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From boomers to gen Z: Time to shine, millennials!

Dec. 16, 2021
One of the youngest generations into today's workplace is growing by the day, and they have a set of expectations for their employers based on their upbringing and world view.

A different world, a different worldview—this is how we look at our next generational group in the workplace. Millennials are between 25 and 40 years old (72.1 million in the United States) and can be further broken down into gen Y.1, those who are 25 to 29 years-old (around 31 million in the US) and gen Y.2, who are 29  to 39 years old (around 42 million people).1

The term “millennial” has become a popular way to refer to both groups of gen Y.1 Millennials grew up in a time of rapid change, which gives them priorities and expectations sharply different from previous generations.2 According to a 2018 Pew Research study, millennials represents one third of the US workforce, and by 2025, they’re expected to make up 75% of the global workforce.3,4 As a result, millennials are likely the most studied generation to date.4 Pew Research Center recently decided to use 1996 as the last birth year for millennials, therefore anyone born between 1981 and 1996 is considered part of this group.5

Also in this series:

Generational differences in the workplace
Boomers still want to be heard in the dental workplace
There’s no overlooking this “middle child” at work

Who are the millennials?

Millennials, aka generation Y or echo boomers, came of age and entered the workforce during the height of an economic recession. Many of their life choices, future earnings, and entrance into adulthood have been shaped by this recession in a way that may not be the case for their younger counterparts.5 The rapid evolution of technology and how people communicate and interact is another generation-shaping consideration. Just as baby boomers grew up when television expanded dramatically, and gen X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, millennials came of age during the internet explosion.5

Even though millennials’ current wealth has been dragged down by not one but two “once-in-a-lifetime” economic crises, they stand to inherit more than $68 trillion from baby boomer and early gen X parents by 2030, setting them up to potentially be the wealthiest generation in US history.

Millennials are in different stages of life. While all were born around the turn of the century, some of are still in early adulthood, with new careers and settling down, while the older ones have homes and families.3 They have brought more racial and ethnic diversity to American society, and millennial women, like gen X women, are more likely to participate in the nation’s workforce than previous generations 

Influencers of the generation

Millennials were influenced by the Great Recession, the technological explosion of the internet and social media, the Oklahoma City bombing, Desert Storm, Columbine, and 9/11. Many in this group grew up as children of divorce, and many hope to be the next great generation and to reverse the world’s injustices. They grew up more sheltered than other generations as parents strove to protect them and keep them busy, and they were the first generation of children with such busy schedules. They came of age in a period of economic expansion.

Core values and attributes

Gen Y is extremely competitive, highly educated, and diverse. They’re also avid consumers. They want stock options as a monetary reward and they value feedback as a nonmonetary reward, and they’re motivated by skills training, mentoring, feedback, and workplace culture. They respond well to recognition, time off, and flexible schedules as rewards, and their preferred recognition style is informal communication through company chats or social networks.6 Millennials are ambitious but not entirely focused and look to the workplace for direction and to help them achieve their goals. They particularly enjoy working in teams and are attached to their gadgets and parents.

Workplace views

Since their entry, millennials have had a huge impact on the workplace. While they usually respond better to a coaching leadership style than a directive leadership style, they want constructive feedback on how they can improve. They test authority but often seek authority figures when looking for guidance. Millennials believe that because of technology, they can work flexibly anytime, anyplace, and they should be evaluated on work product, not how, when, or where they get it done. They expect to influence the terms and conditions of their position, and their work ethic no longer mandates 10-hour days. They have high expectations of bosses and managers to mentor them toward professional goals. They want long-term relationships with employers on their own terms. 

What are millennials looking for in a position?

Growing up with technology, it is no surprise that millennial candidates often expect a technology-driven application process, such as learning about career opportunities through social recruiting, as well as mobile-optimized applicant tracking systems and applications that integrate with LinkedIn.7 Millennials want to be challenged and don’t want boring tasks. They expect to work with positive people and a company or organization that can fulfill their dreams. They need strong, ethical leaders and mentors, and expect to be treated with respect despite their age.

Keys to working with millennials

Millennials will flourish and companies should lean into their desire for deeper purpose by helping them understand the company's mission and how it helps make people's lives and the world at large a better place. Allow them to work remotely if their job responsibilities can be completed outside the office.7 Motivating and managing millennials requires clear communication of expectations as well as modeling behavior conducive to the environment. Encouragement and praise reinforce their intrinsic need for autonomy.6

Career development

Training is important and new skills ease stressful situations. They are motivated by learning and want to see immediate results. Millennials value career development opportunities as well as benefits that prioritize a work/life balance. Some examples include career development programs, monetary gifts, opportunities to give back through volunteerism or financially, on-site daycare, and mortgage services.7

The bottom line about this group

Millennials are technology natives who leverage it to advance their multitasking and fast thinking. With the proper motivation, they’ll will work as hard as anyone at their job, but they also want a life outside the office. The growing workforce numbers for gen Y make it mandatory to find win/win solutions that meet organizational objectives and honor generational values. As the workplace changes, management will have to adapt their approaches to leadership as the power in organizations shifts to generations Y and X due to preceding generations retiring. It does takes some effort for the four generations to collaborate effectively in the workplace. 

Watch for this series to wrap up as I explore the youngest group in the workforce, generation Z, next. ​


  1. Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, and Gen A explained. Kasasa. July 6, 2021. Accessed November 21, 2021. https://www.kasasa.com/exchange/articles/generations/gen-x-gen-y-gen-z
  1. Millennials coming of age. Goldman Sachs. Accessed November 21, 2021. https://www.goldmansachs.com/insights/archive/millennials 
  1. Hickey K. 8 destructive myths about millennials in the workplace. Betterup. July 29, 2021. Accessed November 21, 2021. https://www.betterup.com/blog/a-radical-new-way-to-work-with-your-millennial-employees 
  1. Key statistics about millennials in the workplace. Firstup. October 26, 2021. Accessed November 21, 2021. https://firstup.io/blog/key-statistics-millennials-in-the-workplace/
  1. Dimock M. Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins. Pew Research. January 17, 2019. Accessed November 22, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/
  1. Danna R. Motivational Drivers by Generation. Forbes. July 30, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2018/07/30/motivational-drivers-by-generation/?sh=56ba0b9d6b3f 
  1. How to Manage the 5 Generations in the Workplace. Paychex. Updated July 26, 2019. Accessed November 22, 2021. https://www.paychex.com/articles/human-resources/how-to-manage-multiple-generations-in-the-workplace