It may seem easy to brush off Millennials as the ‘selfish’ generation, occupying a universe in which they are at its social center and where everyone gets a trophy just for participating. Yet, millennials are now the largest living generation- totaling 84.3 million according to the US Census Bureau- and are coming into their marketplace prime, both in terms of earning and spending. They are also entering the civilian workforce in greater numbers, too. So, given their growing demographic presence, is it really smart to continue brushing off millennials? While it is very natural for different generations- i.e. baby boomers, Gen X’ers, etc. – to have difficulties when it comes to productive socialization and interaction, especially in the workplace, bridging the generational gap can be vital to a healthy and productive environment.
Perhaps more important than any particular generational trait, millennials are not to be confused with younger versions of baby boomers or Gen Xers. It is a losing battle to assume that millennials will grow up to fit within the mold you, as a member of a different generation, have constructed for yourself. With each generation comes new and unique external influences and environments that shape the way we develop and interact with the world. Millennials, in particular, are growing up in much more prosperous and affluent era than previous generations. Due to this rise in affluence, people are transitioning to adulthood later than previous generations. According to Generational Insights, a business firm that studies and consults on generational traits and trends, as well as recent statistics on marriage and birth rates*, the mean age of first marriage and the mean age of first-time mothers are all increasing. This means that while millennials do experience the same life stages and milestones as, let’s say, baby boomers, they are experiencing these stages later in life.
There is, however, more to it than simply delayed maturity. How does one, particularly within veterinary medicine, go about meaningfully interacting and engaging with millennials both in the workplace and as customers? The key is to understand the generational traits millennials identify with.1 While past generations may measure the value of work by the number of hours put in, millennials base their work ethic on the completion of tasks. As research from firms like Generational Insights indicates, millennials don’t enjoy being in the office longer than they have to. The number of hours spent on the job is not the focus, but rather how efficiently one has spent their time and how many tasks or assignments one has completed.
Millennials also like to connect socially with people and seek input from everyone around them. This is a kind of misnomer, however, as many misconstrue this desire for socialization and input as a need for constant positive reinforcement and hand-holding. On the contrary, millennials want to feel needed and be impactful, thus they enjoy learning and developing relevant skills that are valuable to their job. Because of their desire to learn and develop, millennials seek constant communication and feedback that is not only positive but constructive. The importance of communication can also be a two-way street. As much as millennials want to be taught, you can also take the time to learn from them, making the focus on building knowledge collectively rather than viewing the effort of communication and training as a chore.
These generational traits also apply to engaging with millennials as customers. Millennials care about how things will impact their lives on an individual level, both now and in the future. They are also concerned with how you and your services might make them stand out and be more distinct within the world. Thus, your marketing tools, online platforms, etc., must function as educational tools, making them feel like a more educated participant and consumer. This also means that two-way communication and transparency are important. The less automated and more human you appear, the more authentic and distinctive your product becomes in eyes of a millennial. This, of course, has ties back to millennials’ need for social platforms and communication. It’s not just having the ability to stand out and be authentic, but how something stands out and why it becomes distinctive.
So what, then, can be gained from this? Perhaps the most important lesson from all of this is the ever-present value of communication. Take the time to have discussions with your employees and co-workers about these generational differences and learn from these discussions. Such communication can flesh out differences between generations and construct a more cohesive environment for both employees and customers. More often than not, it is the company that is willing to learn and adapt to change that ultimately survives and thrives as time progresses.
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