Understanding Millennials in the Marketplace


The Millennials are entering the workforce every day, and with their entrance, bring a much different outlook on how to do business. It is essential that older business leaders take some time and effort to understand the largest generation of workers since the Baby Boomers entered the workforce, as motivating, training, and engaging this generation will be challenging to managers and employers.


The millennial generation is made up of children born between the years 1980-1999. Like every other generation, Millennials possess unique characteristics that distinguish them from other generations.  Changing societal events have a lasting impact upon each generation, and each generation responds in slightly different ways.  The millennial generation is no exception.

For instance, Baby Boomers (persons born between 1946 and 1964) are typically idealistic, shaped by Vietnam, Woodstock, JFK, RFK, and MLK.  Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1979) was shaped by Watergate, the personal computer, and living as latchkey children.  The Millennials have been shaped by 9/11, texting, social media, and the Great Recession.

Millennials are arguably the most studied generation to date. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, they are 80 million plus in number.  One consistent characteristic about this generation is that they are tech savvy.  This should not be surprising, as a wired, connected, digital world is all this generation has ever known.  What else do we know about this generation?  It is essential for employers, managers, and other leaders to understand these Millennials as much as possible in order to increase communication and build relationships with this emerging generation.


Millennials are more tolerant of racial and other differences between groups of people than their predecessors (47% vs. 19%).  45% believe there should be preferential treatment to improve the position of minorities.  The shifting U.S. population is revealed in the diverse make-up of this group: 60% are non-Hispanic whites, compared to 70% for those over the age of 30.  This reflects a record low for whites.  The Millennials are 19% Hispanic, 14% Black, 4% Asian, and 3% mixed or other race.  Another interesting figure is that 11% of this group was born to at least one immigrant parent.


Millennials have grown up learning how to multi-task.  They are apt to switching tasks quickly enough to appear to be doing them simultaneously; however, studies show that they have a greater vulnerability to interference.  These distractions lead to decreased performance.  Studies are showing that the Millennials are actually rewiring the brain because of the extensive multi-tasking that takes place.  Studies reveal they are retraining the brain to reduce the deterioration of performance by increasing the speed of information that the brain processes.  Perhaps this is another reason why this generation appears to have shortened attention spans.


Recent studies seem to indicate that Millennials are more interested in extrinsic life goals and less concerned for others and civic engagement.  They tend to be overly-self-confident and self-absorbed.

Millennials are very adept at self-expression, as evidenced by their activities in social media.  75% have a profile on at least one social networking site, 20% have posted a video of themselves online, 38% have at least one tattoo, and 23% have a piercing somewhere other than their earlobe.  They tend to be very conscious of self-branding, preferring to determine their own path rather than allowing others to create one for them.

Millennials are connected to their phones via texting, with 80% sleeping with their phone next to the bed.  Most Millennials have grown up with parental support and have lived a comfortable lifestyle.  Thirty-six percent of this generation depends on financial support from their families.  They are optimistic and possess confidence, bordering on entitlement, yet 50% of the Millennials feel they are worse off than their parents.


Millennials are becoming the most educated generation, with more than 72% graduating high school.  Approximately 58% of those students entering a four-year institution will receive a bachelor’s degree within six years.  Bachelor degrees conferred are predominantly in business, history, social sciences, health, science, and education.

Millennials score high on IQ tests.  They also score high on the traits of self-esteem, self-liking, high expectations, and assertiveness.  Millennials also tend to be extroverts. However, these traits can often lead to narcissism and entitlement.

Millennials expect a clearly structured academic path.  They want special treatment and seek specific knowledge on what is required for upcoming exams.  College instructors report that Millennials challenge them on grades and the relevance of assignments.

Upon graduation, 29% of the top college graduates will seek employment in the private sector, 17% will seek employment in either a nonprofit field or in education.  Nearly 27% will seek to enter graduate school, while only 2% plan to work for the government.  Other students will look toward the military or other options.


Many regard the millennial generation as one of the most promising generations to succeed in the marketplace, especially as entrepreneurs.  The recession has made it difficult for Millennials to find meaningful employment right after graduation. This has become a catalyst for many to launch their own businesses.  Although the research varies somewhat, nearly two-thirds of Millennials are interested in entrepreneurship, with 27% being self-employed.  Males, blacks, and Hispanics are most inclined to start their own business.  Females tend to be more interested in starting nonprofit organizations.

The biggest challenge Millennials face when starting a business is obtaining a loan or credit.  They are interested in seeing Congress pass legislation that would make it easier to start a business, such as increased access to education, training, and student loan relief.

Observers of Millennials note that while they are great at multitasking, they often lack engagement.  This results in clients being turned away.  The human element and customer relations are skills needing to be developed by the millennial generation.

To meet the demand and interest in entrepreneurship, more than 2000 colleges and universities now offer entrepreneurship curricula.  According to Belmont University, more than 40% of freshman enrolling in their entrepreneurship program have already started a business.  Entrepreneurship curricula is rapidly evolving to meet the needs of the millennial generation and to become more relevant to real world experience.


Millennials strive to develop a work-life balance, more so than any preceding generation.  Lines between work and life can be hard to define in a world that remains connected 24/7.  Most would agree that the workplace is no longer a 9-5 day.

Conflicts between the generations seem to be most noticeable in the workplace.  The workplace too often becomes the arena where ideologies, values, and cultures clash.  Millennials work best when they are given clear guidelines, frequent and immediate feedback, context, clarity, and some independence.  They work well in teams, but they do not do well when they have to work in situations that are ambiguous.   They should avoid being involved in slow or inefficient processes.

Millennials value trust and transparency.  They want improved understanding and communication, but may not know how to verbalize their desires.  Improving relationships with this generation will increase productivity, but will take effort and patience on the part of managers.

Benefits are very important to Millennials.  More than half (56%) desire a quality benefit package, and this will influence their choice of employer.  Sixty-three percent say benefits are a key factor in remaining with an employer.  Most managers believe Millennials put the highest priority on salary; however, research shows that salary has become a threshold issue only.

Contrary to popular opinion, Millennials would prefer stability in the workplace.  Although many leave their jobs after a short time, there are some valid reasons why they leave.  Many have had to take less than desired jobs during the recession, so these Millennials will leave if a better position opens up for them.

Research shows that the number one reason Millennials left a job was directly related to their boss.  Millennials want close relationships and frequent feedback from their managers.  They view their bosses as coaches or mentors, which opens up a tremendous opportunity for older leaders to teach and train the younger generation.   These bosses can earn the loyalty of this generation by honoring commitments and building positive relationships.

Taking the time to invest in positive relationships with Millennials can significantly improve the bottom line for a corporation.  Sun Microsystems developed a mentoring program for their employees.  Those employees who participated in the program had a retention rate 23% higher than nonparticipants.  This saved Sun an estimated $6.7 million.  Sun also found that mentoring programs increased the level of trust in organizational leadership, which increased morale and boosted employee engagement.


While managers are seeing the desired analytical, computer, and teamwork skills demonstrated by the millennial generation, other essential skills need to be developed.  The skills most needing to be developed are communication, work ethic, initiative, interpersonal, and adaptability.

Both Millennials and their bosses realize that growth is needed in the areas of communication skills, as well as the ability to give and receive criticism.  Managers also mentioned that workplace etiquette is another skill needing improvement among Millennials.


Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation studied.  They are bright, educated, optimistic, and ambitious.  They have high expectations regarding their professional goals, and seek to create a balance between work and life.  This generation believes they can have it all, and some believe they are entitled to have it all.

They are not afraid to take some risks, and many have already started their own businesses.  Entrepreneurship is a subject that interests this generation who has come of age in an unstable, ever-changing and weak economy.

Millennials do not expect to stay at one job or company, as their grandparents and great-grandparents once did.  Yet, they may be more loyal to their employers under certain conditions.  The most important reason for leaving a position was conflict with their boss.  Benefits are also important to Millennials, such as health insurance, paid vacations, and 401K’s.

Millennials are looking for mentors who are willing to coach and train them.  They are eager to learn new skills and are willing to participate with other co-workers.  They need clear direction, communication, and frequent feedback.  They need training and development in the areas of communication, customer relations, and workplace etiquette. They need leaders who can be trusted and are willing to be transparent.

As employers and managers, we have an excellent opportunity to invest in this younger generation.  This is our future, and we have both the ability and responsibility to influence Millennials in a positive way.  We can share our experiences with them and teach them in methods that may or may not have been available to us when we first began our careers.  When we make the effort to better understand them and gain their trust and respect, we will see just how promising the millennial generation is, and how much they can offer both the workplace and society.


Works Consulted:

Moshella, Anthony, The Millennial Generation in the Workplace, http://www.anthonymoshella.wordpress.com/essays/millennialgeneration/

Recruiting and Managing the Millennial Generation, PWC HR Survey: Key Findings, http://.www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/key-finding.jhtml

The Millennial Generation Research Review, US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/MillennialsReport. 2012.


Lori E. Ranshaw, Co-Founder, Innovative Excellence in Leadership and Performance, LLC.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *