Whether you are marketing to Millennials, teaching them, managing, mentoring or working for one, be mindful that you do not make assumptions about them. They are a very interesting generation, full of contradiction and unexpected (often pleasant) surprises.

On one level they are a very homogenous generation and, certainly in South Africa, have more in common with one another than any generation preceding them. What I mean by this is that across the socio-economic divides Millennials all (in theory) have access to opportunity and education. They are known as the ‘Born Free’ generation in South Africa and therefore all have a political voice (whether or not they choose to exercise it is another matter). They have all been born into a world where economic volatility, social change and environmental concerns are top on the lists of government agendas. They have all been born into a world dominated by technology and the exponential rate at which change occurs as a result of that, which has had an impact on their expectations of the ‘Dream Society’ in which they live, as well as their understanding of what is ‘normal’. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to how, with whom and where we communicate, virtually network and collaborate with people we have never met face to face. They have all been born into (and never known any other) a world that is globally interconnected, making ‘knowing’ about other cultures and places ‘normal’. This has evoked a curiosity in them and a sophistication in this generation unprecedented in any other.

They have also all grown up in a school system which inspired team work and interdependence, but conversely a system which was not always predictable or accountable to their needs and did not necessarily prepare them for the world of work. Whilst it may have taught them certain skills, I wonder if it taught them the skills they need to truly investigate information. Coupled with the fact that they have grown up ‘Googling it’, communicating (and expressing their opinions on social media sights), they are not always sure how to decipher between fact and the majority’s opinion. They all want work/ life balance. This does not mean they necessarily want to work away from the office, nor does it mean they are afraid of hard work, but there are two stark changes when it comes to their relationship with the workplace as opposed to other generations:

  • They will want to know why they have to do something before they will do it.   (In other words, they will consider how important this task is in the grander scheme of things, or whether it is just something that has to be done because it has always been done.)
  • They will find better, and more effective ways of doing things if they can, and they will do it their way rather than just accept the rules blindly.

But it is a mistake to make assumptions about them all the same. There is a lot of diversity amongst them in terms of their thinking, their likes and dislikes, where they go for information, who and what inspires and motivates them and what they think is important for the future. There are many things that influence this: their personality type, gender, religion perhaps, culture and the industry they work in. I blogged once about generation Y who can be split into popsters (those who love popular culture and live by it) and hispters (those who are anti popular culture and will go out of their way to be different in whatever way is meaningful to them). But generation Y’s individualism runs deeper than all the things I have mentioned above.

We think we understand this generation as the techno-mad wiz kids who don’t always know the meaning of hard work, but there is so much more to them than that. Because they are so diverse in their thinking and behaviour, and because they have grown up in a world where they are allowed to give expression to that diversity, it is very hard for me to say what they are and what they are not.

The message I wanted to portray was simply that it’s not a good idea to pigeonhole them. To find out what excites them, entices them, would motivate them, what interests and inspires them – just ask. They are usually very willing to tell.

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