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Coming of age: Millennials will impact the workforce

By Gina Hathorn

Millennials. Those pesky, fast-talking, liberal minded, confident, texting, tweeting maniacs. If stereotypes were accurate, then this would be a short article. Millennials, those persons born after 1980, are growing up in a world vastly different than generations before, so as they join the workforce—about 4 million a year—its no wonder dynamics are looking a bit different as well.

So what would a snapshot of this generation look like exactly? According to the Pew Research Center, an exact picture is unlikely. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2010, entitled Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, revealed that Millennials are more diverse racially and ethnically than previous generations. They also have a more positive outlook on the present and the future in comparison to previous generations—i.e. Baby Boomers and Generation X. Seventy five percent of Millennials have created a profile on a social networking site; one in five has posted a self-recorded video. Nearly twenty five percent have a piercing some place other than an earlobe and a bit less than two fifths have at least one tattoo. Despite these visual attention grabbers, most Millennial utilize privacy boundaries on their online profiles and seventy percent of those tattooed can hide them beneath clothing.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, authors of Millennial Makeover, see many similarities between Millennials and the GI Generation, more commonly referred to as the “Greatest Generation,” (those born between 1901 to 1924). Winogad and Hais argue that though ninety percent of the GI Generation was white, it was diverse by previous standards; many immigrants and persons of varying religious backgrounds comprised the “Greatest Generation.” Parallels also exist between the childhoods of these two generations. According to Winograd and Hais, both eras were labeled “idealist” and were “marked initially by the United States reducing its involvement in international affairs” followed by events that caused Americans to form personal opinions regarding international issues (Winograd, p. 66).

According to the Pew Research Center, though thirty-seven percent of Millennials are unemployed, eighty-eight percent of Millennials are positive that they will eventually meet their long-term financial goals. Winograd and Hais see two reasons for this positivity from Millennials: it is “clearly reflected in their characteristically upbeat and optimistic attitudes” and that logic and reason support their mindset (p. 82). Millennials are on track to being the most educated generation in American history (according to Pew Research Center and authors Winograd and Hais) and so, when the recession—inevitably—lifts, Millennials will be well prepared to take on new jobs created by the rise in economy.

A distinct quality of Millennials is that they are actively choosing careers with an emphasis on meaning. Huffington Post contributor Marc Chardon writes about the difference in career choices between Millennials and other generations. While Baby Boomers and even members of Generation X are choosing “retirement careers” as they look for meaning at the end their careers, such as working for nonprofits or serving as strategic counsel, Millennials’ desire to spend their time in meaningful ways is reflective of the kind of careers they are pursuing now, at the beginning of their work lives. Chardon notes that since Millennials grew up performing “service hours for school” they know the importance of non-profits and want to be a part of what they see as “positive change.”

Chardon also comments on the Internet and how it is impacting the job market. With the rise of technology, “both the kinds of companies and work available shifted," he says. "The web made it possible to connect far beyond our own communities, making global business and global connections much easier” (Chardon, p. 1). Due to this virtual connectivity, it makes it possible for employees to utilize anytime, anywhere to complete work. In fact, Millennials are more likely to complete work from home or in other locations outside of the office. A new program based on this ideal called the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which allows employees to work virtually at flexible hours, increased productivity at Best Buy headquarters by 41% during a trial period.

An article featured on Microsoft’s website made suggestions for employers to better benefit from the natural inclinations of Millennials. “Make sure these Millennials are truly engaged with each other and feel like their voice is heard and can have an impact,” says the author Lauren Kapnick. She also recommends utilizing a method, such as instant messaging and voice or application sharing, which allows employees to interact in real-time no matter their location. Through a better understanding of the way Millennials approach new tools—such as social media—companies have the potential to increase productivity and narrow the gap between the diverse methods preferred by Millennials versus those of older generations.

Winograd and Hais see Millennials making political changes as well. In alignment with the Pew Research Center, they have found that Millennials are the most liberal generation yet. This general progressive view is going to have a profound effect on the new American “political landscape,” as Winograd and Hais put it. Millennials, they say, will “think globally, act locally” (p. 263). Their data show that seventy percent of all 18 to 24 years olds have already traveled outside of the United States and as a result, their views on foreign policy differ from previous generations. Winograd and Hais praise Millennials for attitudes towards foreign policy that “demonstrate a level of sophistication beyond what their ages might suggest” (p. 263). Environmental issues, as well as America’s dependence on foreign oil are both issues close to Millennials' heart, but though Millennials are focused on these wide scale issues, they stake their strong beliefs on the importance of each individual member of society to be held accountable.

Millennials are the largest generation populating the earth. Size alone has left a notable footprint. Size combined with Millennials’ intuitive use of technology, and their strong beliefs will over time, “overwhelm defenders of the status quo and reshape American politics for decades to come,” according to Winograd and Hais (p. 267). Their loud voices and innovative approaches to communication will continue to have impact in the workplace, politics and also society. The confidence Millennials exude forces the world to pay attention; we should anticipate that change is coming and that older generations, like the globe’s newest generation, will adapt.


Winograd, Morley and Michael D. Hais. Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics. Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, 2008.

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