The problem with Millennials


Oh, dear lord, where do I start?

A topic as rich in ammunition and indeed as polarising as "The problem with Millennials" needs no introduction. But – if I may – let me draw a few published headlines and excerpts to your attention;

Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation – Time Magazine. May, 2013

"What millennials are most famous for besides narcissism is its effect: entitlement. If you want to sell seminars to middle managers, make them about how to deal with young employees who e-mail the CEO directly and beg off projects they find boring."

Millennials: The Modern Workplaces Most Wicked Problem – AKC Global

"Never before in human history has there been a generation that shares less with its predecessors in terms of values, incentives and the way they engage with the world (namely, the significant role technology plays in their lives)."

Millennial Survey 2016. Deloitte, 2016

"Millennials, in general, express little loyalty to their current employers and many are planning near-term exits, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited’s fifth annual Millennial Survey. This remarkable absence of allegiance represents a serious challenge to any business"

The Problem With Millennials and Work Ethic – Huffington Post. February 2016

“Despite our less-than-a-decade difference in age, it seems we are worlds apart in the concept of work ethic.”

Millennials frustrate HR execs – Chicago Tribune. September, 2014

“One HR professional set up interviews for two millennial candidates with the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company. Not only did they both cancel at the last minute, they asked if the interview could be done over Skype instead of in person, because it was too inconvenient to travel from the East to West Coast.”

It’s compelling stuff hey.

This generation – in broad terms, those who were born between 1982 and 2000 –  will, by all accounts, make up approximately 50% of the workforce by 2020. Like it or otherwise, they are going to ride over the top of us. In the US alone their spending power is in the vicinity of $200Billion annually. Analysts have variously described them as the generation with purchasing power, no brand loyalty, opinions and a desire to use shortcuts to get to where they want (often the top) as quickly as possible.

The world is doomed

Millennials are an often derided, much lampooned, societal segment who are on the cusp of taking over – and the truth is, there is nothing we can do about it.

Or is there?

I am here to say there is. Oh, absolutely there is.  We can help them do it and in the process, learn from them! In fact I would argue, we need to learn from them.

For too long, I (now embarrassingly admit) stood in the crowd of non-millennials throwing dirty looks, talking about them under my breath and criticising them for wanting to do things their own way all the time. My voice found resonance with my fellow Gen X’ers and together we plotted (if perhaps not implementing) their downfall.

Now irrespective of whether you subscribe to the belief that Generation C supersedes all other generational classifications, I think there are definitive characteristics of the generation known as the Millennials which we should be tapping into. How much could we achieve by reconsidering what we have traditionally been fired up about:

  • Why is it that we are willing to believe that technology holds the keys to the future, yet are critical of the way which Millennials use it?
  • We often begrudge the fact millennials need to inform others about what they are doing (#ilovesydney, #fridayworkdrinks, #Peroni), yet, brands would love to have the permission and ability to reach out in a relevant way to others.
           -  I cede the point that Generation C are bridging this gap, but are we learning fast enough? To my mind, Native is half way there, but half way is thus, Not there.
  • 35% of Millennials (in the US) have started their own business on the side of their full-time role to supplement their income. What are we doing to tap into this added savvy?
  • 92% of millennials believe business success is more than just financial. What impact will this have for realigning work-life balances?
  • Due to social tools, they inherently understand the notion of one-to-many communication (Instagram, YouTube etc), an essential skill for disparate workforces. As more and more workforces become remote, how are we learning to adapt?
  • This generation grew up on technology. They know where to research, how to research and can do it in timeframes which greatly reduce the overall time needed. Are we learning from them or staying true to what we know?
  • Millennials believe YOLO and we mock them for it. They see, they do, they love or hate, but either way they learned and experienced. But this is the very essence of the Agile platform businesses are wanting to move towards. Why do we ridicule on the one hand and endorse with the other?

So the problem with Millennials is…

So back to my original question: Where do I start?

It’s a painfully simple answer. Start with what we know best - Ourselves. The problem with Millennials is us. We of the “I am not a Millennial” generations, are not doing enough to fully embrace what they bring to us. Whilst we are starting to improve – probably by virtue of the fact they have started to move into management and are implementing their own practices, rather than as a nod to our own smarts – why are we not doing it faster?

The problem with MillennialsTo paraphrase John Donne “No generation is an island”. In this vein, we need to team up with this savvy generation and take the time to work together, to learn from each other and to then, grow faster. Therein lie the keys to success. 

After all, if we do not join them, I assure you, I now realise, they will push on without us anyhow.





Hamish Anderson

Founder and Director at Mesh Consulting

Passionate about pushing the envelope, I am driven by the understanding that there is always more than one answer to any problem or question. I am a results focussed senior marketer with a history of improving ROI by successfully aligning offline marketing with online customer acquisition, through innovative strategy supported by mobile, web, SEM, social and content development.

Comments (1)
Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt, Owner at Startup Chucktown

Hamish, You make some great points, however, I have a bit of alternative perspective to put out there. I'm on the "high end" of millennial. I was born in 1983 (I have a sister that was born in 1980 an GenXer). I don't see us as that different. I really loathe being lumped in with millennials. Why? Many of the stereotypes you've put forward are indeed stereotypes for a good reason. I find that the generation has not only become wholly reliant on technology but they are are addicted to it. Many simply couldn't function without blazing fast internet/wifi/LTE and they would especially not function well without their smartphones. What problems does this bring? Many don't know how to actually have an in-depth or even casual small talk with others. Many of them refuse to "talk on the phone" as they would rather text a stream of emoji or send an awkward snapchat. They have zero patience. Whether that is in traffic, waiting for something to be released, etc. They grew up with getting basically everything "right now". Obviously speed is a good thing in most situations but it doesn't teach perseverance. My biggest concern is the amount of millennials that only consume content from others without creating anything original themselves (sure many create a boat load of selfies, but that isn't exactly quality content). Sure there are plenty bucking the trend, but not enough. It is great to stay up to date and on the edge of innovation, however, their utter lack of retaining knowledge is frightening. Sure you can "Google" anything and everything, but many things are worthwhile to actually learn and retain.