Listen 2 me :) - Techno-savvy generation changing work, home and society
By Carma Wadley . Deseret Morning News . Monday, March 17, 2008
By Carma Wadley . Deseret Morning News . Monday, March 17, 2008
They've been called Generation Y (one down from the Gen Xers) and boomlets (children of the baby boomers) and Generation Next, but many industry and society analysts are beginning to use the term Millennials.
They are the people born between 1982 and 2000, and there are some 73 million of them.
"By 2010 the Millennials will out-number both the baby boomers and Generation X," Georganne Bender told participants at a session at the recent Craft & Hobby Show held in Anaheim, Calif. Bender and her partner, Rich Kizer, bill themselves as "retail anthropologists," who look at societal trends and how those trends impact the business world.
Millennials are "too mercurial to pin down," they said, but one thing is certain. "This generation is changing the way everyone is doing business because they insist on doing things their own way."
The generation's "elder statesmen" are out of college now and joining the work force, which is in part how they've come to get increasing attention. "They aren't children any more," said Bender in a follow-up interview from her office in St. Charles, Ill. They are starting their careers, and the unique things they bring with that are making a difference in the workplace.
"The Millennials believe that the rest of us should change to accommodate them, not the other way around," says Bender. "And they are not budging. You want them to work on a weekend when they have other plans? Good luck. Friends and family come first."
The Millennials came into the world in what some sociologists call "the age of the child" or "the age of the active parent."
They have been the most watched-over, catered-to generation yet, Bender says. "A lot of them have never been told no, or that they couldn't do something."
They have grown up with good self-esteem. They have developed independence because of such things as divorce, day care, single-parenting and latchkey-parenting.
For the most part, they have a good relationship with their parents. Generational researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss found that in 2005 more than 90 percent of teens said they "get along" with their parents, and nearly 80 percent said they get along "very well" or "extremely well." One survey found that 82 percent of teens said they had "no problem" with any family member, compared to 48 percent who said that back in 1974.
"They are bright. They are optimistic," Bender says.
And they think they can start at the top. "Whereas other generations knew they had to work to get the top positions, Millennials go in knowing they can be the CEO," she says. "They believe they can have your job in three weeks."
Once they get into the work force, she says, "something happens. Something clicks in and they behave more the way they should. But still you have to adapt to them, not expect them to adapt to you."
Bender recently talked to a Human Resources person from a large bank who told her the bank not only had to change the way it trains recruits, but it was having to train older workers in how to deal with the Millennials. "UPS has also found that classroom training sessions that worked with older generations don't work with Millennials. They need interactive, hands-on training."
Millennials are also the most wired generation to date. "They were digital in diapers," says Bender. "They've never known a world that was not digital, not online."
They were born when CDs were phasing out cassettes — vinyl records are entirely foreign. By the time they were in preschool, the Internet went global, and homes began loading up on PCs. They could surf the Web in elementary school while racking up humongous scores on video games.
By middle school, it was TV on demand with VCRS, which were soon replaced with TiVo and DVDs. By high school, cell phones, electronic organizers, pagers, instant messaging and digital cameras were the norm. The gadgets that seem strange to older generations have become almost like body parts for the Millennials. And, as one researcher put it, "the computer is not a technology, it is an assumed part of life."
Bender remembers taking her 10 and 13-year-old children to an open-air history museum, along with their 70-something grandmother. The grandmother got talking about how when she was a child, they wrapped bricks in cloth and tucked them into the bed to make it warm. "She talked about when TV first came along and what funny little TVs we had, and the children were looking at her wide-eyed. 'That can't be true, grandma,' they said. It was beyond anything they knew."
It's not just that the Millennials prefer the Internet to TV, "their preferred method of communication is text messaging," Bender says. "I used to think my children didn't have any friends because the house phone never rang. But they were communicating by cell and text and e-mail. And they have their own words. They talk in acronyms and slang. They shorten words and don't use punctuation."
Which sometimes creates problems in school and in the workplace when they have to write, she says. "They can't spell and they can't punctuate."
They've also developed a trail-and-error approach to problem-solving — Nintendo, anyone? — which contrasts to the more rule-oriented approach of other generations. And they tend to take things literally, Bender says. "If you say 'you ought to think about doing this,' to us that means go and do it. To them, it means go and think about it."
On the other hand, the Millennials are very adept at multitasking and work well in teams and with mentors. They are open to learning, just not by lecture.
They do look for frequent and immediate feedback. In fact, they the expect instant everything. "They want it all, and they want it now," Bender says. They connect 24/7. They can find information 24/7. They have little tolerance for delays.
But they are also very civic minded. A survey conducted by Cone, a business strategy and communications firm, found that 61 percent of Millennials feel "personally responsible for making a difference in the world."
We are already seeing the influence the younger voters are having in politics, Bender says. "In large part, they are driving the Obama campaign."
Millennials will also change the ways companies do business. For example, companies will have to not only have Web sites, "but those Web sites must be interactive, and they must change a lot."
Having Internet access on the sales floor is not be big deal, she said, "they can get that at home. But some companies are starting to offer a cell phone service that you can sign up for when you enter the store, and then you get text messages about various products as you shop. My 80-year-old mother-in-law would not know what to do with that. But my 21-year-old daughter would love it."
Overall, Bender believes that the positives will outweigh the negatives for the Millennials. "They really are great kids. It's just that we have to learn how to deal with them." From numerous focus groups with the generation she had found that "they think it is cool when you know what they are talking about and try to understand them," she says.
Here's a tip for parents, she adds. "When my kids became teenagers, I quit listening to the radio stations I liked and started listening to 'Top 40' radio, and to read their magazines, and really dig into their world. It is an amazing place."
The biggest challenge, she says, is for other generations to learn how they operate and how to get along with them in the workplace and in the marketplace and even at home. "There will be a learning curve. But that's par for the course. That happens with every generation."
On the other hand, she says, "they have had so many more opportunities and so much technology that we didn't have, they will have so many gifts to give us. They will open new worlds. It's safe to say that the Millennials are going to change the world, or at least as we know it."
That, after all, is what new generations do.