Not-So-Mysterious Millenials

TPP-2015-06-Not-So-Mysterious MillenialsBy Joe Balskus, PE, PTOE

It is often said that if you want to learn something, you must experience it. So I did something different while researching this article—something a millennial would do. I researched my topic totally online, including newspaper and magazine articles I would have searched for in print another time. Aside from some personal interviews and surveys, it was all electronic. I wanted to be succinct and informative with some discussion about millennials in the workplace and how we as an industry need to be better prepared for them—to manage and be managed by them and have them as customers— so we can understand how our business is changing as a result.

So what is a millennial? Is there even a definition in a dictionary such as Webster’s? I didn’t actually check with an actual hard copy. That is so baby boomer. Who is Webster? Don’t you mean Wikipedia? I think that’s how a millennial would respond (electronically of course via text, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter).

As listed on the Wikipedia website, otherwise known as the electronic encyclopedia, millennials are considered “the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.” Everything I have seen during the last couple of months tells me the Internet consensus suggests 1980–1995 or so should represent millennials.

To understand this generation, it may be helpful to refresh our social and civic knowledge of the American population demographic by generation:

  • Greatest generation: pre-WWII era, those older than 75 (also called the silent or GI generation).
  • Baby boomers: those born after WWII, now up to 50 years old or so.
  • Generation Xers: born late 1960s through 1980.
  • Millennials (echo boom, Generation Y, or recession generation): born from 1980 through the mid-1990s.
  • New century generation: also called Generation Z, born from 1995 or so to the present.

Millennials’ Importance
Why write an article for The Parking Professional about millennials in the parking industry when a small percentage of the IPI membership (my own estimate) is likely considered part of that generation? (This, by the way, is a huge issue for us as an industry and an organization going forward, and we’ll talk about it in a bit.) Our customers are millennials! And more of them are moving into urban areas, where the majority of our parking facilities are. Our co-workers are millennials, too. If you haven’t noticed, the millennial generation population now outnumbers the baby boomers, with close to 80 million members.

Understanding millennials is important. It’s so important that the Executive Office of the President of the United States Council of Economic Advisers published “15 Economic Facts About Millennials.” Nearly 50 pages long, it provides an excellent summary of millennials in the workplace. A quick summary of these facts, some of which I have rephrased to keep the politics out and some of which are quite obvious to a generation member with more wisdom, follows. One thing I noticed in the report is that the council classifies the youngest population (those born after millennials) as the homeland generation, whereas other media commenters would say Generation Z:

  • Millennials are now the largest and most diverse generation in the U.S.
  • Millennials have been shaped by technology.
  • Millennials value community, family, and creativity in their work.
  • Millennials have invested in human capital more than previous generations.
  • College-going millennials are more likely to study social science and applied fields.
  • More students rely on loans to pay for post-secondary education.
  • Millennials are more likely to focus exclusively on studies instead of combining school and work.
  • Millennials are more likely to have health insurance coverage during their young adult years.
  • Millennials are starting their careers during an historic downturn forecast to last for years to come.
  • Investments in human capital are likely to have a substantial payoff for millennials.
  • Working millennials are staying with their early-career employers longer than previous generations.
  • Millennial women have more labor market equality than those of previous generations.
  • Millennials tend to get married later than previous generations.
  • Millennials are less likely to be homeowners than young adults in previous generations.
  • College-educated millennials have moved into urban areas faster than their less-educated peers.

Many of these points pertain to our industry because of bilateral concerns from the customer standpoint and our co-workers, who aren’t getting married until later and have to pay off higher student loans than prior generations.

Perhaps the most significant fact noted above is the number and diversity of millennials we are now serving and working with in our daily routines. The boomers are retiring, the Gen Xers are moving up, and the millennials are feeding the bottom of the business world as new blood.

Millennials and Parking
I am relatively new to the parking industry with only a decade under my belt; my other expertise is as a transportation engineer. I am involved with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) as well as IPI. As we move toward the goal of combining parking with other forms of transportation, remember that this push is mostly driven by the millennial population. They are nudging both kinds of organizations to think about them and the future of membership. Why? Because recruiting members is a whole different ballgame now than it was back in the day. Millennials get organized at the technological grassroots level and use social media to communicate as naturally as breathing. And communicate they do.

Because millennials have different demands than our more seasoned members, we have to change the way we think. They are used to the instant availability of information and everything being electronic, including communications, even between two people in the same room. Interpersonal skills are much different than what a lot of us are used to.

Like a millennial, I researched this article by searchings the internet using Google. I easily found more than 30 articles, websites, presentations, papers, and other sites about the topic of millennials and working with them. I did some research on my smartphone but mostly used my laptop. By the time you read this article, the iWatch will likely be on several million wrists.

Everyone online seems to have a fact, factoid, survey, report, blog, video, or snippet about millennials. And almost all of these are generated by non-millennials—not surprising.
Statistics say that as compared to older generations, millennials are:

  • Less patriotic.
  • More independent in political affiliations.
  • Less religious.
  • Least trustful of other people.
  • Staying single by a substantial margin.
  • Twice as likely to take selfies.
  • Wary of older generations at work.
  • More in favor of bigger government.
  • More liberal than conservative.

Discussing millennials in the workplace from my Generation X perspective has certainly shown that a better understanding of my younger colleagues and customers is needed. This is especially true in the parking industry, where there aren’t many visible millennials yet.
A few additional points:

  • In the U.S., millennials represent the largest generation ever, with 80 million members.
  • Millennials are tech-savvy and have known nothing else but easy access to the Internet and its free information and knowledge.
  • Millennials, some articles say, spend nearly two hours a day on social media.
    They love social media, and 75 percent of them have a profile there.
  • Millennials don’t watch as much broadcast television but view shows on-demand on handheld devices.

Working Styles
Some findings from recent studies by Pew Research, the 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce, and others indicate just less than 30 percent of millennials are currently in management positions, with two-thirds seeing themselves in management-level positions in two years. Hiring managers report difficulty finding and retaining millennial management-level employees.

Some additional startling results from the surveys indicate that more than 75 percent of millennials are inclined to work for themselves and freelance in the future, taking advantage of technology to do so. I can verify this from an anecdotal standpoint—I am seeing many consultants work from home because they can. This freelancing is on the rise, with companies accepting the supporting roles of consultants to conduct their business without having to hire full-time employees. Surveys are indicating a greater desire by companies to retain these workers to fill necessary roles. The majority of these freelancers are, of course, millennials.

The surveys indicated millennials enjoy freelance work and would do more of it if they could. Part of the reason for this is the millennial generation trait to be more flexible in their work schedules. Instead of committing to an 8-to-5 workday in a set office, they work off-hours all over the place and strongly prefer such flexibility.

While millennials desire this flexibility, there is consensus in many surveys that they also believe they are entitled to things that previous generations would not even consider in their daily routines. These include salaries, benefits, and most of all, position or title and the time it should take to get to that level at work. Is this part of their upbringing, where every player got a trophy at the end of the season?

Effect at Work
As the millennial worker population has almost doubled in 10 years, it is having a profound effect on the workplace. These employees bring skill sets that no other generation before has provided, and they have an immeasurable adeptness for technology that is second nature to them.

It’s interesting to note that millennials also have a more socially conscious attitude in the workplace environment and are more accepting of gender and other differences than previous generations.

Many of the surveys I reviewed indicate that while there is still a higher-than-expected unemployment rate, including those who are permanently out of the labor pool, 20- to 30-year-old millennials with the skills desired by hiring managers are more difficult to recruit and retain than previous generations.

Also of note is this generation’s use of personal smartphones in the office environment, which is pervasive. Leaving the smartphone on with notifications for emails and texts, even on vibrate mode, can interrupt the daily routine. Facebook is the king of disrupting employee productivity. When new posts are made, texts or emails are sent that demand workers stop what they are doing and check it out. The same is true for Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. I am not aware yet of an employer restricting the use of smartphones by employees except for those who are driving or flying. Can you imagine the revolt of millennials and others if they were told by an employer that smartphones were not be allowed to be used at their work stations during the workday?

All that said, some major emerging technologies will have a dramatic effect on our industry thanks to millennial use, including wearable technology and driverless cars. Can you foresee the day when the actual smartphone is embedded in your clothes and/or uniform? When that happens, how can we regulate use in the workplace? Connecting wearable tech with networks and cars will be a very simple step.

Lifestyle
Millennials are moving back into cities because they desire to be able to live, work, learn, and play within a much smaller dimension than during past trends of suburban sprawl. The driverless vehicle will facilitate that ability, so they can move to the city and still have access to vehicles that could be idle far outside city limits, where parking is easier to come by and will be much cheaper. The millennial can activate his idled vehicle with wearable technology to come pick him up from his townhouse apartment without taking up a parking space. Remember the Hoff in “Knight Rider”? His Kitt car was essentially a driverless car, albeit a high-performance one.

So what does all this mean? Is this just the usual generational difference gap that every generation loves to complain about? Weren’t the greatest generation members complaining about the baby boomers before the boomers complained about Generation X? Perhaps this is true, but the exponential increase in technology in our everyday work environment has most certainly created some significant differences between our generations, both positive and negative. “Back in the day, walking to school uphill both ways in four feet of snow” clichés just don’t cut it anymore. The Internet has revolutionized the way we do business and the boomers and Generation Xers, including me, followed it as it transformed, and we adapted where we could.

The millennials, however, haven’t adapted. They don’t need to. They thrive on this technology because they grew up with it as part of their daily lives. They cannot understand how the Internet has revolutionized many things—it’s always been this way. They cannot understand work life before pushing the Easy Button. They cannot envision life before the personal computer or the smartphone. Perhaps that is the negative: They don’t understand that what they have has come so far from what it was in terms of the business environment.

They are also connected like no generation before to their outside network. This connectedness provides a confidence in their abilities and allows them to be more open to change. This by itself can present a potential problem when they’re working with an older generation that has “always done it that way.” Conflicts arise.

What’s It All Mean?
Working with millennials and having them in your organization is something you must embrace! We are all professionals, and while they may be a different generation, understanding millennials is crucial to being successful in the business environment.

Understanding can dramatically improve your relations with younger colleagues and allow you to better embrace them in the workplace and when serving them as customers. Engaging them with genuine discussions on their and your needs without a generational gap discussion will show immediate results.

Consider challenging them to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Allow them flexibility in their work environment where you can reasonably do so. Show them that you’re trying to understand their ideas and priorities. It will benefit everyone.

Joe Balskus, PE, PTOE, is principal of CDM Smith. He can be reached at balskusj@cdmsmith.com or 860.808.2299.

TPP-2015-06-Not-So-Mysterious Millenials