Did all Millennials receive trophies just for showing up? Yes. Are they inseparable from their computers and smart phones? Sure. Do they expect immediate gratification in all things? You bet.
But are these qualities a sign of a generation in decay? According to pollster John Zogby: not on your life. On the contrary, they are the first generation of “global citizens,” highly aware of the world at large and highly motivated to improve their community — though “community” is, to them, a fluidly defined thing.
Zogby was invited to speak about Millennials — the age group of people born between 1979 and 1994 who grew up at the dawn of the 21st Century — at the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Eastside Leadership Conference, held June 20 at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond.
He is the founder of the “Zogby Poll” and Zogby International, as well as a man who earned the public’s attention after predicting the 1996 presidential election with a high degree of accuracy. He is now a senior analyst at his son’s firm, Zogby Analytics, and the co-author of “The First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing Our Millennial Generation.”
Zogby has been paying close attention to Millennials. And he sees a generation that, based on its responses to public opinion surveys, is both vastly different from all older living generations and vastly misunderstood by those groups.
“When we’re in our 20s, it’s all about me,” he said. “That’s typical. That’s how it’s been for the last 200 years. Too much of the criticism of Millennials is coming from people who just don’t understand that this is how things are for 20-somethings, for the most part.”
The problem is that many have failed to grasp the qualities that will define the Millennials as an age cohort, as opposed to their current age group, Zogby said. He recalled a story told by his favorite economics professor, a veteran who shared stories about his time in World War II eagerly and often.
The professor had spent the evening of Dec. 6, 1941 in his college dorm with friends, talking about girls, sports, beer and then girls again. The morning of Dec. 8, that same group of friends excitedly met again… in the line to sign up for the military draft.
“With World War II, that age group of 20-somethings became the age cohort we call ‘The Greatest Generation,’” Zogby said.
The onset of World War II caused the Greatest Generation to be defined by a sense of patriotism and duty. The Baby Boomers, raised with a sense of patriotism, but exposed by television to civil rights demonstrations, became questioners of the “universality of America’s good.” Generation X was raised in the U.S. at a time of economic strife and rising divorce, prompting them to become the most independent and libertarian of all generations.
For Millennials, the defining historic environment is the unprecedented evolution and connectedness of technology, Zogby said.
“I’ll start — in the unlikeliest of spaces — with MTV,” he said. “I saw MTV evolve from 24 hours of annoying video into MTV News. And what was the news about? Young people all over the world. And they learned about Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. They learned about other people and other cultures. Not as The Other but as people just like us.”
Access to and fluency in the Internet only enhanced Millennials knowledge of the world beyond the United States. As a result, they’ve become different in areas ranging from their athletic tastes — more Millennials play soccer than football or baseball — to their response to national tragedy — they were more apt to respond to the September 11 World Trade Center attacks with grief than vengeance. Politically, they may be shifting away from conservatism and liberalism toward libertarianism and communitarianism — “softer” ideologies with less emphasis on government and more room for communication between them.
Two-thirds of Millennials own passports. More than half say it is likely they will live and work in a foreign capital at some point in their careers and a full 35 percent expect they will, according to polling data. A third believe it is very important to be fluent in another language. In the most recent poll the question was asked, only a quarter of Millennials said American culture was inherently superior to others.
The secret of the generation, in terms of their relationship to the workplace, is that many of the Millennials’ perceived shortcomings are hidden advantages, Zogby said.
Yes, everyone earned a trophy. But awards for participation didn’t necessarily stifle their drive to work for recognition. Instead, their ambitions have shifted from recognition for individual achievement toward recognition as part of their team.
Yes, Millennials are tethered to their technologies. But constant connection has shifted their workday from 9-to-5 to 24/7. They’re more likely to put in work outside the accepted workday and they add more consumer markets to the economy by seeking out more varied and novel services to decompress.Yes, Millennials crave immediate gratification. But that same sense of immediacy can expedite problem-solving. Millennials are more likely to search for a solution horizontally within their networks than run it upstairs to “watch it die somewhere along the chain,” Zogby said.
“That is the only reason I am hopeful about this world,” he said. “Because hierarchy and bureaucracy are at their end. They don’t work anymore. The biggest corporations in the world are creating teams (that work horizontally).”
Perhaps the most important detail about Millennials in the workplace is that their generation gap with the Baby Boomers, unlike the Boomers’ gap with the Greatest Generation, is only a temporary phenomenon tied to a slow-growth economy. Polling data has shown that a sizable portion of Millennials currently see Boomers as “in the way,” occupying jobs that would open up if they retired; Meanwhile, Boomers with longer healthy life spans have no reason or desire to go gently into that good night.
Citing the book “Fuse,” by Jim Finkelstein, Zogby argued Millennials exhibit an overriding desire for mentorship in the workplace from their Boomer counterparts. And Boomers desire to be mentors. As the economy bounces back and makes room for both generations, the gap will all but disappear.
“When someone comes to me and I’m posed with a problem that involves technology, I simply say ‘You have to talk to Chad,’” Zogby said about the environment in Zogby Analytics. “There are no 65-to-70-year-olds named Chad. When Chad ‘dies,’ I die with him … just as I need him, he needs me to facilitate and explain this world to him.”