The Mystery of What Millennials Really Want Is Solved at Last
A single conversation over a couple of beers reveals the prosaic truth: decent pay and benefits, a lot like their parents had.
Youth, it’s been said, is wasted on the young.
And while every generation draws the wrath of those plagued by enlarged prostates and chronic lower back pain, the vitriol for millennials seems to me to be particularly mean-spirited and undeserved. Take for example my recent encounter with an eager young college grad who shed some light on what millennials really want.
On March 31st, 2017, I travelled to Dublin, Ireland to speak at a conference for small and medium sized enterprises. My topic was hot of the pages of Entrepreneur -- Why Won't My Customer Call Me Back?
After the conference I headed off to the pub and found myself seated next to a young man, Paul, who had just graduated college and had landed himself a plum position at a large aerospace firm. Perched on a barstool and sucking down Guiness (not a paid endorsement although I do like Guiness), we exchanged pleasantries and, as Americans travelling abroad are wont to do, we discussed what brought us to our current location.
I told him about my speech and the irony of a session I attended where a woman, age 60-something, told a rapt audience all about what millennials want. He listened carefully before responding, “what a load of crap.”
Paul does not speak for all millennials but I think he speaks for enough that others should take heed. It may have been the Guiness (still not a paid endorsement) but what he said made sense. So here are what I can remember of the words of wit and sage advice from a stranger I met in a bar in Dublin who may or may not have been named Paul.
A decent job with benefits.
Millennials want a decent job; not a part time job where they are forbidden to work more than 36 hours lest they be considered full time. A surprising number of industries -- from daycare centers to autism centers -- expect college degrees but are only willing to pay a hair more than minimum wage and will under no circumstance offer full-time employment.
A decent job that affords them a life.
Millennials want to make a living wage. There is a difference between making a living wage and making a subsistence wage that seems like a living wage. Here is a generation saddled with unprecedented debt from student loans, and sure the callous creeps out there can rightfully say that “nobody FORCED them to take out those loans” I would argue that yes, they were forced to take those loans.
I get the argument that nobody paid older folks loans, but then again, there also wasn’t this convergence of predatory lending, sky-rocketing costs of higher education and credential inflation. For many and more, it was either take out a loan or not go to college and fight for the evermore-competitive unskilled positions.
Millennials want "good" benefits, which their parents just thought of as "benefits."
“We want good healthcare, paid holidays, and vacation time. What we want,” says Paul, “is what our parents take for granted.”
Paul isn’t wrong. A quick look at the overall compensation for newly hired millennials is pretty dismal. Does $36,000 seem like a lot? Because when you subtract co-pays and all the benefits for which today’s workers have to pay that yesterday’s workers got as a part of a compensation package, that paycheck just can’t be stretched that far.
Millennials want their jobs to make sense.
Millennials want their managers to clearly articulate what is expected and what the assignment is and then get out of the way. “We don’t want to work in an open-cube, Google workspace,” says Paul. “We just want to be able to collaborate with our fellow workers and do the best possible job we can.”
Paul told me that he was currently on a two-month paid leave of absence (a benefit he negotiated when he was hired) and the conversation turned to how he should spend his remaining days in Dublin. I ran down the list of tourist things he could do and then half jokingly said, "it’s not exactly Amsterdam."
At this Paul lit up and said, “why in the (expletive) am I staying five days here when I could be in Amsterdam?” He got on his phone and with fingers flicking with the dexterity only found in one raised in the world of texting in moments he had changed his plans to leave the next morning for Amsterdam (so much for me working for the Dublin Office of Travel and Tourism). I gave him my card and asked him to contact me when he landed, just to stay in touch.
Maybe I should have encouraged Paul to stay those four extra days in Dublin and enjoy its rich culture and rolling green landscape. Maybe suggesting four-day bacchanal wasn’t the brightest thing I could have done. I hope he passes his drug test when he finally reports to work. I’m sure things will work out and besides clean pee is still relatively cheap.
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