You may or may not be familiar with the term ‘millennials’, but if you’re not, it’s certainly one worth becoming acquainted with. They are at the centre of a generational conflict, which is certainly nothing new; as cultural values and economic and political conditions change over the years, so do the norms and attributes of the generations that pass with them. But the millennials, who will soon account for a substantial and integral part of the modern day workforce, seem to be getting a particularly hard time about… well, everything from their interview etiquette and work ethic to their digital-centricity and the way in which they dress. Is all of the negative press justified? Or is there hope for them yet? In the first of this two-part Q & A guide, we will seek to uncover who the millennials are, what has influenced them, and what you can expect of the individuals within this ever more present and significant proportion of the labour market.

Just who are the Millennials?

Also known as Generation Y, – the population that succeeded Generation X and their predecessors, the Baby Boomers – millennials are the emerging economically active population, and are fast-becoming the most viable and prominent Talent pool for employers; they are expected to account for well over half of the working population by 2025. Pinning down the exact generational range is tricky as the birth years have been widely contested, but it is generally defined as the demographic born from the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s.

What have been their biggest influences?

Nurtured to succeed

As with every generation, the first major determiner in the development of the millennial generation has been their upbringing. Parents of Gen Y’ers have been seen to micromanage them, and so millennials have been nurtured in such a way as to aim for and expect success and fulfilment in all that they do. They have been steered away from making challenging or potentially ill-fated decisions by so-called ‘helicopter parents’, and gradual yet consistently more stringent changes to the education system have made it more difficult for this generation to be faced with the prospect of failure. Lack of exposure to such experiences has resulted in an inability to manage criticism, mistakes or poor decision making as resolutely as previous generations. And unlike their parents and grandparents before them, millennials are less inclined to move out after finishing their education, and marriage and children are no longer considered to be high in their list of priorities; they are delaying what would be deemed as adult responsibilities in favour of a kind of extended adolescence.

Poor economic conditions

The millennial generation would have grown up during, and will be bearing the brunt of, the recent global recession. As the economic climate worsened, millennials became more accustomed to the idea that they would be entering into a far less optimistic jobs market, burdened with the debt of education fees and disillusioned about finding stable employment, let alone developing a career. And so, it is believed that this has impacted the way in which they approach the world of work. Money, which was once the most appropriating indicator of success, is no longer the driving force because the economy won’t allow it to be. Instead, they have had to find a new way to motivate their desire to succeed, and it seems to have fallen to something far less materialistic, and far more deep-rooted; genuine interest. They are concerned with making a difference, and having stimulating experiences that truly engage them.

Mass integration of digital technology

It’s not just that they’ve been brought up alongside significant cultural changes – every generation has – but rather, it’s the rate at which these changes have occurred that has influenced this generation. Millennials are switched-on and tech savvy, brought up during a time when the distribution and consumption of news, media and resources was, and continues to be, at a cross-roads. New technologies have reshaped the way in which we interact with each other, and the way in which Gen Y in particular think about themselves. The emergence of social networks means that the millennial generation has been the first to develop and manage their digital identity alongside their physical one. First Myspace and Bebo, now Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; these forms of social media encourage an ever-present focus on the self, and place a great sense of importance on networks, communities and gaining the recognition of others. “Look where I’ve been! Look what I’ve done! Look who I am (or who I’m trying to be)!” They have been brought up in a globalised world where the consumption of information and media is quick and virtually limitless, and are therefore less tolerant of repetivity, routines and slow processes.

What are the typical characteristics of a millennial?

As with any generational debate, opinions are polarised as to the generalised characteristics of the millennial cohort. On the one hand, Gen Y’ers are perceived to be a bright, optimistic generation who have a strong will to learn. Considered to be the first generation of digital natives, they’re at ease with technology, and well networked. They hold regular interaction and social relations in high regard, and thrive in open and flexible environments.

On the other, and overwhelming more so, they have been branded self-indulgent, narcissistic, and are seen to be forever seeking praise and approval. Their nature as a hyper-connected, tech-immersed generation has supposedly resulted in shortened attention spans and a heightened need for streams of diverse and interesting material to engage with frequently; they struggle to remain engaged when repeating activities that lack variation on a day-to-day basis.

Despite the more interconnected nature of contemporary communication and the dissemination of news, millennials are less geopolitically aware than previous generations. However, they are said to be more impassioned about societal issues, and are not only concerned with what they are doing, but the wider impact it is having and the kind of difference it is making. They are also generally considered to be more liberal in their approach to traditionally taboo topics such as same-sex marriage. They embrace the notion of individuality, harbouring more piercings and tattoos than their predecessors, and although not completely unaccustomed to the suit and tie, they are more comfortable in attire that allows for a degree of expression and informality.  

As we have reviewed, there are some important factors to consider when trying to understand the beliefs, attitudes and tendencies of the millennial generation. Catch part-two of our millennial feature to explore what makes Gen Y candidates tick when looking for work, and what you can do as an employer to integrate future millennial employees into your business effectively.

This article was originally posted on the People and Performance blog on