Millennial 101: Top 10 questions I have been asked on engaging this generation as employees and consumers

Who are the Millennials?

Millennials are the generation born approximately between 1980 to 2000. As of 2019, they are aged between 19 to 39. That being said, there are differing definitions as to when the Millennials were born. Researchers can’t seem to agree collectively on a fixed range of years. Hence, the numbers are fluid. Studying generations is a sociological science so it doesn’t follow hard rules. These years are determined by the researched truth that the events and conditions one experience growing up shape who they are. 

What happened to Gen Y? Are they the same as Xennials?

The term Gen Y and Millennial are synonymous – i.e. they refer to the same group of people. Initially when researchers were figuring out this generation, they simply named them as Gen Y, as a successor to Gen X. However, as they gathered more research and learnt more about them, they renamed them as Millennials and it stuck. Just know they’re the same.

Xennials, on the other hand, are a “micro-generation” born 1979 and 1984. They lie on the cusps of Gen X and Millennial demographic cohorts. Business Insider describes them as people who neither feel like a Gen Xer nor a Millennial. They don’t fit the mould of either generation but rather have a mix of both. For those who felt left out from the typical catergorisations, being described as a Xennial with mixed qualities of Gen X and Millennials resonated well.

Why are Millennials such a hot topic in conversations and events?

       1. Demographic Influence

Millennials as a generation have demographic influence. Globally, they are 2.43 billion strong and by 2025 will form 75% of the workforce. In other words, for every 4 people in an organisation, 3 will be Millennials. 

      2. Economic Influence

As one of the largest generations in history is about to enter their prime spending years, Millennials are poised to reshape the economy. Their unique experiences will change the ways we buy and sell, forcing companies to re-examine how they do business for decades to come. You’ve probably come across news such as Millennials are not getting married, or are marrying late, Millennials are not buying property to settle down or even Millennials are not buying cars anymore. Yep, they have a different take on how to spend their money. 

      3. Confounding Leadership

Millennials are known to confuse Leaders of Organisations and are a hot topic. Apparently they want different things and are known to very different in terms of motivation, communication and work ethics. The new difficulties and challenges in engaging them and managing them has led to many stereotypes that float on the internet and in the minds of many who have either dealt with them or yet to deal with them. The Media are also fond of the Millennials and have  a habit of portraying them on both extreme ends of the spectrum. 

What are the most common myths about Millennials?

  1. Lazy

One of the most common myths that can be found floating around about Millennials is that they are a lazy bunch. And there could be nothing else further from the truth! I mean, come on, which generation doesn’t have a bunch of lazy people. Baby Boomers have them, Gen Xers have them and even the Gen Z’s will have them. 

That being said, if you wonder why people tend to label Millennials this way, you can understand why. Millennials grew up with technology and have always been comfortable in using it to get things done. So in cases where certain processes can be accomplished a lot faster by leveraging on technology, they speak up about it and suggest it. 

But for those who are uninitiated with the new ways of doing things (typically some from older generations), they see new as a risk and insist on doing things in the prescribed manner. This creates conflicts between them and instead of having ongoing conversations about the problem, they take the easy route and simply label them.

For others, Millennials may seem lazy because they don’t want to do it your way. But Millennials are one of the most hardworking people you can find as a generation. They follow their passions and want to be as productive as possible. If you know what ticks for the Millennial, it’s very easy to see their hardworking side. 

       2. Entitled

Another common myth about Millennials are that they are entitled. They desire more before they deserve. This is the common comment amongst managers who find Millennials eager to get promoted even though they’ve only been around in the Organisation for about two years or so. 

Now older generations have a different take to promotions. In their experience, promotions only happened once in five years, at best. So when they hear Millennials asking for promotions, they tend to get a shock. And hence, the label, entitled. 

But Millennials lack the reference experience that older generations have at the workplace. What Millennials observe – typically via social media – is that their network of friends and colleagues are moving up the ranks pretty quickly and they want the same for themselves. That’s their experience. 

Millennials are able to constantly compare and pit themselves against their peers thanks to the internet and social media. They want to know that the work they do, adds value to the organisation and that they matter. Promotions are one of the ways this can happen.

But I want to encourage you to consider this: Millennials are more Entrepreneurial than Entitled. When you look at this generation, you will see a large number of them being really comfortable in joining startups

Startups have a high risk of failing, especially within the first five years. And yet, why is it that Millennials are joining these startups in droves? That’s because they believe in the vision of the Founders and know that their efforts will be rewarded. Startups also offer many other benefits that appeal to Millennials but the key to focus on is that compared to the Millennials, enrolment is fewer amongst the older generations in joining these startups. 

Working in startups is not easy – everyone in the team wears more than one hat. They cover for each other. They don’t have the predictability that most large organisations offer. And yet, Millennials are happy to work for them not because they are entitled but rather because they are entrepreneurial in nature. 

       3. Narcissistic

Millennials get the label of Narcissistic (read: self admiration) because they tend to use Social Media a lot and take lots of selfies. Yes, this generation probably takes more selfies than Gen X and Baby Boomers but that’s more so because of their age. Millennials are in their early twenties and they are at a stage where they are probably dating, hanging around with friends and having fun. And all of this intentionally or unintentionally involves them using their smartphones quite a bit. Put all of these together and from the outside, it is easy to come to conclusions that Millennials are narcissistic. 

But here’s my suggestion: When you see a Millennial in your circle display behaviours of Narcissism, hold the label and take the effort to get to know them better. Spend more time with them and engage with their thoughts. More often than not, you will see that there’s more to them than what meets the eye. 

Yeah, but… isn’t this just youth culture?

Of course there are certain attitudes and behaviours that are more about life stage and not necessarily specific to generational personalities. Young people will be young. Teenagers will have messy rooms. There definitely is a youth element to the behaviours you see in any set of young people. 

Compare a 22-year old Millennial with a 32-year old Millennial. They work differently and have varied expectations. 

The 32-year old is sharp, articulate and respects unwritten rules – that’s experience. The 22-year old speaks about college days and what she hopes she can accomplish in her first year – that’s life stage.

As true as that may be, these different stages affect their work. If the 32-year old has bills to pay and a child on the way, she may be more inclined to stick with the job longer because security has become more of a priority now that there’s more than one mouth to feed. 

Both of them are collaborative, energetic, and want to make a difference. That’s generational. The ‘live for today’ mentality is one they’ve carried with them, and it won’t change regardless of what life stage they’re occupying because it is a trait that became hardened during their most impressionable years. You will find that as Millennials age into parenthood, retirement, and grandparenthood, this trait is likely to hold steady. They’ll always want to make the most of their time in the here and now. Values for cohorts have remained consistent regardless of life stage

What are some ways that Millennials truly differ from any other generation?

There are so many key differences that I can point out but I’ll focus on the top three that come to mind at this moment

Tech Savvy
It is no secret – this generation grew up with the Tech Boom. If Millennials had another name, it should be Tech Boomers. Children of Baby Boomers. Makes sense, doesn’t it? This generation was raised during a time when technology took off at rocket speeds. Change was the only constant and continues to move at high speeds as we approach Industry 4.0

When you compare the willingness to take hold of technology, Millennials beat the older generations. They show eagerness and excitement at the latest software updates and technological advancements. This is something they have been used to since they had their first mobile phone. From the Nokias’ and Ericssons’ to the iPhones and Samsungs, Millennials have seen the software and hardware updates happen. They have seen and felt the novelty firsthand and are not afraid of new technology.

Having grown up in a world of change, one of the key characteristics of Millennials and their mindset is being really adaptable to change. As their world was constantly changing, they learned to be malleable with any future shift. To Millennials, change and disruption – are critical to success. When change happens at work, they embrace it or seek to make it happen themselves. In the social world, they are progressive like any young generation before them and fight for progressive societal changes.

Millennials grew up with “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ posters in every classroom and teachers encouraged a group mentality to do great work. Social networking fostered informal group gatherings. This is the generation that is very comfortable with open workspaces, whiteboard walls, brainstorming sessions, working together in one room and one table even if they’re working on different things while valuing team goals and team decisions over those of individuals. 

Tell me something about Millennials that I don’t know

You probably already know that Millennials are sick of being labelled as Millennials (that come with the negative stereotype). What you probably don’t know is that there are behavioural differences between the Millennials born in the 80s’ versus the Millennials born in the 90s. The differences are rather stark and it is called the Millennial Split. I talk about this split in my keynote speeches and brand consulting projects where I share why the split happened and what it means for employers and brands alike. 

Can Millennials become loyal, hard-working employees, managers and leaders?

Yes, a hundred percent!

Millennials grew up watching their Baby Boomer parents work loyally for 1 organisation for over 10 to 30 years only to see them let off when financial crisis hit. As a result, they started questioning if companies are doing anything different from thirty years ago for their employees. They realised that in the working world, loyalty has little value when the economy is in dumps. It meant for Millennials, their loyalty needed to be earned, just like how respect needs to be earned. It doesn’t come with the job anymore because in today’s world, Millennials can survive in the gig economy and very easily find a job. Millennials have come to realise that companies need talents more than the other way around. On top of that, Millennials have the support of their parents to back them up in difficult situations. 

So to answer your question, companies need to adapt to what Millennials want from the workplace. It doesn’t stop with payment. They want more. They don’t want to be working zombies who have no interest in their job. They want to enjoy their working days in companies with colleagues who are equally fun. They want work life integration and work life boundaries to be set. They want a lot more things than the previous generations dared to ask for. 

If startups can attract Millennials without luring them in with high pay, I don’t see why other well equipped organisations need to suffer when all they need to do is adapt to what Millennials want. Simply observe the best places to work at and you will see that success has left clues. In my keynote and training programs, I share these clues and empower organisations to become more ‘Millennial-friendly’ as an Employer Brand.

Is it worth pursuing Millennials as customers? Do they actually have money?

If I could get a dollar for the  the number of times I get asked this question, I’d be a retired rich man by now. Let me lay this out for you. Millennials have already overtaken every other generation in terms of spending and are in their PRIME wealth accumulation and spending phase. 

Millennials are also starting families – although later than other generations. This is impacting everything from financial services to automotive industries to restaurants, hospitals, consumer technology and insurance. Millennials are the trendsetters and they go strongly by referrals for business purchases – because they don’t easily trust ads and stuff on the internet.

A few important takeaways I share in my keynote presentations are about how any generation and industry can communicate, market, and grow with Millennials. All you need to know are the right buttons to press and you can definitely make it work for yourself and you brand. 

I find that Millennials are the Nitros Oxide for revenue growth. They have the capabilities to accelerate your business growth by creating better experiences for Millennials, and that too, for all types of businesses ranging from start-ups to SMEs to MNCs. 

What will happen when you’re no longer a Millennial?

That is not possible because of one very simple reason. You can’t change generations as you age. Your generation is fixed when you are born in a certain year. You move through life stages, not generations. I will always be a Millennial. Even at age 65, I will be known as a Millennial. 

Millennials have been mistaken taken as a synonym for youths. That’s a mistake. Once a Millennial, always a Millennial. Once a Baby Boomer, always a Baby Boomer. 

About the author

VIVEK IYYANI is a Millennial & Gen Z specialist and Professional Speaker at Millennial Minds Pte Ltd. He is an award-winning author of 4 books, namely "Empowering Millennials", "Engaging Millennials", "The Millennial Leader" and "Marketing to Millennials". He has spoken at organisations like Brunei Government, Paypal, Oracle,, Singapore General Hospital, and many more. He has been featured by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to feature in a video of #MySingaporeStory. He has also appeared on CNBC and Channel NewsAsia as a guest on the Gen Z topic. Vivek is known in his industry to speak at conferences on topics around Generational Diversity.


Understanding Millennials

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