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How to Understand The Millennial Mindset at Work

Generational researcher Jason Dorsey explains the Millennial mindset and the culture shift happening as this generation move into management roles.

Dorsey, Jason Headshot

Millennials are not as young as we may think they are. In fact, some are entering their 40s and are taking on more management and leadership roles. And, it’s no secret that Millennials do things differently than their Baby Boomer and Gen X predecessors. With this new Millennial mindset, organizational changes will happen when this next generation is in charge. 

But now is the time to implement the changes that are an inevitable aspect of the future workforce, and it starts by uncovering the hidden behavioral drivers of each age group—an area that generational researcher Jason Dorsey understands well. We'll focus first on the Millennial mindset and how to appeal to this generation.

Dorsey, who is the president of The Center for Generational Kinetics, spoke at PMMI’s Executive Leadership Conference (ELC), addressing how companies dealing with attrition brought on by Baby Boomer retirement and the Great Resignation, can navigate this changing workforce. Part of this includes moving Millennials into management positions.

The first step is to change the stereotypical belief of who Millennials are. “We've led nearly 100 research studies to separate myth from truth. And the reason is, so much of what is said about generations is just wrong,” Dorsey said. “For example, Millennials pants are falling off. We live with our parents…We’re not working…[In fact,] Millennials are the number one largest generation in the United States workforce. More than anyone else by far. There are more of us as managers and more of us as business owners…We are paying into Social Security and we know we will not get it. But almost every one of you in this room will. So, thank a Millennial.”

What is a Millennial?

Dorsey dispels the myths circulating around Millennials through fact-finding data. “The specific type of research that we do is, we focus on why things happen, not what.” And a key finding from Dorsey’s research is this: “The reasons why people don't do something are always stronger than the reasons why they do.”

Dorsey outlined some strategies that will help businesses understand the Millennial mindset, and overcome why Millennials might not apply to a company or stay. But first, it’s important to understand the meaning of the word “generation.”

“A generation is only two things. Number one, it's a group of people born about the same time. But the second part of a generation is never talked about at industry events and even within companies. The second part of a generation is, you have to be raised in about the same place,” Dorsey said.

So geography is important. As is social and cultural events. The number one trait that shapes generations, according to Dorsey, is parenting. “How you are raised is the greatest influence on what you will go on to do.”

The second thing that shapes generations is technology. “And what we've uncovered is every generation has a different relationship with technology that is largely driven by their age.” It’s the call vs. text message, the voicemail vs. email. “Technology is only new if you remember it the way it was before. It's our most famous discovery,” Dorsey noted.

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Payday every day

Understanding this “generational context” is crucial for recruiting and retention purposes, as is understanding Millennial’s (and Gen Z’s) relationship with money. The Millennial mindset is they want access to it. As a result, the bimonthly paycheck is being replaced with an emerging trend called “earned wage access,” which allows employees to get paid every day if they want.

Dorsey’s research shows that for young adults, access to earnings trump amount of earnings. "Apply today, get hired today, work today, get paid today. Why is this a massive deal? Because you have millions of young adults who will only know that they should have the option to get paid every day. If you don't offer this, they won't consider working for you.”

In today’s economic environment, where the price of everything is going up, people living paycheck to paycheck need access to their money for food, rent, and transportation.

“By the way, banks are going to start offering this. It's going to be everywhere. Because all of the sudden, we have a whole new group that doesn't know any differently. Earned wage access is going to change this industry real fast,” said Dorsey. Especially since the industries that struggle with turnover are the first ones to implement it. It started with fast food restaurants, now it’s moving to hospitals to help retain nurses, and even engineering firms.

“What I want you to notice is that when it comes to recruiting and retention today, access to pay matters,” Dorsey explained.


Millennial Messaging

Dorsey’s research has also uncovered that Millennials are doing everything later in life, from graduating college to entering the workforce. And, getting married, buying their first home, and having their first child. And, as a result, with the oldest Millennials in their 40s, they are entering a new life stage of adulthood.

Whether it’s keeping up with inflation or a global pandemic that is the cause, everything in their lives has been pushed back. And, as such, companies need to think about how they message Millennials. “The 18 to 34 demographic that people use in this industry a lot, especially the marketing sales side, was based on your life stage in the 1960s. Late bloomers used to be 25 years old, not 38. And that's the lens we're applying. I'm telling you, we're measuring the wrong thing,” said Dorsey.

That means at the top of job applications and the top of retention strategies you need to be talking about benefits and you need to make mental health services a priority.

“If you want [someone] to apply for a job, it’s the first two sentences that determine whether or not a Millennial or Gen Z will read the rest of the job posting.” And, if you want someone to actually finish and submit an application, make sure they can save it and come back to it later, because most likely they started the process from their mobile phone. “What you’re trying to do is drive completed applications. You cannot hire people who don't apply.”

Other strategies companies should implement that appeal to the Millennial mindset include:

Make the onboarding process simple.

Companies like Enboarder will do background checks, facilitate the filling out of tax forms and training all via text before the new employee ever shows up.  “Why is this a big deal? Because now, new employees decide on their first day whether or not they're going to stay,” Dorsey said. “And the first day at most companies is not great. So we’re finding that the onboarding process is absolutely critical. When somebody accepts a job, it is purely provision, you sell them to show up on the first day. And the goal of the first day is to get them to come back tomorrow.” 

Create a talent development program.

Many Millennials feel like they're not getting promoted, and that’s because at many organizations, depending on size, there's not really a place for them to go. So how do you get them to stay? “We need to show progress over promotion,” said Dorsey. “We want to show them how they're learning, growing, and developing. So you're going to create a talent development program.”  Design a two year program that includes training, lunches, projects, and a graduation ceremony and certificate at the end. “This works like magic because they feel like you're investing in them. There's a tangible outcome they can show people they're moving forward. This is a big deal.

 Communicate. A lot.

According to Dorsey’s research, the frequency of communication matters deeply to Millennial managers. This goes back to generational context. “Baby Boomers were taught if their boss was talking to them, something was wrong. Millennials, in particular, were taught that if your boss is not talking to you, you're doing something wrong.”

Above all, remember, while everyone is part of a specific generation, they are individuals first who do not fit neatly into a box based on a birthdate. But take into account the shift in the Millennial mindset. “If you cannot connect, build trust, and drive influence with Millennials, you will not keep them,” Dorsey said.



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