More than 1 in 3 American workers today are millennials (ages 18 to 34), surpassing both GenXers and baby boomers to become the largest share of the American workforce
Meet Ron Machamer. He’s 22 and a senior marketing major at San Diego State. After graduation, he’d love a job in sports marketing. For now, he works a full-time paid internship for a local nonprofit recruiting research group. It’s a virtual company, so he usually works from home. He’s never far from his trusty Samsung Galaxy Note 4. After hours, he watches hockey and hangs out with friends.
In many ways, Machamer is the very model of a modern millennial worker. He’s ambitious, plugged in and willing to learn on the fly. He works hard but doesn’t let his job take over his life, even if he does answer email during vacation.
Millennials, the generation that grew up on video games and Facebook, have surpassed GenXers and baby boomers as the single largest demographic in the workplace. More than 53.5 million strong, the 18-to-34-year-olds are remaking what it means to work.
They care about getting ahead, but not about corner offices. They’re not intimidated by tech or older colleagues, whom they often help with tech support. More are working for themselves, out of choice or necessity. They want a job, and a life.
Millennials are “rethinking every aspect of the workplace, productivity, communication and collaboration,” sums up Bryan Clark, 33, a director in commercial real estate finance company HFF’s San Diego office. “Millennials are changing the way we think about where we work, where and how we live, and where and how we play.”
The same, and different
Much has been made of differences between millennials, GenXers and baby boomers. But some of those differences are more myth than reality, according to researchers who study generational differences at work.
Millennials place a higher value on jobs with flexible schedules that don’t take away from the rest of their lives. “That’s the biggest generational change, the desire for more work/life balance,” said Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic.” They’re more apt to want a job with a lot of vacation time, work at an easy pace and not want a boss looking over their shoulder, Twenge said.
Contrary to popular belief, millennials are not more interested in work that helps others than GenXers or boomers, according to Twenge, an SDSU psychology professor who uses her research to help companies plan hiring strategies. Companies that offer jobs based on altruistic values or aim to attract employees with opportunities to volunteer “will likely be no more successful than they were for previous generations,” according to research Twenge published in 2010 in the Journal of Business Psychology.
Twenge’s research also shows that younger workers are not intrinsically more likely to jump from job to job as older generations either, suggesting that if they’re happy with what they’re doing, they’ll stay put.
If younger workers leave a job, it’s because they’re not being paid, promoted or trained to the level they want, said Jennifer Deal, a researcher on generational differences and author of “What Millennials Want From Work,” due out in January. People talk about millennials needing their hands held and getting their parents involved in job interviews and other aspects of their jobs, said Deal, a senior research scientist with the San Diego-based Center for Creative Leadership.
According to Deal’s research, younger workers “really don’t want” their parents involved in their work life. But they do want feedback to understand how they can improve. “They’re independent, they don’t trust authority, they want to figure things out themselves,” she said. “They want help but not advice, help getting something done, but not advice how to do it.”
A generation of entrepreneurs
Millennials also job hop because they’re cynical realists who saw firsthand how the recession devastated their families or friends, said Steve Osinski, a retired ad agency executive who teaches upper-level sales and marketing classes at SDSU. “They have less expectation of a long-term career” than older generations, said Osinski, chair of SDSU College of Business Administration’s entrepreneurship center advisory board. “It’s a little sad because they’re so young and so jaded in some ways.”
Osinski says he tries to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in students he teaches so they’re prepared to work for themselves, which more young adults are doing. Half to two-thirds of millennials are interested in entrepreneurship, and 27 percent are already self-employed, according to 2012 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report.
Jenny Amaraneni is one of them. The 30-year-old founder of SOLO Eyewear, which sells sunglasses with recycled bamboo frames, credits her big break to studying entrepreneurship in school and then immersing herself in that world. “Two years later, I developed the idea for SOLO Eyewear. By that time, I had developed the confidence to turn that dream into a reality and I launched the company,” she said.
Millennials want to feel valued as individuals, not just as part of a team, and to be challenged by what they’re doing, according to Jason Dorsey, a researcher with The Center for Generational Kinetics. They also care more about a company’s culture than its size or industry. There’s a perception that millennials want to work for Google or other big companies, “and we found that’s not true,” said Dorsey, chief strategy officer for the Austin-based research and consulting firm. “If it’s a car dealership with a great culture and leaders they believe in, they are just as happy working there as at a place with big name recognition.”
Not all millennials are destined for STEM jobs, but growing up with Gameboys, Xboxes and iPhones has made them masters of figuring out technology on the fly. They’re comfortable with adapting to the new, and the way they’ve mastered using mobile devices is an example of that, Osinski said. “Mobile isn’t that different. It’s like eight-track to cassette to CDs. It’s a radical but more accessible way of doing things.”
Their adaptability and facility with digital devices means young workers are often called on to act as de facto tech support.
At the Talent Board, a San Diego nonprofit researcher that tests companies’ job application processes, Machamer is the go-to guy for all things social media. When he started working for the organization eight months ago, he knew as much as he needed to manage his personal social media accounts. He took an online course to train himself on Hootsuite, a popular social media management tool.
Today, Machamer manages Talent Board’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts. He also recently helped revamp the website. “I agree that millennials in general are a lot more apt to dive in and figure it out,” he said. “We do what we have to do to make it happen.”
Millennials are the first generation to work for so-called virtual companies, enterprises with no physical headquarters and employees who clock in from home offices or remote locations that could be spread across the country or the globe. Because bosses at virtual companies can’t manage by walking around, they have to evaluate people on their performance instead. That is engendering more flexible workplaces, where it doesn’t matter where, when and how people work as long as they get the job done.
Just because they might work at home doesn’t mean millennials aren’t interested in connecting with co-workers. “They don’t want all their contact to be over the phone,” Deal said. “They love their teams and they like having their boss around. The people make the workplace for millennials like with older generations. And when they don’t feel like they have a community at work, they’ll go look for one elsewhere, for another organization that has that community feel.”
Amber Frankhuizen, 28, a sales manager with Zephyr, the Encinitas real estate developer, suggests that fellow millennials pursue opportunities where they get more than a paycheck. “Look for where you can get an education,” Frankhuizen said. “You might accept less pay for the chance to work with strong teams, learn from leaders in your industry, or to do something that pushes you outside your comfort zone.”
Michelle V. Rafter is a freelance writer covering jobs and employment issues. firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published at www.sandiegouniontribune.com on March 4, 2015.