“The millennial market is driving me mad!” is a statement I routinely hear from organizational leaders of the Baby Boomer and Silent Generations. At times, it seems as though there is no limit to the generational differences between Millennials and their predecessors.
With Millennials representing over $200 billion in annual buying power, Generation Y (and their “frustrating” worldviews) are not a force to overlook. Established organizations seeking continued relevance in our ever-changing world will need to incorporate millennial-friendly practices and strategies into their operations.
The generational gap between millennial behaviors and priorities is a well-documented area of friction between that of previous generations.
Millennial values regarding money and work priorities continue to fall in contrast with traditional values identifying the Silent, Baby Boomer, and even some members of Generation X. Some of their paradigm characteristics seem to almost lie in contrast with demographic changes and events, such as Millennials prioritizing social entrepreneurship, spending 70 percent more on brands that support causes, despite being the most indebted generation in American history.
But why do they think that way?
So why do Millennials avoid Corporate America, lead alternative lifestyle movements (Tiny Houses, anyone?), and patronize high-dollar social entrepreneurship brands with a near-religious fervor?
Some of my Boomer colleagues cite “too much Saturday morning TV during childhood”, while others continue to blame “lack of work ethic and real-world values of the participation ribbon generation”.
While the above reasoning may be contributing factor to why your 32-year-old nephew’s still camping out in momma’s basement, there’s a key factor responsible for generational-based paradigm differences – TRUST.
Millennials don’t trust you, your generation, nor your organization.
Why don’t they trust you?
When leading organizational seminars, I find it most effective to walk my audiences and clients through the “Millennial Timeline” – a series of pivotal events responsible for shaping the distinctly millennial perspectives we see today - to help them understand this generational trust chasm.
Follow me through Generation Y’s timeline, through the lens of this millennial's scope, and have some light shed on why millennials are so distrusting of all things non-millennially:
During my elementary school years, a deeply disturbed student shot nine people in a public high school on a shooting rampage just miles from where I attended school. School shooting drills quickly replaced our routine tornado drills, outdoor recess was suspended, and conversations about killing sprees dominated our normal reading hour. I recall being so scared about the reoccurrence of a school shooting, that I threw up and cried every day before school for weeks following. My mother could not understand my newfound terror of going to school – the Cold War was the biggest security threat her generation had faced.
9/11 Terrorist Attacks:
I was thirteen years old when 9/11 terrorist attacks ripped across our nation. I remember awaiting music class when a teacher screamed and turned on the TV. People were jumping from the Twin Towers, a downed plane in Pennsylvania was engulfed in smoke and flames, conflicting reports of a nation under attack dominated the headlines.
At that time, I had no idea the events of the day would continue to impact both my personal and professional pursuits for years to come. In the hours, days, and months that followed, the nation seized in an unrelenting state of national insecurity, and eventually embarked upon the largest war in our history.
My father-in-law, an accomplished Naval Academy graduate, lost his entire savings in the stock market crash following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Recouping from such a financial hit, he struggled to find comparable employment in the Great Recession that followed. Alongside many of his peers (aka Millennials’ parents), my father-in-law spent nearly a decade grossly underemployed and sporadically unemployed. During what should have been the “peak” of his successful career, resulted in stagnant professional growth and (subsequent) personal depression.
Like millions of other high-qualified professionals across the United States, his well-planned career and investments fell prey to something that would rival the Great Depression. Company Men, anyone?
Anyone recall ol’ Bernie Ebbers, CEO of WorldCom Telecommunications?
Well, Bernie’s deceptive accounting scandal and subsequent bankruptcy (largest filed to-date) left many retirees – including my grandmother - in my community with a gangrenous financial wound. Once hailed as a local “hero” and church leader, Ebbers found himself serving 25-years for his fraudulent practices. Thousands within our tight-knit Mississippi community were left jobless, homeless, and penniless due to his greed.
I wish Ebbers was the only corrupt CEO who’s actions promoted the Sarbanes – Oxley Act of 2002, but such is not the case. Bernie Madoff (history’s largest Ponzi scheme), Kenneth Lay (Enron), Jim Davis (Stanford Financial), John Rigas (Adelphia), and Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco) are just a few others who’ve made recent headlines for unethical business practices. Millennials watched these criminals steal and swindle hard-earned money from middle-class Americans – only to be slapped on the hand – and do not wish to patronize similar entities.
Go to college, study hard, graduate and get a good job,” was the advice I was given senior year of high school. Like millions of other millennials, I went to college, studied hard, and…couldn’t land a job. In fact, the year I graduated college went down in history for offering the highest unemployment rates for college grads in American history.
But it wasn’t just my millennial-self struggling to earn an honest wage, A recent study by Harvard University reported only six in ten millennials have jobs, with half being categorized as part-time (so much for health insurance). Top that off with this not-so-heart-warming statistic: 48 percent of employed college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.
So much for that bachelor’s Millennials went into debt for!
Such is why over half of millennials believe the America Dream is dead.
Trust is Key:
Millennials' takeaway from this series of influential events?
Don’t trust anyone.
Don’t trust corrupt corporations, sold out politicians, click-oriented media, deceptive academic institutions, nor the government that sends our service members into the longest war in American history and turns a blind eye veteran unemployment, suicide, and subpar healthcare. Impressed upon at an early age, millennials quickly adopted this “don’t trust” perspective on any and all ideals and organizations they feel influenced the destructive events highlighted above.
This “I don’t trust you or your organization” is evidenced in all industries currently reveling under Gen Y‘s card swiping influence (or lack thereof). Millennials patronize brand they believe in, they take pay cuts to work for organizations whose ideals mirror theirs, and they are willing to forgo traditional lifestyle requirements in lieu of freedom and inspiration.
Millennials’ paradigm clashes with previous generations isn’t rebellious disrespect – it’s a lack of trust.
Good news – there are multiple venues for today’s organizations to build trust among millennial consumers.
Blogging, social media, and philanthropy are just a few vehicles today's organizations have to rebuild millennial trust. By prioritizing consumer trust-building strategies, even the most traditional of organization can foster relationships with the largest generation in American history - the mind-boggling Millennials.
About Hannah Becker:
Becker Digital is a full-service Marketing and Public Relations Agency dedicated to empowering mission-driven organizations to reach their goals. We apply our expertise in community development, social media strategy, and public relations to connect organizational clients with today’s always-scrolling online users.