Millennial Myths vs. Reality: Understanding Truths About the "Next Gen" and Business

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"Millennials," "Generation We," "Generation Me," "Next Gen," "Boomerangs," or the "Peter Pan Generation."

Call them what you want, but don't ignore them. In fact, learn to embrace them because by2017, millennials are projected to have 3 times the online buying power of baby boomers, more than $200 billion in annual buying power. But who are the millennials? How can we prepare to understand and connect with this highly-educated, tech-savvy, but often labeled "lazy" generation who represent 25% of the U.S. population?

In this post, I'll debunk a few common millennial myths to dig into their mindset... and why doing so matters for the future of business success.

Myth 1. Millennials are lazy and entitled.

Actually, millennials have to work harder than previous generations just to find a job. They see wars, elected officials, and corporations as to blame for unfavorable economic conditions. They see management too often stifling innovation and creativity. They are eager to contribute.

Myth 2. Millennials only care about themselves.

Actually, millennials care about society and define a meaningful life as one that makes society better. They prefer “meaningful work” to jobs with higher salaries.

Myth 3. Millennials don’t volunteer or donate to charities.

Actually, 63% of millennials donate to charity; 43% actively volunteer. Millennials regularly identify with causes but less so with institutions.

Myth 4. Millennials only care about money, not family.

Actually, 75% see themselves as “highly authentic” and are not willing to compromise their personal and family values for career or money. They place more value on work-life balance than any previous generation. They have more respect for family elders than previous generations. They also talk to their parents more frequently than previous generations.

Here's an interesting visual comparison of how millennials describe themselves compared to how HR professionals describe them. Surprisingly, 86% of millennials identified themselves as hard working, whereas 11% of HR professionals would describe millennials as hard working.

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Source: A Beyond.com survey of 6,361 job seekers and veteran HR professionals, from April 12 - May 9, 2013.

This millennial generation is unlike any before and they will drastically alter the way business is done today. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with computers in the house, who learned computing during the decline of paper manuals, and whose offline and online worlds blend together (think Facebook "friends"). They aren't afraid to just creatively figure things out through trial-and-error and do not need an authority figure to gain unfettered access to the world of information. Their power on social media already far exceeds any other generation. 

When you're dealing with digital natives, none of the old rules of marketing, design, or customer service apply. Companies must get in the head of this new consumer and adapt accordingly, without believing in myths or making assumptions about behavior.

And in case you're curious, the "boomerang" generation refers to the fact that many of the 80,000,000 millennials in the U.S. will be living with their parents after a brief period of living on their own—the "Peter Pans" who "won't grow up!" 

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