Here Come the Millennials

The largest living American generation is ready to take the business world by storm — but they’ll do it their way.



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Alicia Osborne

 

Try Googling the word “millennial” and you’d be amazed at the research that has already gone into this generation, once more commonly referred to as the Echo Boom, or the sons and daughters of those born soon after the end of World War II.

For decades, their parents have been the driving force in our nation’s economy. At their peak in 1999, baby boomers numbered 78.8 million. This past year, that total was expected to drop to 74.9 million while the Millennial Generation, whose ages in 2015 ranged from 18 to 34, climbed to 75.3 million — on their way to an expected 80 million peak.

Herculean efforts are being made to understand these younger Americans, once also known as Gen Y, who comprise one-third of the U.S. workforce. Their work ethic, buying habits, goals and general outlook on life have been put under a microscope as the business world — from banks to retailers to Realtors and even opera houses and art galleries — has searched for the best way to understand them and harness their potential buying power.

Who are they? In a 2010 study, the Pew Research Center described millennials — named as such because they are the first generation to come of age in the new millennium — as “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.” Further studies done by a variety of sources from Wall Street to universities have shown these Americans to be highly educated, optimistic, less religious, more ethnically diverse and in no hurry to marry or purchase their own home. They want to make a difference in their communities and the world, although not necessarily committing to any long-term projects. According to a 2014 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, they are also interested in their quality of life, having time for recreation and working in creative jobs.

It’s hard to generalize a whole generation in just a few descriptive words. And it’s unfair to lump together members of one generation. But there are some stark differences between millennials and those who came before them.

“Baby boomers love a challenge. They are focused on work and achievement,” explains Xuan Tran, an associate professor of hospitality, recreation and resort management at the University of West Florida, who has studied the millennials. “Members of Generation X feel they need more security, so they focus on power. For Generation Y (millennials), if you want to work with them, you need to make sure they can balance between work and family.”

 

Seeking ‘Fun’ at Work

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, founders of Barefoot.

Courtesy of the Barefoot spirit

While their parents and grandparents grew accustomed to strict working hours and often tightly controlled working conditions early in their careers, millennials yearn for a better experience at their workplace. According to a recent report from Accenture, 60 percent of the graduates in the class of 2015 say they would take a pay cut to work for a company with a “positive social atmosphere.”

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are the founders of Barefoot, the largest bottled wine brand in the world. In their book, “The Entrepreneurial Culture,” they share the methods and tactics they used to make the company, which has been sold to EJ Gallo, so successful. Their message: It’s a myth that productivity improves when company cultures are rigid, serious and businesslike. The reality is, productivity improves when people enjoy being at work.

At Barefoot, they concentrated on fun, respect for all (regardless of age), philanthropy, flex hours, showing appreciation for a job well done and treating workers as individuals instead of cogs in the machine. And while going to work might not beat a day at the beach, they insist it’s still possible to make time at the office enjoyable.