal to em­ploy­ers than in re­cent times. With em­ploy­ment at risk, it ap­pears safer to “hun­ker down” and live with the chal­lenges of the cur­rent job. (Source: Deloitte)

• Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, mil­len­ni­als are more up­beat about busi­ness be­hav­ior in gen­eral than in the past. Com­pa­nies are per­ceived as be­hav­ing “in an eth­i­cal man­ner” at a rate of 65% in this cur­rent sur­vey ver­sus 52% who felt the same way two years ago. The same com­pa­nies are “com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing so­ci­ety” at a rate of 62% now ver­sus 53% two years ago. (Source: Deloitte)

• De­spite the above, though, mil­len­ni­als apparently per­ceive the im­prove­ment in be­hav­ior as per­haps more win­dow dress­ing than might ini­tially be ob­vi­ous. An even 50% felt com­pa­nies “have no am­bi­tion be­yond want­ing to make money.” (Source: Deloitte)

• Mil­len­ni­als see their role with re­spect to ac­count­abil­ity as be­ing in the so­cial are­nas. Fifty-nine per­cent be­lieve they have a great deal of ac­count­abil­ity for “pro­tect­ing the en­v­i­ron- ment” and “so­cial equal­ity.” They have far less ac­count­abil­ity with re­spect to the “be­hav­ior and ac­tion of large busi­nesses” (at 39%) and in the di­rec­tion of the coun­try (at 40%). (Source: Deloitte). This sup­ports a pos­si­ble link with the long-term im­pact of past bad be­hav­ior on be­half of both gov­ern­ment and busi­ness as well as the cur­rent dis­con­nect in the val­ues held by those in­sti­tu­tions.

• Mil­len­ni­als see “dig­i­tal lit­er­acy” and their mas­tery of so­cial me­dia and the In­ter­net as a unique defin­ing qual­ity of their gen­er­a­tion, with 27% se­lect­ing it. The next-clos­est char­ac­ter­is­tic noted in that sur­vey was the mil­len­ni­als’ self-as­sessed na­ture of be­ing more “open-minded” and more “ac­cept­ing” than oth­ers, at 7%. (Source: En­vi­ron­ics)

• The fu­ture for mil­len­ni­als is fuzzy, at least from an eco­nomic per­spec­tive. Only 33% feel they are bet­ter off eco­nom­i­cally than their par­ents were when they were the same age, and only 49% feel they might end up bet­ter off than their par­ents at their par­ents’ cur­rent age. (Source: En­vi­ron­ics)

• The num­ber one fear for Cana­dian mil­len­ni­als in achiev­ing their work/ca­reer goals is the “weak econ­omy” and its as­so­ci­ated “lack of jobs,” with 41% of those sur­veyed re­port­ing that. (Source: En­vi­ron­ics)

These ma­jor met­rics sup­port that what mil­len­ni­als have been through has shaped them in a num­ber of distinc­tive ways:

• They worry about the econ­omy, in many ways prob­a­bly more than pre­vi­ous generations.

• They worry even more about the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in the world, prob­a­bly with some rea­son­able jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

• They dis­trust gov­ern­ment and busi­ness, though they do see busi­ness at least as try­ing to “play the part” of the good guy.

• Though they see gov­ern­ment and busi­ness as do­ing very bad things in the world and on their home turf, they do not feel that ac­count­able to fix it. That sug­gests a sig­nif­i­cant dis­con­nect as to how they may show up as cit­i­zens.

• They feel far more ac­count­able to do­ing some­thing about the en­vi­ron­ment and so­cial causes. This is the way they will show up as ac­tivists.

• They see their con­nec­tion to dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and the In­ter­net as a ma­jor driver both of who they are and what can make them uniquely ca­pa­ble in a chang­ing world.

What this means for the rest of us rests very much in which ways we may in­ter­act with these groups.

For busi­ness and gov­ern­ment, it means there is a long way to go to ever con­vince this gen­er­a­tion that it cares about their well-be­ing or their val­ues.

Con­sid­er­ing that this is the gen­er­a­tion that will even­tu­ally lead the world, it also sug­gests that mil­len­ni­als, more than many past generations, may choose to “opt out” of the tra­di­tional kinds of busi­nesses and in­stead move to­ward busi­nesses with a ma­jor so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity rea­son for ex­ist­ing in the first place. Mil­len­ni­als may also be far more likely than any gen­er­a­tion in re­cent his­tory to not want any­thing to do with gov­ern­ment.

The world, how­ever, needs this gen­er­a­tion’s skills, care for so­cial causes and the en­vi­ron­ment and abil­ity to har­ness tech­nol­ogy to help with it all. So those de­vel­op­ing busi­ness ideas around mil­len­ni­als or ways to en­gage them in gov­ern­ment con­cerns should lis­ten care­fully to their ideas, what mat­ters to them and how they be­came who they are be­cause they are def­i­nitely a very dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion than any be­fore.

Im­age by mon­key­busi­nes­sim­ages

Photo by Michael Car­lan, CC

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