For Jack Ma, founder and president of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, they are “the builders of tomorrow”, equipped with great vitality and a global vision. For the Chinese billionaire, those working for his company represent ideal “reverse mentors” with whom to expand his own scope. Of a completely different opinion is Joel Stein, a writer for Time. In 2013 when the magazine ran a cover feature dedicated to the Millennials, Stein called them out as fame-obsessed, narcissistic selfie maniacs.
Millennials, the generation of youngsters born between 1980 and 2000, are the source of great debate almost on a daily basis. This is not surprising, it is often the case when one generation faces a turning point in history and begins to hint that it might be able to provide a new direction. Perhaps the Millennials are the focus of greater attention than past generations. They have inherited a hypermodern world, marked by the Internet, globalization, new technology that shortens contact distances compared with the past. But what does the future hold? And will the Millennials really be able to change it?
It is not easy to draw definite conclusions but it is possible to examine a few facts and studies, registering what we truly know about these youngsters, like, for example, the size of the demographic. This is the first big news. In the United States, the country that has collected the most data on the Millennials, this generation represents the largest segment of the population. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2015 the number of citizens aged between 18-34 was 83.1 million, compared with 75.4 million in the age range of the Baby Boomers, the generation born during the twenty year period after the Second World War, during a time of notable growth and great optimism.
No less impressive is the fact, which may be a consequence of the growing size of this demographic, that Millennials in America today represent half of the workforce. While on a global scale it is expected that the worldwide figure will reach one-third by 2020.
The question of employment goes far beyond simple statistics, however. Research focused on attitudes to work and the professional ambitions of Millennials, put paid to the common perception of Millennials as peculiar youngsters, a bit dizzy, a bit spoilt, interested mainly in making money. Global consultancy giant Deloitte, for example, in its report on Millennials and work, carried out thorough research founded on a collection of data accumulated over three years. Some interesting aspects emerged. For example, less than half of the Millennials were motivated by profit, when they choose to work for a company. They often look closely at the goals of that company and the way
in which its activities could change the world.
Millennials in the workplace, moreover, demand much more innovation. The fact that there is not enough innovation is due, in their opinion, to managers that belong to previous generations who apply the brakes: generation
conflict is clearly an evergreen issue.
Also to emerge was data concerning flexibility in their approach to work, a cornerstone of the way these young people think, work and live and one that they consider central to their quality of life. Working with less strictly when it comes to working hours and the rules of office life for Millennials means investing in free time, practicing physical activity, dedicating time to hobbies and interests. Details on this can be read in a study by Goldman Sachs that highlighted that Millennials are particularly careful about what they eat: they want a healthy, balanced diet. All this signifies driving
the market in a certain direction.
The same thing is happening with the sharing economy. With less money available than their parents, due to fewer possibilities for long-term employment and lower average salaries, Millennials prefer not to invest in property such as houses and cars. They don’t want the burden of ownership so they buy services. When they do buy goods they do so almost always online, deciding whether to make a purchase or not after having consulted websites that offer reviews and comparisons.
But there’s more. An interesting study by Merrill Edge, an online brokerage service provided by Merrill Lynch also involved in pension funds, indicated that the Millennials capacity to save is greater than that of previous generations. On average Millennials manage to save 20% of their salaries, more than Generation X (those born in the 1970s) and the Baby Boomers, who manage to save around 15%. But when it comes to what they are saving for the changes really become apparent. 55% of the two older generations save in order to guarantee their pensions, while for the Millennials this is the case only for 37%. There is a tendency to invest in lifestyle: travel, fitness, entertainment and food. The “fear of missing out” mentality was also noted in the Merrill Edge Report.
A study by Boston College highlighted that when Millennials do have the possibility to invest their savings, in addition to a financial return they also seek a social return, investing their money in activities or funds that have a positive environmental and social impact. 79% of the sample saw themselves as “impact investors”. This can be a sign that this generation, which is often described as being apathetic and indifferent, actually has a strongly felt civil awareness.
More difficult to interpret is the issue of politics. Millennials are more involved in voluntary work than previous generations; they believe that transparency is the most sacred of principles of political action. But in practical terms Millennials renounce that most incisive of tools for determining the political direction, the vote. In the Western world, for example, voting figures amongst young people are particularly low.
It is not simple to understand whether Millennials will change the world and in what ways and if this will be for the better. It is worth noting also that in this generation the level of optimism is quite variable according to location and the culture (in America they are more optimistic and less so in Europe). What is certain is that this generation has initiated, or in any case is riding a wave of, a disruption on many fronts: this in itself is already a change.