According to the PEW Research Center, roughly 10,000 baby boomers (born post–World War II, approximately 1946 to 1964) will turn 65 today; about 10,000 more will celebrate that milestone every day for the next 14 years. As baby boomers age and move toward retirement, companies need to have their replacements ready to step in.
These days, that group includes a large number of millennials (born between 1977 and 1995). Until last year, baby boomers made up the largest portion of the U.S. population, and Gen X’ers (born in the early 1960s to the late 1970s) were the biggest share of the workforce. Now millennials, also known as Gen Y’ers, lead in both categories and hold about 20 percent of all management jobs, up from three percent in 2005.
Just who are the millennials?
There are approximately 80 million millennials in the U.S. They were in school on 9-11, got trophies for participating in a sport, no matter how well they did, grew up sleeping next to their phones and computers, graduated college with a significant amount of debt and due to that debt, they often move back in with their parents after graduating. In addition, they are perceived to:
- Feel entitled
- Love instant gratification
- Have big expectations
Add to that their alleged lack of communication skills, poor work ethic and a lack of critical thinking and problem solving abilities, and you have to wonder if you really want to hire them for the long term.
But, are they really lazy, uninterested and self-entitled? Or, are they merely misunderstood?
Every generation brings their own different, valuable and sometimes unique method of delivery to a workplace and to its culture; millennials bring a mindset, skillset and enthusiasm that hasn’t existed in previous generations. Or, one that has been forgotten with time.
More often than not, these negative qualities are balanced by the fact that they are hungry to work and learn, creative, innovative, team players, optimistic, confident, trusting, rule-followers and generally achievement-oriented.
Millennials can be multitasking, valuable, loyal, high-performing associates, managers and leaders. And, their skills are assets that employers need to leverage. They are often untethered and flexible, without mortgages and significant commitments, able to work longer hours, attend meetings and travel on short notice, and relocate if an opportunity becomes available.
Do they want to lead?
Actually, they do. Ninety one percent of millennials aspire to be leaders, according to the recent Millennial Leadership Study, and almost half of them define leadership as “empowering others to succeed.” They want to use their teamwork and empathy skills to bring up those around them and provide them with a sense of purpose.
They also want to lead with heart and purpose, not money. When asked why they want to lead, 43 percent of those surveyed want to empower others. Only five percent said they would do it for money and just one percent said power. Organizations should be very interested in the type of leaders millennials want to be. More than 60 percent of those surveyed want to be transformational leaders. They are the group you want in your C-suite, those seeking to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement, to create real and lasting change.
How can you help millennials become better leaders?
Millennials come into a job thinking they have the skills needed to be effective, empathetic, transformational leaders, which is why some often don’t want to stay in non-managerial roles for long, unless they see a clear path to the executive suite.
That said, even though they want to lead, they will admit when they are not ready. Forty three percent of those in the Millennial Leadership Study say their weakest leadership skill is their lack of industry experience and forty one percent said they lacked technical expertise.
To meet these needs, companies need strong training programs that include both teaching the technical skills required as well as the softer leadership skills. Gen X’ers and baby boomers have the technical experience and expertise and management knowledge and must transfer it to the millennials before they retire. (Keep in mind that millennials don’t want to sit in a classroom for a day or a week. They want the opportunity to learn online at their own pace and have mentors that provide the more hands on knowledge transfer.)
Millennials want stronger leadership development programs. More than half surveyed in the Millennial Leadership Study said they aren’t satisfied with the leadership development opportunities their companies offer. More than a third also say their company suffers from poor leadership, and they don’t have the mentors and leaders to look up to and emulate.
Millennials will be responding to emails at midnight, but they’ll want to be out of the office when they do it. To them, work life balance is essential. (In a 2015 Ernst & Young Global Generations Research survey, close to 80 percent of those surveyed were part of dual income couples where both work fulltime.) They look for companies with flexible work schedules and opportunities to telecommute and will take the jobs that offer these perks, even if that means a lower salary. And, they need to see that this balance is in place at the senior management level. Twenty eight percent of millennials in the Millennial Leadership Study said that the loss of work life balance was their biggest reservation about being a leader.
Every new generation that enters the workforce frustrates the ones already there, and each generation assumes the one after them has it easier than they did. It’s critical to find ways to bridge the generations, so millennials and their co-workers from previous generations work together to perform at their highest levels.
What’s your plan for attracting the best of this generation and nurturing and training them to become your next leaders? Are you identifying millennials with high potential and creating a strong pipeline that can fill the void left by the retirement of your baby boomers? Without a plan, you could find yourself losing some of your strongest employees, falling behind and ultimately losing to your competition.
 Date ranges are estimates. Research differs on the exact start and end dates of these generations. These dates are from The Center for Generational Kinetics.
McLean, Koehler, Sparks & Hammond (MKS&H) is a professional service firm with offices in Hunt Valley and Frederick. MKS&H helps owners and organizational leaders become more successful by putting complex financial data into truly meaningful context. But deeper than dollars and data, our focus is on developing an understanding of you, your culture and your business goals. This approach enables our clients to achieve their greatest potential.