The millennial generation – defined by the Pew Research Center as those born between 1981 and 1997 – is beginning to make up an increasingly larger proportion of the U.S. workforce. As of 2015, millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest living generation. Because immigration is expected to add to its ranks, the number of millennials is actually not expected to reach its peak of 81.1 million until 2036.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2024, millennials will make up about 34 percent of the U.S. workforce. I’m sure you have read at least one of the countless of articles written about the millennial generation, but whatever your ideas or preconceived notions about them, the fact is that millennials will be in leadership positions for years to come – and will likely reshape the way we think about leadership.
I recently had the opportunity to take part in a yearlong professional development class called #2020Beyond. The program was led by Courtney Wright, an entrepreneur and current CEO of Illinois-based Gemini Builds It!, and Bob Berk, a former business executive, author and chair of the executive leadership coaching and training organization Vistage.
It focused on many areas that you would expect to find at a development course: self-awareness, leadership, culture, financial acumen and execution. However, our entire 25-student class was made of millennials who are on the cusp of or have recently started to take more senior leadership positions within their organizations.
During this year with my fellow millennials classmates, I quickly realized I had believed many of the common misconceptions about my generation and I could learn as much from my fellow classmates as from our instructors regarding changes I might see in my industry as millennials take on more senior positions.
3 Misconceptions about Millennial Leaders
Many non-millennial executive leaders freely admit they don’t know all that much about millennials – and quite a few may even say that the information they’ve heard about them isn’t positive. While millennials have sometimes gotten a bad rap in the media, numerous studies have shown, and personal experience in my class reinforced for me, that these are misconceptions. Allow me to set the record straight.
Misconception #1: “Millennials aren’t loyal to their employer. They’ll jump ship as soon as they get the opportunity.”
Truth: Millennials are the most educated generation, are passionate about their careers and are more likely to stay with their employer for a longer period of time than Generation Xers did at the same age. In fact, many of my classmates in the #2020 class had only worked for their current employer since leaving college five to 10 years prior and had plans to stay and grow with their companies. Many students were so loyal to their employer that they stayed beyond when many in the class thought it might be wise to move to a new opportunity.
Misconception #2: “Millennials aren’t engaged in the workplace. They aren’t willing to put in the long hours at the office needed to be successful.”
Truth: Millennials consider being successful in a meaningful career one of the most important goals in their lives. Although they are willing and expect to work hard to achieve that goal, they do not want to have to sit in a cubicle all day to do so. They are driven by results – not the process that they used to get there. So long as they deliver a great work product, they don’t see why they couldn’t do it while working at a coffee house.
During my class, I was often surprised to see how engaged many of my classmates were in their careers and how they truly wanted to contribute to their business. But my classmates were also focused on finding an ideal work-life balance.
Misconception #3: “Millennials are sheltered and don’t understand the world today. They have been coddled by their helicopter parents.”
Truth: Millennials are a global generation. They are the most diverse generation in U.S. history and have been influenced by the explosion of globalization. They have a connection to the broader world and feel that they have a responsibility to take care of it. They value social and corporate responsibility – and they hold their employers to this same standard. Many of my classmates had traveled extensively. A few had gone on long international trips for both work and pleasure during the class.
Additionally, it appeared that one of the most important goals of those in the class was to not just understand the world in which they live, but to make it a better place. They acted ethically and want to work for an ethical company is committed to doing good. The most meaningful class of the year was when we volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides the families with hospitalized children a place to stay at little to no cost in Chicago near Lurie’s Children’s Hospital.
4 Ways Millennial Leaders May Change the Workplace
Millennials may change the culture of today’s workplace with their desire to make a positive impact on their communities and society as a whole. For companies involved in security and risk mitigation, such as Hillard Heintze, I expect we may see some changes in the focus of our work.
- There may be a higher demand that companies maintain a sense of social responsibility, while still ensuring profitability. We may see an increase in cases in which a high-net-worth family wants to confirm that its substantial charitable donations are being spent wisely, or a multi-billion dollar business that wants to ensure those most vulnerable in their supply chain are treated fairly.
- Firms may seek out executives with broader worldviews that include factors such as work experience, education and what they post about online.
- Millennials have a focus on transparency and communication, and businesses may want to ensure their new leaders have similar values.
- A focus of future corporate due diligence projects could include a review of how an executive leveraged their creativity and knowledge of technology to solve tough problems.
Millennials in the Years Ahead
Millennials have already changed some aspects of the modern economy, and as they take more leadership positions, they will likely change some aspects of the organization’s culture and the way it does business.
No matter what your thoughts are on these changes, it likely will be in a business’s interest to stay informed on trends and changes in the workplace to retain the best and brightest young professional to keep the business vibrant and growing.
If you think you might already have some of these young rising executives in your organization, you might want to consider them for the #2020Beyond course. You can find our more at this website: https://2020beyond.com/.