The millennial generation – young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 – is an increasingly important audience for digital brands, and those who ignore this group’s behaviors and trends going forward may need to count themselves out of the race.
What race, you ask? The race for millennials’ eyeballs (i.e. their attention).
Why You Should Care about Millennials
According to comScore’s 2015 Global Mobile Report, digital media users in the U.S. are spending 61 percent of their digital time on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) compared to 39 percent on desktops.
Of those users, U.S. millennials spend 88.6 digital hours each month on mobile devices and 39.1 hours on desktops.
Comparatively, users who are 35 years and older spend 60.7 digital hours each month on mobile compared to 44.4 hours on desktops.
That means a typical millennial user is spending nearly 3 hours a day on digital media. Clearly, this is a large window of time to capture the attention of millennials on the devices they most frequently utilize.
This brings up another important piece of data from the same comScore report: Smartphones are driving 61 percent of the time that millennials spend on digital media.
Smartphones account for 50 percent of digital time spent amongst users ages 35-54, and 30 percent of digital time spent amongst users ages 55 and older. This signals to digital brands that millennials are the most on-the-go segment of all audiences, with most of their digital time spent on mobile devices – particularly smartphones.
Where are Millennials Spending their Digital Time?
If millennials are spending nearly three hours a day on smartphone-based digital media, then what exactly are they doing? Where are these eyeballs that we are chasing?
The comScore 2015 Global Mobile Report found that most mobile usage occurs on smartphone apps, which shows engagement levels have already surpassed that of desktop apps (in the U.S.).
Of those apps, entertainment and social media lead the way for digital consumption with 23 and 21 percent (respectively) of digital time spent in the U.S.
While these specific figures include the millennial, 35-54, and 55+ audiences, we know that millennials make up the highest portion of smartphone users. We can assume that smartphone apps make up a large portion of the digital time that millennials spend on their smartphone devices.
What Does this Mean for Digital Brands?
For digital brands with a U.S. presence, marketing may need to be built around not only mobile considerations but also millennial influence. With the most digital time spent on smartphone apps – specifically social media and entertainment – brands may need to drive more marketing resources where the greatest shift is happening right now. Addressing these shifts can give digital brands a competitive edge on the most widely used devices and the most engaging types of media.
One of the perks of my job is that I am expected to research and understand the latest trends and issues impacting the business world. By keeping a finger on the pulse, we are able to offer training that helps people stay cutting edge. It means I get to meet and work with some really interesting thought leaders. One of the areas we are exploring right now is the impact that the Millennial Generation (also known as Gen Y) will have on the workforce.
It has been fascinating researching this topic as it specifically applies to me as a member of the Millennial Generation. It’s a topic I have become passionate about, as it has really forced to do some self-reflection.
The Reset Generation: What Video Games Teach Us About the Next Gen WorkforceMeet Alexander Macris, co-founder, president & CEO of The Themis Group and his presentation, “The Reset Generation: What Video Games Teach Us About the Next Gen Workforce.” I have embedded a video of his presentation at the NC State Fidelity Investments “Leadership in Technology” Executive Speakers Series, as well as posted his slides from the event (see the bottom of this post). I’m really excited to have an upcoming meeting at the Themis Group’s office with Alexander to talk more with him about the topic.
In his presentation, Alexander brings up the fact that 99% of males and 94% of females in the Millennial Generation play video games. Because of this high figure, he believes video games are a great metaphor to understand the generation as a whole. Here is my feeble attempt at quickly summarizing his presentation. He believes:
What Video Games Have Taught Gen Y:
You Are the Hero: In books, you empathize with the main character/protagonist and are as he puts it “along for the ride.” With video games you are the hero. You are the main character.
Your Avatar is Customizable: Video games have taught us that there is extra value in customizing your character. In life, this translates to how we dress and the fact that Millennials prefer to stand out or look unique and rebel from strict corporate dress codes. This means as managers, flexible dress codes can be seen as an added value or benefit used to attract Millennial employees.
Difficulty Can Be Adjusted: Many video games allow you to choose what level of difficulty to face. Some of this same expectation can translate to issues with facing difficulty in the real world or the office, but I have my opinions about this that I will present later.
Feedback is Constant: In video games you get constant updates about your score, how much time is left, etc. You always receive feedback about how you are performing. For managers, this translates into an increased importance for Millennial employees in regards to performance reviews. Annual reviews will not suffice for much of this new workforce. To retain good talent companies will have to adjust accordingly.
Everything is an Achievement: Video games offer seemingly endless goals in the form of levels, power ups and bonus points as players complete various stages of the game. This has made them very goal- and achievement-oriented. In regards to the office, these employees will desire a similar work environment (think weekly recognition and company awards/challenges).
There is No Failure…Only Reset: If you make a mistake while playing, you can simply hit reset or start over. There is little accountability or consequence to your action. This he aligns to the Millennial Generation’s high percentage of employee turnover. Some studies show the average employee working an average of only 18 months at their prospective jobs before bouncing to their next employer. Again, I have my own opinion which I’ll present now.
Surprise. Surprise. JT disagrees.
Video Games Taught Us: Problem Solving
Now, I’m not a gamer. Never really have been, but I have a completely different stance in regards to the impact of video games on the Millennial Generation. The gamers I know are actually some of the most critically analytical people I know. I think video games actually had huge influence on our generation’s problem solving ability. Think about it…
Video games essentially put everyone on a common playing field. The character always has the same capabilities, the buttons always do the same thing and the game you buy is no different than the game I buy. What makes the individual better at the game is the practice and time they have put in at trying to solve the problem (or level) of that game. We may take completely different approaches, but we both saw the problem and figured out a way around it. One person’s way may be more efficient or better, and I think video games actually gave us (as a member of the Millennial Generation I will use this pronoun throughout much of this post) a way to benchmark how good we were at solving the problem. How many points did you get versus how many I got? Did it take me two lives and you just one?
Video Games Taught Us: Risk vs. Return
I think they also affected us on a standpoint of balancing risk and reward. Is it worth me taking the time to get those extra points or extra life, or is it just going to cost me more in the long run?
I think sports have had, and continue to have, a similar impact on all generations. They force you to look at problems and find a solution, as well as judge risk and reward. The extra value in team sports is that it actually forces you to look at the strengths and weaknesses of those around you to find the best possible solution. They teach you to play up strengths of the collective while mitigating the weaknesses.
That being said, I actually love the fact that online gaming can give these same life lessons. Where sports actually loses out is in the commitment and negativity that often come with it. Very few parents sit and watch and critique their kids as they play video games. Instead they leave them there to figure it out on their own. On the flip side, sports are often shoved on kids and it becomes hard for many parents to accept that their kid may not the best. That parenting fault of previous generations probably has more to do with the ego and entitlement issues that many associate with the Millennial Generation. I think video games actually offer a lot of the same values as sports, while avoiding some of the unnecessary stress, pressure and self-esteem issues associated with sports. Video games provide a safe environment where you can learn some of these life lessons (critical thinking, problem solving, risk vs. return) through trial and error.
Video Games Taught Us: Persistence
My biggest disagreement though comes from the interpretation of the Reset Generation piece. I love the analogy, but actually think it points to a completely different characteristic of the generation. Saying that hitting reset made us quitters is completely in accurate. We didn’t hit the power button. We hit reset. We didn’t give up. We didn’t change games. Instead we started over from scratch and tried again. And again. And again.
I think the lesson to take away from that is actually that video games may have had an impact on the perfectionist attitude that a lot of us have. We hit reset because we weren’t happy with making a mistake. We wanted a perfect score. We kept trying until we got it exactly right…better than what anyone wanted us or expected us to do. It was the challenge of beating the computer instead of being scared of it like previous generations. We didn’t switch games, like the characteristic of changing jobs might imply. We started from the last point and tried again until we got something we were happy with.
Game designers have realized this. Look at Angry Birds for instance. Why do you think they have the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards at each level. It’s because they know that there is an innate human instinct that we have to get the best score. You don’t just go on to the next level. You keep playing and trying new things until you get that damn tower to fall with just one bird. We can all relate to that feeling of accomplishment of seeing that level full of all gold stars, even though we’d already successfully beat the whole level. It didn’t mean anything until all those gold stars.
Two other lessons I think we got from video games:
Nothing is Permanent. If we really want, we can hack into things and make them what we want. Look at the changes to IT. My generation doesn’t want to be locked down or be told we can’t do something on ‘our’ computer. We will find a way around it. We will jailbreak our iPhones. We will use our smartphones to access social media if you restrict the internet access to our computer. We are far more tech savvy then previous generations. We will find a way.
There is a Solution. Every game has an end, and no matter how long you make me play to reach it, it is possible. I know a lot of people, myself included, that can’t stand to start a game without finishing it. It kills us to not know what’s at the end. It kills us not to be the best or finish something. I know far more of my friends pulled more all-nighters playing video games than they did for studying. It was being the first one to do something or knowing something that somebody else didn’t. It was bragging rights. It was accomplishing something.
So while many people struggle with the evolving workplace and how the Millennial Generation will impact it, managers should not fear the impending (and unavoidable) change. Change is not bad. It means we are moving forward. Accept it. Embrace it. I think Alexander has some really interesting thoughts, and his idea of using video games as a metaphor for understanding the Millennial Generation can help managers and companies with these new members of the workforce.
“I want to make the workplace somewhere that you positively want to be; somewhere that grows your experience of life and grows your creativity rather than sucks it out of you. A workplace that achieves that is the future.” — Sir John Hegarty, BBH
A few weeks back, I read the most recent issue of Think Quarterly on creativity. Think is an online quarterly publication from Google, and I highly recommend you take the time to read it. It is in no way a Google product brochure. As the title suggests, the sole purpose of the publication is to make you think, so most issues include interviews and thought provoking editorial pieces by extremely intelligent folks that you may not already be familiar with.
In the latest issue, there is an interview with Sir John Hegarty of BBH, a London-based advertising agency best known for its slogan “When the world zigs…We zag!”, which they popularized as a campaign slogan for Levi’s but is also the BBH company motto. Hegarty has a 40-year advertising career that includes work with most of the world’s most well known brands, but like his trademark checked suits suggest, he is a progressive thinker that is as cutting edge as any executive in the industry. The article is called The Creativity Club. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to read that a lot of what he is thinking about right now is in line with something that has been troubling me.
I have found myself over the last couple of months reevaluating our department and office structure (not for any other reason than looking at ways to improve what we do and how we work). Much of it stems from recent presentations on the Millenial generation and its future impact on the workplace. Most of the talking points focus on short-term changes associated with things like paid time off, office decor/environment and incentives/motivation, but the section that looks at demographic data associated with this generation, that will make up most of the workforce in a couple years, has really made me think about the long-term implications.
The current model of the office environment must change.
I believe that the most successful companies in the world are those that have pioneered some sort of fundamental innovation. Their success has hinged on that innovative productive, but that idea was only born because the company operated in an environment that fostered creative thinking. Creativity and innovation are ingrained in the culture, and often the office itself. Think of the offices of companies like Google and Wieden+Kennedy. Their offices are more of a loose, casual think-tank where talented people just happen to assemble in order to drive products and ideas forward. I mean, when was the last time you held a concert at your office? Do you have a basketball court or bicycles for your employees to use whenever they want?
You’re not so proud of that company-provided snack room anymore are you? Or maybe your’re rolling your eyes thinking these are just distractions for your employees that will reduce productivity. But when was the last time you had employees at your office at 8pm during the week because they wanted to be there?
As Hegerty puts it,
“Increasingly, we’re looking at a world where ideas are fundamentally important, one in which creativity is going to be central to the future of our economy. The question is: How do you engender that? How do you actually increase creative activity? I look at the environment. If you go back 30, 40, 50 years and look at the office, it was a very austere place – desks were in formal lines and you had to work until a bell sounded. Gradually, we loosened that up because we want people to be freer, we want employees to think more, and we want them to enjoy what they’re doing. We brought in potted plants and furniture designers. Today, we have coffee bars where people can mingle and exchange thoughts and ideas.”
These ‘distractions’ have a purpose, and it will be those companies that embrace them that continue to have success 10 years from now. Happy employees stick around. They are the ones you invest in and ultimately get shining careers, and work, out of. But many companies are already starting to embrace these ideas. It is nothing new.
The place where we work has to evolve, but what about the way work?
As co-working spaces and remote and contract employees become more prevalent, we must start asking ourselves whether our employees really need to be in the office from 8am to 5pm. Technology has reached a point where the remote employee can now be as productive as the cubicle worker. The communication obstacle has been solved. This has also enabled the contract worker to become more integrated into our organizations. We are no longer restricted to the talent pool located geographically around us. We can tap into a global resource pool of the most-talented people. We do not have to compromise anymore.
“But there has been another fundamental shift: Many people don’t want to work at one job all the time. They want to work for three or four months of the year, take a couple of months off and go somewhere, look at something, read something, do something – enrich their lives in some way…Our traditional, formal way of employing people runs counter to the way they want to work. But I don’t want to lose talented people at BBH simply because we can’t accommodate their creative impulses. As both working life and the office itself become less structured, I see an alternative vision: The office as a members’ club. The club is run by a core of senior executives who organize it. Rather than a traditional employee, you’re a member, available to work on projects. As you only get paid when you work, if you want to go to Tibet for three months to study that’s okay – there’ll be another project waiting when you return.
I want to loosen up the process and make the workplace somewhere that you positively want to be; somewhere that is stimulating and invigorating, where you meet different people and encounter different ideas; somewhere that grows your experience of life and grows your creativity rather than sucks it out of you. A workplace that achieves that is the future.”
- Sir John Hegarty, BBH
I 100% agree and have discussed a similar idea with local company presidents/CEOs a few times before reading the article. At first they are hesitant, but by the end of the conversation most are scratching their head. They see the value, but struggle with how we make the leap from where we are today. I personally don’t think it will be a choice we, as managers, get to make.
Our employees and the workforce will drive the change.
As the economy recovers, people will start taking more risks. We will see more people move to consulting roles. There will be some groups of these workers that band together to create small companies, but many will work for themselves as a company of one. Companies will put out RFQs for project-based work and we’ll hire those folks that meet our requirements and budgets. As Hegarty sees it,
“Of course, you can’t operate without process. The trouble in large companies is that process takes over as you struggle to make the machine work. But in a club, the permanent members – the senior executives – are the ones who operate the process and make it work. Those people are dedicated to it, freeing up the other members to come and go as they please. In turn, those members have to be given flexibility and have to be allowed to fail. As long as you’ve done all the things that you should do, if something fails, we’ll accept that. It’s going to happen. It must happen if you’re going to be constantly pushing the edges of the envelope.”
Where do you stand?
Do you agree? Disagree? Do you believe this is the direction we are headed? What steps are you taking to be ready for this evolution?
The newest generation to hit the workforce goes by many different names. The basic birth year bracket for this generation is 1982 – 1995 or 2000, depending on your source. The names include Generation Y, Millennial Generation, Generation Next, Net Generation, Echo Boomers and even the Peter Pan Generation. Here is the kicker: this generation is HUGE and is needed to ensure continued economic growth. The Baby Boomer Generation is around 120M the X Generation is around 90M. We just don’t have enough X Generation professionals to fill the leadership void being created by the Baby Boomer push to retirement. The Millenials will be quickly pushed into leadership positions over the next 10 years to fill this void. On Thursday, February 23rd ASPE President David Mantica and ASPE Vice President of Marketing JT Moore presented the free web seminar “Millennials Rising: Critical Success Factors for Leading and Empowering Generation Y.” In this web seminar, David and JT discussed a detailed look at Millennial characteristics, how to motivate Millennials in the work place, how to empower Millennial success through task assignment and work empowerment, and the issues around discipline, corrective action, and feedback circles with them.
Listen to a recording of this web seminar in its entirety by clicking View Event Recordings (at the top right). Whether you are a business analyst, project manager, IT manager or director, business manager or executive, you must understand how to properly drive the growth and development of your high-potential Millennials. Based on the significantly different characteristics of this generation, a detailed understanding is necessary for success. Or, as this generation is very willing to do, they will quickly leave and find something that does fit who they are.
Do you have a question for David or JT? Leave your comments or tweet us! Follow @ASPE_ROI and use hashtag #ASPEEvents.
I am lucky enough to work in an office with a large number of high potential Millennials. Meaning I have a good amount of real world experience on this subject, not just source document research knowledge. Now the first question you may have is, “What is a Millennial (although if you are reading this you most likely know)?” Although sources differ, a Millennial is usually defined as someone being born between 1982 – 1995, some sources stretches it out to 2000. So why is this generation any different in value than past generations? Well there is a very, very good answer to this and it all has to deal with size and economic growth.
The Millennial Generation is HUGE. Just about as big, if not bigger than the Baby Boomers. Rough estimates size the Millennial Generation at 120 to 130 million. This is interesting, but why care? Well we must care because the generation between the Boomers and the Millennials is Generation X. And Generation X is SMALL – very small. Rough estimates on its size are around 80 to 90 million. In order to maintain solid corporate performance and economic growth in the foreseeable future, Millennials will be thrust into significant leadership roles. They will be responsible to drive the strategic marketing, operations and product direction for corporations much earlier than any generation before. And in this complex global economy, this is a significant challenge.
In some cases, blog post like this might be too late. The oldest Millennials are turning thirty in 2012 and most likely have already seen this effect and are now fending for themselves. But I believe the core of this generation is just now entering the workforce and Human Resources and Executive Management still have time to build a plan to successfully implement the training and corporate retention policies necessary to enable high potential Millennials.
This sounds pretty simple. Millennials are needed in leadership roles much sooner than normal because of the size of Generation X and the hole the Baby Boomers are leaving as they retire. Use standard programs and policies and we are all set – maybe. The truth is if you use the standard policies and procedures you will FAIL miserably with this group. This article in Talent Magazine gives a very detailed look at how training programs and retention policies need to change to ensure successful corporate integration of Millennials: http://talentmgt.com/articles/view/preparing-high-potentials-for-tomorrow.
So what is so different about Millennials? From a real world perspective the first thing I’ve run into is relevance. Relevance is critical to this generation and it makes sense. Think about all the data they have been exposed to for their entire lives. From day one they are connected. So it only makes sense that their first filter is relevance, in life as well as in work. So what does this mean? Basically, in the work world, they want their work to “mean” something. Not specifically to the world, but to them. They want their work to be an expression of who they are as a person. They want to work on stuff they care about and like. This is very understandable. We all kind of want this, but with this generation it is critical. They will forego money and promotions to work on “stuff” they like. They will walk away from a company without another option if it means working on something that is just not relevant to them.
Some of this will change as they mature and gain responsibility both at work and at home, but for now it is just something that must be managed and understood. It is easily handled with another business method that is an absolute must for them: Communication.
Mellennials demand communication, feedback and reinforcement. Gone are the days of giving an employee a loose set of directives and tell them to run with it. A Mellennial wants to know what they are working on, how it ties to company goals, and then they want feedback on a consistent basis.
So when interviewing Mellennials it is critical to detail their position, the work involved in that position and how that position impacts the company. They need to see this in order to make a decision, but it also protects you from a short-term hire. Communication with a Mellennial starts from the very beginning (even before they are hired). But once hired, the communication must be constant and consistent but doesn’t necessarily have to be face-to-face.
The first challenge with communication is tied to decision making. Unlike other generations, Mellennials like working as part of a team, so they are not used to making decisions “outside” of a team. They will consistently check in with their manager on decisions to be comfortable. They will want to discuss their options and hash things out to feel comfortable with their decision. This is a time issues for managers but it must be done.
The second challenge is around reinforcement. A Mellennial likes feedback, constant and consistent. They want to know you know they are doing a good job and working on the “right” things. For a Manager who was schooled in the art of the “don’t bother me unless you are dying” management style, this is going to be very difficult. The problem here is you may begin to judge the person as incompetent. The reality is they are very confident but have never been allowed to fly solo (helicopter parenting issues). A critical success factor here is to constantly reinforce that they can make a mistake, that a mistake will not kill them or the company. The more you reinforce the faster they will move to flying solo.
This blog post is just the very tip of the iceberg that Melliennal talent management. This post doesn’t even get into the stereotypical conversations of social media and texting communication methods that most slap on to this generation. This issue can take up a blog post on its own. From my perspective It is crucial to continued economic growth that the potential of the Melliennal generation is tapped into quickly.