It’s time to move on from ‘millennials’


by Sophie Gane

Why are we so obsessed with the term ‘millennial’? What exactly does it mean? And why is everyone inside and outside of this group so dismissive of the term? Businesses must find a way to refer to their colleagues as individuals, or they’ll start to lose out when recruiting talent. Here’s why…

Nobody knows what ‘millennial’ means, really
Everyone has a different idea of what a Millennial is. Even the experts. Just this morning, I’ve read five – five – separate articles that all have differing opinions of when millennials were born. A millennial is defined as ‘a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.’ Is ‘young adulthood’ age 14? Is it 18? Is it 21? Is the ‘early 21st century’ 2001, or 2010? One source stated that the ‘start date’ of the millennial generation is 1980. One said 1982. One source thinks the birth bracket extends to 1995, some say 2004. So, if you’re aged 12-36, you could be a Millennial.

Unbox the generations
Engagement and loyalty are earned by focusing on your employees’ experience, rather than targeting an outcome. By saying ‘millennials want XYZ to become engaged at work’ employers often just focus on the outcome of engagement without considering the journey individual employees take to get there. Inside any HR publication, you’ll find plenty of material on how to engage ‘five generations in the workforce’ and, to a certain extent, rightly so. Of course your 55-year-old colleagues are going to be more focused on retirement than your teenagers. However, a lot of employers stumble when they gear their communications, benefits and engagement schemes towards these ‘groups’ of people. Yet, most of us know someone who had their first child at 16, and others who had their first at 41. We know people who bought their first house at age 19, and those who are renting well into retirement.

This diversity is still prevalent within group we call the ‘millennials‘. Unfortunately, the current stereotype not only serves to tar all your 16-36-year-olds with the same brush, it also alienates employees outside of this age bracket from the benefits and interests normally attributed to the younger generation.

Target behaviour not age
How do we go about targeting the individual? Amazon seems to have the answer. It looks at your buying behaviour, not your age. In retail and entertainment, there’s plenty of overlap between people of all ages (my 60-something-year-old parents love The Inbetweeners, my 28-year-old friend has a thing for decorative plates – seriously), and plenty of variety inside each ‘generation’. Even within our team here, you can see the variety in what Amazon had recommended to each of us; the youngest of us being 24, the eldest 35, all at differing life stages, all so-called millennials.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to link Amazon buying habits to benefits take-up. Some benefits – e.g. healthcare – will be universally relevant. Aside from a handful, most benefits are relatable by interest and circumstance, not necessarily by age. For example, life insurance becomes more relevant when you have children, which we know could be age 16 or 45. It doesn’t mean so-called Millennials do or don’t want it.

Capturing the right data
Well, why don’t we take our lead from Amazon? When it comes to employees, we’re really good at asking for: name; date of birth; level of education; address. This doesn’t really tell us a lot about what they want from us outside of our own assumptions, peppered with unconscious biases. Our partners at Nudge Global are great at capturing usable data from employees; when you sign up to its Financial Education service, they ask you in-depth questions around where you are financially, what your financial goals are within the next five or 10 years, and how much you expect to realistically save based on your income, interests and lifestyle. Your benefits technology needs to do the same, and measure the spending/uptake patterns of the individual from there, so that their benefits platform evolves with them.

We’re probably preaching to the choir when we say that all your employees need to be treated as individuals. However, if you have a browse of Twitter and search #EmployeeEngagement, you’ll probably find articles along the lines of ‘three perks you never knew millennials would want’, ‘managing millennials in the workplace’, and plenty of other rhetoric about how to ‘cope’ with this group of people (who make up half the UK workforce). To make an actual, viable step towards a great experience for all your employees, your technology, benefits and communications all need to be tailored – based on intelligent and relevant data – towards the person, not their age.

‘Millennial’ thinking
In a modern world, in a gig-economy and fast-evolving modern workplace where employee transience is easy, where loyalty is earned and never guaranteed, it is easy to gear a lot of modern workplace trends solely towards your younger generation and assume that everyone is adapting to ‘millennial’ thinking. While it’s true that the workplace needs to be on top of, and mirror, modern trends, this needs to be considered as the norm for all your employees, not just a way of engaging one broad group of people. The term, often used rather dismissively and accompanied by an eyeroll, seems to be somewhat out of kilter with the importance we place around this group. Many of you will be ‘millennials’ like me, and be frustrated with the usage.

Now, time to buy a beanbag and artisan coffee while I check out today’s Snapchat filters…