Let's call the 'Millennials' the Entrepreneur Generation' and learn to manage the valuable characteristics that set them apart.
My neighbor Adam is a so-called Millennial. That means, according to those who follow pop culture today, that he is between the ages of 19 and 30. (He's 21.) Adam will be entering his senior year of college in September at Penn State. He was born the same year that Bill Clinton was elected president. He never knew Michael Keaton as Batman and he's never heard of Murphy Brown. He grew up watching Rugrats on Nickelodeon and Arthur on PBS. He has always had a cell phone and can't imagine a world without the Internet. Growing up, he only had to deal with 150 Pokemon characters (compared to 600 today).
Adam and his friends are different than my generation. (For the record, I'm in a demographic called "Generation X," which I think sounds a lot cooler.) If you're running a business you had better be prepared. Because over the next few years this completely new generation of people like Adam are going to be entering the workforce. In fact, they've already started to arrive.
Last week I read a survey from oDesk and consulting-firm Millennial Branding that polled almost 3,200 workers (2,000 of them called themselves Millennials). Turns out, 72 percent of the people who responded to the survey and who are still at "regular" jobs said they wanted to be entirely independent, and 89 percent said that they prefer to "work where they choose." Fifty-eight percent identified themselves as "entrepreneurs."
Let's Rename Them
To me, this says Adam is more part of the "Entrepreneur Generation" than any "Millennial" group. I don't mean that Adam will one day own his own business or risk everything on a start-up. He may never become rich, invent the next Facebook, or come up with something like Bang With Friends (and for that you should be grateful). But he, like most in his generation, has been raised to be more entrepreneurial than my generation. And if you're going to be a smart employer, you need to recognize this now because this generation is entering the workplace with different expectations and needs than anyone before. Can I make generalizations for an entire generation? Yes, yes I can. In fact, I see five things that set them apart:
Adam has a smartphone. He has an iPad. He also has a laptop. These tools are inexpensive and common. He's been using these things since high school and can't imagine not having them around. Not only that, he can't imagine not having information wherever her goes. He grew up in a cloud-based world. He turns on a device and up comes data, be it from Facebook, YouTube, Google, or Twitter. (I didn't say it was meaningful data, OK?) He will have the same expectations in the workplace. He'll assume he can do his work from anywhere and any time he wants. He will expect to be able to move around the office, leave the office, just stay away from the office, as long as he gets his work done. He'll get frustrated if he can't collaborate instantly with others like he's been doing since the 10th grade. Are you ready to accommodate needs like these?
Adam and his friends are more in-tune to the world than any generation before them. They are used to seeing almost real-time videos of revolutions, war, natural disasters, and Russians doing daredevil acts on YouTube. Adam has flown to far off places and cruised the Caribbean. He has not had to battle Germans or bomb the Japanese. He chats with opponents from the Middle East on his Xbox and plays Mafia Wars with other students in Malaysia. He has watched his country transform from a dominant super power to one of many equally-important players in geo-political events. He has witnessed the rise of China and the fall of dictatorships. He will expect that your company has customers around the world and is willing to do business wherever opportunities lie. Is that true?
Adam has a cool tattoo on his arm and wears a small earring. And yet he's pretty conservative. Many of his friends have more ink on their bodies than a Staples store. These friends are different in other ways too. Adam has friends who are gay, straight, black, yellow, and autistic. He has grown up in an increasingly more tolerant world. In fact, he is incredulous when he hears those my age and older make shockingly-insensitive and racially-charged comments that even 20 years ago wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. This means that Adam is comfortable partnering, working, and competing with people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and appearances. He would expect an employer to hire the best, regardless of how they look or where they come from, in order to compete and succeed, and would probably turn away from a boss who acted otherwise. Are you that boss?
Adam is used to having things immediately. He grew up in a world where good things do come to those who wait, as long as they don't have to wait more than five minutes. He hears a song and downloads it instantly. He likes a movie and streams it. He wants to buy something and he goes online and just buys it. He has a question about something, anything and Google gives him an answer in less than a minute. ('What was that ridiculous Flo Rida song we danced to in 12th grade? Oh yeah, it was Club Can't Handle Me'). He texts, he Facebooks, he tweets, he even sends an email once in a while. (Don't expect a response, or even one that's grammatically accurate because he doesn't have time to punch in these letters.) He moves fast. He expects to get answers fast because so much information is available to him now. Can you manage someone who's used to finding things out in minutes? Will you be able to meet his expectations?
This may come as a surprise, but when you peel away Adam's attitude and his swagger and his arrogance, you'll find raw fear. That's because even though this generation hasn't grown up in times of war, famine, or pestilence, they have seen major uncertainty. An America that is no longer the No. 1 super power. Terrorist attacks on their land. Older friends who graduated without jobs and are desperate for work. Parental expectations to do better, be more successful, and maintain an increasingly-expensive and harder-to-attain middle-class lifestyle. Potential failure lurking all around them. But with this fear comes the desire to succeed, and with this desire comes the willingness to work hard. Millennials work hard. Putting in long hours and making sacrifices is completely acceptable to this generation as long as there's something to shoot for. Money. Success. Or maybe just a feeling of pride from being part of something good. Is your company providing incentives like these?
Adam represents a new generation of entrepreneurs coming into the workplace. People in their 20s who want independence, mobility, challenges, and a rewarding occupation. They want jobs yet want to feel like they're their own boss. It's a huge wave of knowledge and youth and energy that's hitting the economy at a time when you need it the most. Just watch: the really smart business owners will recognize this young people, hire them, and manage them the right way. And together they will all profit.
GENE MARKS is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.