While marketing to Gen Y requires a keen understanding of intergenerational differences, have you tried working with them? The economic downturn has had a profound and negative impact on Gen Y, stalling many a fledgling career. Yet, as the rebound begins, many marketing departments are augmenting their ranks with candidates that belong to their target market.

In the last month, Neil Howe has updated our understanding of this generation with his latest book, Millennials in the Workplace (co-written by Reena Nadler). What Howe reveals is a continuation of the same generational characteristics that he and William Strauss outlined as early as 1991. The seven core traits that underlie their description of this generation are: Special, Sheltered, Confident, Team-Oriented, Conventional, Pressured and Achieving.

These traits have followed this generation as they have progressed through each stage of their lives to date and are essential as employers seek to understand what makes their newest and youngest contributors tick. I highly recommend this book and will even go so far as to send a copy signed by the authors to the first reader to provide a personal anecdote on what it's like to work with Millennials in their own work environment in the Comments section here.



I'll start with our own Gen Y workplace anecdote. Back when we started SurveyU (a company we've since merged with Ypulse), we decided that we should practice what we preach and set about to hire the best and brightest member of Gen Y that we could find. Our candidate participated in an ongoing program that we have with the Illinois Institute of Technology, wherein we put live ammunition into the hands of college students that are studying research methods, allowing them to conduct their own research projects with our panel, research platform and support.

Our target candidate immediately stood out from the pack so, once she graduated, we made her a job offer. After several iterations, we realized that we weren't negotiating with our prospective employee, rather, we were in reality negotiating with her mother (see core trait #2 - Sheltered).

In an attempt to speed along the process, we invited both parties to the negotiating table and managed to bring her aboard. Over the course of the past three years we have witnessed these seven core traits in action on a daily basis by each and every one of our Millennial colleagues.

While it is, at times, frustrating to a pack of Gen X workaholics -- who were trained to do as they were told -- to have to explain the context and import of each daily task required from Gen Y colleagues (see core trait #1 - Special), their sheer productivity as they manage information unlike any staff we've ever seen before (see core trait # 7 - Achieving) is well worth the effort in keeping them aligned with corporate goals.

Interestingly, Gen Y is very sensitive to what technologies you provide them to do their job. According to a 2008 study by Accenture, "New-Generation Workers," 52% of those aged 14-27 said that state-of-the-art technology is an important consideration in selecting an employer. In the same study, more than 20% (of those that had a job) said that the technologies offered by their employer did not meet their expectations.

It used to be that the most senior employees received the newest equipment, creating a waterfall of increasingly obsolete equipment down to the most junior staff. Turning this around to where each generation gets an appropriate level of technology based on their role and technological profile may be in order -- ASAP.

I had a chance to discuss the issue of cross-generational work styles with Stephen Covey in 2007 and he said to me, point-blank: "Any organization that doesn't align itself with the goals and aspirations of its staff will fail." His insights take on a new level of relevance as Gen Y enters the workplace.

9 comments about "@Work ".
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  1. Jennifer Smith from Sklar Wilton + Associates, June 11, 2010 at 11:31 a.m.

    Hi Dan,
    Our experience with Millennials has followed a similar path in some ways. You need to excite the hearts and minds of Millennials to engage them truly in the task and allow them to make it better. If they are working on 'junior' stuff that doesn't challenge them, their sense of work/life balance kicks in and they leave the building without having truly made a difference. When we engage them to a task that will unleash their amazing creativity and skill (like coming up with new and better ways to facilitate innovation in a session...or new and better ways to visually present information and data), they unleash their wonderful traits and help make our company better. I love the way Millennials can amass and present visually to build clarity. I look forward to more. Best,

  2. Daniel Coates from Youth Pulse, Inc., June 11, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    We have a winner! Jennifer, I'll send the book to your attention at Sklar Wilton in TO. Keep the comments coming, even though we don't have enough books for everyone, we'd love to hear your insights into GenY at Work.

  3. Ely Bonder from Emage-Media, June 11, 2010 at 12:07 p.m.

    I find that this gen is born with a make-this-a-better-world type of character, and also has a healthy sense of humour, inculcated by Homer Simpson. I really do. There is a comradeship amongst members of this gen that springs from shared TV watching and music idols. Hmmm, just like in the fifties ! Hmmm, just like me (59 years old !) .

  4. Carol Phillips from BrandAmplitude, LLC, June 11, 2010 at 12:13 p.m.


    Marketing to Millennials and working with Millennials have a lot in common as you note. While brands need a higher purpose and sensitivity to their unique needs and styles, so do organizations. I believe this will be especially important for service organizations where often it is the face of a Millennial that first meets the face of their customers. There has always been a close alignment between HR and Marketing and the brand is the intersection point.

  5. Anita Johnson from NBC Universal, June 11, 2010 at 12:34 p.m.

    As a Gen Y-er, I do identify with some of these traits (except for the sheltered one, my mom always encouraged independence which I greatly appreciated). Teamwork, proper research/tech tools and actively contributing in the workplace are the things I value most. Challenging tasks that keep me engaged are vital so I constantly learn and continue to evolve in my field.

    @Ely, we enjoy keeping ourselves amused! It really lightens the mood at work, and when we people are laughing and smiling, I believe they are more productive.

  6. Thomas Borgerding from Campus Media Group, June 11, 2010 at 1:36 p.m.

    Good message Dan. In our experiences as a youth marketing firm and having a consistent presence of Gen Y in our office, we've seen these traits as being true to form for most. One of the things we did to help Campus Media be more attractive to those we end up hiring is implementing a 2 day per year volunteer policy where our employees can volunteer where they feel they can make a difference for 2 days and not be docked vacation time. As Ely states above, this is our "make-this-a-better-world" policy. The feedback has been pretty amazing thus far. Even little changes like this can make one company more attractive than another. I haven't heard of many other companies that have a similar policy yet. I can see it as something that will be standard in the future. I also had a had spouse who was part of the decision making process. Gen Y is getting older and it isn't just mom coming in but do expect spouses to be part of the hiring process now too. - Tom

  7. Kim McCarten, June 11, 2010 at 10:35 p.m.

    Uh, why is everyone so accommodating to junior staff and so worried about how fulfilled they're feeling?

    They don't even have enough sense to be embarrassed by bringing mommy or spouse to job interviews with them.

    There's also is a highly inappropriate annoying sense of entitlement (kinda reminds me of boomers that way. But at least boomers work hard.)

    The ones I've worked with have zero staying power, low productivity, and are constantly waiting to be told what to do next instead of looking around to see what might need to be done and showing some initiative.

    They need to grow up---and fast. Coddling in the workplace won't help them get over their 'specialness.'

  8. Christi Pemberton from GC Style Magazine, June 12, 2010 at 1 a.m.

    This is a good conversation....these are the following reasons why it is good to accommodate Generation Y + Millennials when they enter the workforce. In general it boils down to -- the generation's serious Purchasing Power, New Century = New Rules in Business/Careers, Influencers, and Technology Savvy.

    Generation Y/Millenials, along with Generation X, is "the" purchasing power of today and in the years to come..which is clearly stated in a recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers, they are the lead spenders who are leading the current economic recovery...which was also found in this 2010, this generation is beating out the baby boomers big time in this kind of influence and economic power. This study was also posted in a MediaPost article a few months back.

    Also let's consider this...the old way of doing business and just going about how we do things in our society are "over"...the 21st century is a whole new ball game and unlike the rules of the 20th century in many ways. Now, this generation has options galore with the help of the internet, regardless of the economy; therefore, they can pick and choose which place will accommodate them and career. A big concept to think about is "lifestyle design", which is a major thing to understand in this new century. Plus, it is even more doable to start your own business and be successful at it, which is another option for this group, along with building global connections and business partnerships with the internet as the tool. Designing one's career is a huge part of "lifestyle design" want the great and talented for your company, you need to understand that concept like the back of your hand.

    A Generation Y employee can make friends and build business relations all over the world that is equal to a seasoned CEO. They can do this before even stepping out of their home for their first international trip.

    This generation knows that if you can use the current and "up to date" technology, then you got an edge over those who do not....this century requires that kind of savvy...and it also requires "innovation"...which this generation has coming out of their ears.

    Here is a very crucial and important point; this generation knows the power of "influence"....using the internet to persuade influence others about whether a brand is worth your time or not is very common..and it works in many cases...and this generation knows how to use that strategy very well. A company that can work with this group and accommodate them better has a better chance of having the company brand capture more consumers...or else lose consumers.

    In conclusion...if a company can't accommodate what Generation Y/Millennials seek, then this group will find a company who will..and they can influence other online friends and associates to favor or not favor your brand according to how you treat them. This generation will blaze their own trail if they desire to do so. Again, they are the generation holding the purchasing power...not the baby boomers now. So, be a little more understanding with them.

  9. Kim McCarten, June 12, 2010 at 2:36 a.m.

    I told myself if 'Merri' or 'Christy' (she signed her emails to me 'Christy') emailed me directly yet again, I would post them ... she clearly has nothing but time on her hands (and perhaps love the sound of her own voice?) to write paragraph after paragraph after paragraph ...

    Generally, it's more of the same of her overexplanation (posted here)---I tried to tell her that purchasing power wasn't the topic, employee behavior and employER expectations and needs were, but alas, this seems to have gotten by.

    I don't really expect anyone to read this; but since she decided to email me again and again, I thought I'd post it here (just so anyone who is rained in, waiting for a plane, waiting in the dr office with nothing to do) can read the breadth and depth of her knowledge on ... another subject:

    [my (short) responses are included just for tracking purposes.]

    And we would hire them because ...

    * * * *
    Her first email to me, sadly, already deleted: three LONG paragraphs about Price Waterhouse, purchasing power of GenY, whiny, whiny, whiny ...

    I just skimmed.

    * * * * *
    My response
    (typed in subject line; brevity is next to ... something):

    Spoken like a GenYer ...I just scanned, but got your (sorry, inaccurate) gist---but thanks for responding!

    * * * *

    Her second email
    (another long one ... make sure your flight hasn't been called):

    Thank you for your very quick response. I am flattered....I am actually in the Generation X on the younger side.  Everything I stated are facts that I had to learn from several strong research studies (Pricewaterhouse) and also interviewing CEO's of large companies myself (I produce online business-lifestyle shows) I used to work with many in this GenY group as a former university employee. This is a topic that many major companies are discussing and investing a lot of money to learn more about this group and attract them as workers and consumers. We can look at current Lexus strategies (major marketing strategy to that generation displayed at the recent spring NYC car show), Mercedes, top tech companies, television shows/reality shows/Bravo, food and fitness..and see that these groups are after the GenY/Millennials as both workers and consumers.  

    I will refer you Friday's CNBC segment where they had interviews with top management of several major retail companies. They interviewed the Coach (handbag) company and Google among others. The interviews I saw were saturated with the understanding of the ways of Generation Y/Millennials...and these companies are doing well in profits despite the lingering economic worries. So, I have to say take their word for it, Pricewaterhouse, and other notables, about this issue since the proof is in the pudding from these companies....I guess we can call them "the big boys and girls" of business "know how". 

    Since you stated, "spoken like a true GenY" have just displayed your prejudice, which is a "kiss of death" in business..especially in fast changing business market where we have kids in their 20's forming fortune 500 companies.

    Thank you!

    * * * *
    My second response
    (I'm up doing research right now, which is why I'm online):

    Purchasing power isn’t the topic, Christy, please, say goodnight and go away---I’ve got work to do!

    Thank you!

    * * * *
    Here *third* email to me (it was surprisingly shorter .. but then I saw she posted an even longer response to the topic here, so of course, a person, even Christi/Merri, has only so much time):

    Purchasing Power Determines Your Work Life...Business 101....LOL. Have a good work day. 


    * * * *
    Um, did that prove any point about the generation?? I'm just sayin' ...

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