... when a child is 11-12 years old come from parents/teachers/family. The next years from junior high through high school the influences come from peers. So you get two value sets, and you put them together and you get a generation.
ENR: Any prediction about when the Millennial Generation will give way to the next? There have been some huge, life-changing events since the turn of the century. The terrorist attacks of 9/11, for example, and then we have been at war ever since, and there was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Aren’t events like those the kinds of things that mark turning points in society?
UNDERWOOD: No, 9/11 won't be the break in the Millennials that everyone thought. A generation is an age cohort that shares similar core values that were molded during their formative years. 9/11 created Millennial core values of patriotism, a sense of nation, a desire to help others in need, and a fear for their own physical safety on U.S. soil.
But young kids with no clear memory of 9/11 molded the same core values a few years later because of Hurricane Katrina. So even though the events were different, the core values that emerged were the same, thus extending the Millennial Generation.
Right now there are about 77 million Boomers and about 48 to 50 million First Wave Millennials; but with Millennials we don’t know in what birth year the Millennials are going to end.
One of the things that might happen is that the times or teachings might change dramatically in the next couple of years.
The Second Wave Millennials will be the next big thing. In a few years those kids who are becoming 18 years of age will have more and more Gen X-ers as parents, so they’ll probably enter adulthood with lifelong values influenced by Gen X-ers, not Boomers.
Each generation tends to get its parents from the two older generations. The first and second waves do have noticeable differences. For example, those born in 1955 to 1964 are Second-Wave Boomers. They say they feel like they got the best of the Boomers and the younger Gen X-ers. They got the Gen X independence and skepticism but also desire for engagement and wanting to make a difference.
Some of the younger Silents hated coming of age in the 1950s and early �60s when children were to be seen and not heard and everyone was supposed to conform. They felt suffocated and when the Boomers started protesting and calling for change, a lot of the Silents joined them. They were recoiling from the conformity that the Baby Boomers blew to smithereens.
ENR: So what do we know about the First Wave Millennials?
UNDERWOOD: Here are some of their strengths: They entered adulthood with tremendous career spirit and they’re going to be a great career generation. They are probably also going to be an excellent leadership generation when it is their generation’s turn to lead America, which will be awhile from now.
They are idealistic, they are demanding, they will insist that their employers are good corporate citizens, environmentally green and ethical. In many ways they are exactly like the Baby Boomers and that’s not an accident. Most have Boomers for parents and they absorbed their parents’ values.
They are tech-savvy. They are excellent team players and they will care about the entire organization, not just their own jobs. They are excellent with deadlines, too.
However, they have proven to be serial job-hoppers, creating significant problems for their employers who have invested in their recruitment and their on-boarding and their training. They came of age so protected by their “helicopter” parents that they need significant structure and attention from their bosses, often requesting more time than their bosses have time to give.
As a generation, they often have unrealistic expectations about entry-level pay, position and promotion timetable. And they have a flawed sense of entitlement because this is the generation that was told throughout its childhood that they are the center of the universe and the world revolves around them. It’s not their fault; it’s just a byproduct of the unique teachings and values they got during their formative years.
One other formative distinction: Their generation is rewriting what it’s like to live life in one’s 20s. It’s called extended adolescence.
These first-wavers have demonstrated they are postponing the serious commitments of career, marriage and parenting. They are demonstrating that in their careers through their constant job-hopping.
In terms of marriage, American women in 1970 married at the average age of 20, and today it is beyond 26. In 1970 American women bore their first child at age 20; that is now above 26. Those are stats from the Census Bureau.
This means Millennials have not committed to their careers. Millennials are sampling professions and sampling employers. The good thing is, when they get to their early 30s they will have sampled enough that they will truly know what they want. Whenever the Millennial generation does kick in and dig in their careers they’re going to give America a wonderful ride because they’re going to stand for the idealistic, right things in their jobs and in their lives—and in that way they’re just like the Boomers.
Gen X managers are having difficulty managing the Millennials. Boomers are also having trouble managing Millennials but their core values are similar enough that they “get” the Millennials. They understand their core values. Gen X is self-reliant and independent. Millennials are reliant and dependent.
Gen X-ers often prefer to work individualistically. Millennials prefer team or group work.
Gen X-ers, who had the most emotionally difficult childhoods in American history, came of age cynical and skeptical.
Millennials who had a very loving and nurtured childhood came of age optimistic and idealistic. There is a significant workplace gap between Gen X-ers and Millennials. There is also a gap between Boomers and Gen X, but a less significant difference between Boomers and Millennials.
A lot of major life events happened when Gen X was growing up. They are the island generation; their situation was so different.
When I give training, Gen X-ers ask: Is our Gen X one day going to be managed by Millennials? Being managed by people managers does not excite Gen X-ers, but by job hopping the Millennials are letting Gen X-ers build a greater lead by building experience and knowledge of those particular employers.
ENR: Sounds like tough times for management.
UNDERWOOD: It’s a bewildering maze in the workplace at this particular moment.
This is the bottom line: The Millennial generation needs to be recruited differently from the way prior generations were recruited. The Millennials need to be on-boarded differently. They need to be trained and managed and promoted differently. They not only need a mentor, they need a buddy during the on-boarding process, a mentor throughout their careers. And they also want an advocate with significant power in the organization who will help them get their Millennial ideas as high up the corporate chart as they can get.
Employers need to be trained in multi-generational workforce management, because Millennials are pouring into the workplace and they need to understand them.
Millennials also need to be retained using different incentives. Millennials are passionate about their careers. They want their work to count, they want their employers to count. They want to make a big difference on planet Earth by way of their careers. For this generation, as with Boomers, it’s not simply about pay, position or financial significance. It’s much bigger than that, as with Boomers.
The elephant in the room is multigenerational workforce management. Management and executive level personnel need to be trained in this. They will lure and keep the best employees. Those who are not trained in this will settle for the second tier employees.
That’s not bad, except in a competitive situation. In the AEC world, there is no second place, you either win or you lose, and in competitive situations with big-number projects the firms with the best people usually win. In those industries there are no consolation prizes.
ENR: So I guess employers had better get busy learning to work with the Millennials. Any last advice?
UNDERWOOD: Millennials have a significant respect and reverence and trust of older people, unlike Gen X, who came of age with the adult world letting them down. Millennials came of age with parents, teachers, counselors, etc., who were their best friends and role models. So Millennials entered adulthood with this wonderful eagerness to learn.
Most Millennials are not aware of their shortcomings in the workplace because they’re all alike and it’s the only world they know. They are so eager to get it right; not just almost right in their career but exactly right. They have a joyous eagerness to learn. They are eager to improve. They are a joy to teach and coach. In a seminar, once I lay out their generation’s core values to them, they laugh at themselves, say, “Yes, that’s us.” They want to know what to do to get it right. They are an outgoing, inquisitive generation.
I had to speak to a bunch of 4-star U.S. generals over in Germany. There were about 200 people in the audience, which also included some—a few—Millennials. At the end of my speech I asked if they had any questions. In normal settings like this, the younger folks would sit quietly and leave the questions to the generals. Five young ones were sitting together and all five raised their hands immediately.
Millennials are comfortable with older people, they want to participate with older people, and sometimes they go too far. By and large employers need to celebrate that and not quash it.