Millennials were taught to treasure nature. In 1995, almost in the middle of the generation’s birth years, 1982-2003, Disney produced an animated version of the legend of Pocahontas, which uses the heroine’s communication with animals and plants at each dramatic turning point in the story.
The need to empathize with nature was further imprinted on young Millennial minds through the lyrics of the movie’s hit song, “Colors of the Wind,” that reminded everyone, “We are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends.”
Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. The application of this concept to becoming one with nature was taken to even greater heights for Millennials when Pocahontas’ story was updated in 2009.
That year the hit movie, “Avatar,” used 3D technology to transport its characters, not to the New World, but to another planet, Pandora. Populated by sentient beings even more connected to their environment than Native Americans, it’s something especially true of Avatar’s heroine, Neytiri.
But the message of both movies was the same—the world becomes a better place when macho warriors are turned away from their life of plunder and conquest by getting in touch with the feelings of another culture through their relationship with just the right woman.
Both this blending of gender perspectives and a focus on the importance of preserving nature are defining traits of the Millennial Generation.
The Holstee Manifesto
The implications of such attitudes for the future of business are exemplified by Millennials driving the success of the clothing firm, Holstee.
That company sees ecology, which it defines as “the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment,” as all-encompassing. Holstee’s goal is to sell products that “create the greatest social impact while simultaneously creating the smallest environmental impact.”
Making the leap from buying a T-shirt with a holster-like pocket for carrying an environmentally correct Holstee wallet to changing the world is something that comes easily to a generation convinced that the best way to solve global problems is to act locally and directly upon them.
The same year that “Avatar” was breaking box-office records, the founders of Holstee, still a fledgling enterprise at the time, wrote a manifesto about what they wanted to create. That document has now been viewed more than 60 million times and shared on social media by more than a half million people.
The manifesto ends with the empathetic declaration that “life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them.
So go out and start creating.” The manifesto reminds readers, who Holstee hopes will become the company’s customers, that “life is short,” and implores them to “live your dream and share your passion.”
It’s as if Holstee’s founders were channeling Pocahontas and Neytiri in an effort to turn their customers away from traditional, insensitive-to-nature consumer behavior and instead to change the world by buying one of Holstee’s products. By melding their personal cause with their company’s business raison d’être they have created a perfect brand for Millennials.
The desire of Millennials, such as the founders of Holstee, is to put societal goals at the center of an enterprise’s mission—and this will change how every business will need to operate in the future.
More and more corporate leaders will have to transform their organization by communicating its vision and values to customers and employees alike. The message needs to be an empathetic one, capturing the beliefs and values of America’s largest generation in order to establish a foundation of trust that generates innovation on the part of the company’s employees and brand loyalty from its customers.
As pressure from Millennials leads to more and more such transformative efforts among the nation’s entrepreneurs, all generations will benefit, and nature’s circle of life will hum with the empathetic vibrations such action produces.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) tended to be workaholics—causing the average time their Gen X children spent with an adult role model during a typical day to fall to about 14.5 minutes.
Despite their parents’ attempt to make these fleeting moments “quality time,” adult Gen Xers (born 1965-1981) are determined not to let their own work life intrude on the time they spend with their family.
However, as Boomer Anne-Marie Slaughter so eloquently points out in her controversial and interesting Atlantic magazine article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, implementing the concept of work/life balance can be challenging—especially for women.
As a result, the children of Boomers and Xers, members of the Millennial generation (born 1982-2003), are searching for an alternative approach to incorporating the obligations to family and the demands of work.
The desire of Millennials of both sexes for a “blended life” will remake how work is organized and what is expected from each parent in the years to come.
Ryan Healy, (pictured right) the COO and co-founder of Brazen Careerist, clearly articulated his generation’s desire for something completely different than the work/life balance exhibited by his Gen X elders early in his career.
“I would never dream of saying I want a Family/Life balance. … This whole notion of needing to separate work and life implies that your career, which takes up about 75% of your day, is something you simply try to get through so you can go home and do what you really enjoy for the other 25%. What a terrible way to live. My purpose is to be successful, genuinely happy and to make a difference in this world. … The balance doesn’t work, we already know this. I don’t want to choose. I want a blended life.” Click here to read more.
Millennials like Healy have the most gender-neutral attitudes of any generation in American history.
Unleashed from traditional societal constraints, Millennial women have reached new heights of accomplishment in comparison to men.
For instance, by 2016, women are projected to earn about two-thirds of all undergraduate and master’s degrees and even 56 percent of the doctorates that will be awarded in the United States. Millennial gender-neutrality has also led to a perspective on feminism that isn’t defined in comparison to men.
Jen Kalaidis, (pictured at left) is a writer and marketer in DC who describes her Millennial sisters’ attitudes this way, “Today’s women were raised to believe we were equal to men, but we didn’t have to try to be them to prove it. We play sports, go to college, start businesses, have babies, and travel the world on our own terms. We aren’t constantly trying to out-man the boys, play for play.”
All of this female success has led some male Millennials to rethink what it means to be a man in today’s society.
Two of them, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil, wrote about “Men’s Lib” in Newsweek and took issue with those “who argue that men are ‘designed’ for some gigs and not others … women long ago proved that gender essentialism doesn’t determine what kind of work they can do. … The time has come for a similar expansion of what men can do for a living.”
Romano and Dokoupil expect to see greater participation in housework and child-rearing from the men in their generation as well, with Millennial fathers creating a demand for, and taking advantage of, paternity-leave opportunities as they become more available.
As Millennials marry and start families and pursue their individual careers, employers who wish to attract the best talent of the generation will have no choice but to accommodate their desire for a more blended life.
Such things as telecommuting, flexible hours, child care, and round-the-clock access to technology will become essential elements of the benefits package employers will need to offer their workforce.
With Millennials on track to become more than one out of every three adult Americans by the end of this decade, their desire for a seamless blend between working and raising a family will generate a new national consensus on the importance of enabling the full participation of both sexes in all aspects of American life.
In the last half of the 19th century, Horatio Alger, Jr. defined for the American popular culture what it meant to be a young entrepreneur.
Indeed, the writer of popular novels for children showed us through the heroes in his books that poor boys, by dint of hard work and better ideas, became rich and respected. (Note: Alger’s entrepreneur’s club was closed to girls in those days.)
But for those who are tracking this, it is clear that many Millennials (born 1982-2003), who are today’s teens and young adults, have a very different and broader conception of what it means to be an entrepreneur.
Members of this next generation are increasingly called “social entrepreneurs.”
This class of business leaders is defined by Businessweek as “enterprising individuals who apply business practices to solving societal problems such as pollution, poor nutrition, and poverty.”
Although the organizations created by the more than 30,000 American social entrepreneurs are focused on curing the world’s ills, they are not traditional charities. Many, in fact, are designed to make a profit—and as Businessweek reports, represent more than $40 billion in revenue.
Millennial Generation social entrepreneurs often focus on economic development, education, and the environment, issues that are of particular concern to their generation. And, they take full advantage of the social media communication technologies that Millennials use so effectively.
- To improve educational opportunities around the world Richard Ludlow created Academic Earth, a company that provides low cost or free online college education supported by online advertising.
Xavier Helgesen and Christopher Fuchs formed Better World Books, an online bookseller that has donated more than $5 million to literacy programs and libraries.
- To protect the environment while improving the living standards of the poor, Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun started d.light design to provide solar-powered LED lamps to rural families in Third World countries.
Brian Hayden and Duncan Miller founded Heatspring Learning Institute, a company that trains builders to design geothermal heating and cooling systems for homes.
- And, to resist tyranny and promote civil liberties in nations where traditional journalistic outlets are under pressure from dictatorial regimes, Rachel Sterne established Ground Report, an organization that encourages local residents to post their own reportage on her profit-sharing Web site.
These social entrepreneurs apply “a practical but innovative stance to a social problem, often using market principles and forces, coupled with dogged determination that allows them to break away from constraints imposed by ideology … and pushes them to take risks others wouldn’t dare.” Just as the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship suggests, their approach combines the characteristics of Richard Branson and Mother Teresa.
It is not surprising that many Millennials have gravitated toward social entrepreneurship. Generational theorists categorize the Millennial Generation as a “civic generation,” a type of generation reared by its parents to focus on the needs of the group.
In a broader context, this means that civic generations create new institutions, often at the local level, designed to resolve large-scale economic and political issues and to advance humanity as a whole. One notable example of a civic generation is the Republican Generation (born 1742-1766), who created the United States and the constitutional order under which it has been governed for more than two centuries.
The civic GI Generation (born 1901-1924) created the economic and political arrangements that have been in force in the United States since the New Deal of the 1930s. For today’s civic generation, social entrepreneurship is often the social change institution of choice.
If there is any single trait that characterizes the Millennial Generation, it is its desire to leave the world a better place than the one older generations created. To do this, many Millennials have adopted an entrepreneurial approach, but with a key difference. Instead of using entrepreneurism for individual gain, Millennials are using it to solve the problems facing America and the world.
One of the distinctive traits of Millennials (born roughly 1982-2003) is a constant feeling of being pressured. Thanks to their parents setting high expectations for them, Millennials consider life a series of hoops to be jumped through.
At each stage of their young lives, from kindergarten to college, the pressure to succeed has made them a risk averse, anxious generation, even as they remain optimistic about their ultimate success.
As a result, almost half of Millennials (45%) report feeling nervous due to stress at least monthly, and more than half (52%) say that their stress levels have increased over the last five years. But Millennials are also demonstrating a much healthier approach to dealing with this problem than older generations, reinforcing their reputation as the best-behaved American generation in decades.
Stress Response From Different Generations
The latest report from the American Psychological Association on Stress in America reveals very distinctive patterns in how different generations handle stress.
It explains that Boomers and senior citizens are much more likely than Millennials to “get in touch with their inner self” in order to deal with stress, either through prayer, or reading, or telling others their feelings rather than “keeping them bottled up” inside.
Meanwhile, members of Generation X, which is generally the most stressed generation of all, tend to engage in the most self-destructive behaviors when under stress. They are twice as likely as Millennials to say they deal with stress by smoking and twice as likely as Boomers to say they use alcohol.
Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely than any other generation to deal with stress using non-traditional means. Sixty percent say they listen to music to relieve stress, while less than half of older generations do so. Under stress, almost half (44%) of Millennials play video games or surf the Net. The only generation that comes close to Millennials in the use of these techniques is Generation X (36%). Millennials are also twice as likely as other generations to do yoga or meditate to try and relieve stress.
Some of the differences in how generations think about stress is a reflection of their age, rather than their generational type. As people get older, for instance, their assessment of their stress levels declines. Members of the Silent Generation, now over 65, report lower stress levels than any other generation.
Boomers’ assessment of their stress levels has declined steadily over the last five years, from an average score of 6.5 on a 10-point scale in 2007 to only 4.9 last year.
At the same time, Millennials’ perception of how stressed they are as compared to what they believe would be a healthy level of stress is almost as high as their stressed-out Generation X older siblings.
There are also clear age differences in how well people deal with stress. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that adults under 30, the current age bracket of Millennials, are twice as likely to consider suicide as those over 30. While only 1 percent of Millennials actually kill themselves, their rate of suicide is still five times greater than older generations.
Similarly, the problem of binge drinking is much more prevalent among those between the ages of 18 and 25 than it is among older members of the population, predominantly because the perception that such behavior carries great risk goes up dramatically for those 26 and older.
Still, these types of destructive behavior occur less frequently among Millennials than they did within older generations when those older generations were the age that Millennials are today.
The Bottom Line
In some ways, stress is like the weather—everyone talks about it but few do anything about it.
Only 32 percent of Millennials think they are very good or excellent at managing stress, numbers roughly comparable to other generations. The provision of Obamacare to keep those under 26 on their parents’ health insurance should make it easier for Millennials to gain treatment for the most serious effects of feeling pressured.
But having been taught since they were toddlers always to do their best in order to succeed, Millennials will have to develop lifelong healthy habits to deal with the stress they feel. When they do, they will look back with satisfaction on having thrived in the hyperactive world they helped create.
Martha Beck, as with many of her Boomer Generation peers, finds the principles to guide her life though a deep exploration of her inner self.
Boomers, like other “idealist” generations before them, believe life should be about a search for truth that their inner consciousness reveals.
The generations that come along after this “idealist” type, such as Generation X, and the Lost generation of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1920s, react against the previous generation’s efforts to change society according to notions of some revealed truth, but join the “idealist generation” in encouraging the celebration of individual effort and risk-taking.
As a result, “reactive” generations spark a renaissance of entrepreneurship in our economic life, even as overall confidence in our economic institutions declines as problems with an inner-directed approach to leadership become clear.
The latest example of this phenomenon was a March 14, 2012, op-ed piece in the New York Times by Gen Xer Greg Smith, entitled, Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs. In the article, Smith announced his resignation and decried the shift in the culture under the leadership of its CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and its President, Gary D. Cohn—both Boomers.
When Smith first came to work for the company 12 years ago, he explains that he believed Goldman Sachs had a culture that encouraged leadership based on “new ideas, setting an example, and doing the right thing.” But now, he claims, the firm’s Boomer leaders failed to understand a basic truth: “If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you.”
This same focus on the customer was the first of nine principles that the Lost Generation founders of Goldman Sachs’ arch rival, Merrill Lynch, pronounced in 1940, which led to that firm’s great success.
But when Boomer Stanley O’Neal took over that company in 2003, he explicitly rejected what he called this “Mother Merrill” culture.
“To the extent that it is paternalistic and materialistic, I don’t think that is healthy. I guess there is something in me that rebels against that,” he told the New York Times, four years before the Merrill board fired him and CNBC put him on its list of the “Worst American CEOs of All Time.”
At the shareholder meeting called to ratify the once proud but now debt-burdened firm’s sale to Bank of America, Winthrop Smith, Jr., the son of one of the founding members of Merrill Lynch, denounced O’Neal in the same way that Greg Smith called out his former employer.
Smith, Jr. shamed the Merrill Lynch Board of Directors arrayed in front of him, for allowing one man to consciously unwind a culture and rip out the soul of this great firm.
What can we expect from corporations like these — and Gen Xers — in the years to come?
As more and more Xers publicly denounce the failure of Boomer-led institutions, and the need to deal with the problems that have been deferred for too long becomes urgently clear, today’s inner-driven, Boomer-led era will end in favor of a more outer-directed, customer-centric approach. [For more on this topic, take a look at futurist Andy Hines new book, ConsumerShift.]
This is why even as the reputations of large institutions have declined dramatically recently, small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit they embody have become one of the most popular institutions in America.
A November 2011 national survey by Frank N. Magid Associates indicates that all big business’ approval ratings dwell in the lower regions reserved for Congress and politicians (31% favorable to 56% unfavorable). Wall Street and financial institutions fare even worse (23% favorable to 57% unfavorable).
By contrast, small business has an overwhelmingly positive rating of 82 percent favorable and 8 percent unfavorable. The differences exist, with little variation, across generational lines.
More and more members of Generation X (born 1965-1981) are entering the phase of life, from about age 44 to 65, which will provide the source of leadership for our society over the next decade.
During this same time, the large and group-oriented Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) will be starting families and testing the values of the institutions they go to work for.
As these two generations begin to dominate American life and its economy, the entrepreneurial spirit and customer satisfaction focus they embody will force the leadership of many institutions to stop looking in the mirror for the answers to life’s challenges.
They will need to shift their focus to the dramatic changes taking place in the marketing landscape and embrace them in order to be successful. Customers, and their needs and wants, will become the North Star for an entire new generation of entrepreneurs.
In 1987, as the oldest members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) were entering kindergarten, the groundbreaking television show, Thirtysomething, began its Emmy-award-winning, four-year run.
The one-hour drama focused on eight Baby Boomers struggling with the conflicting demands of work and family as the generation known for its rebelliousness attempted to settle into the culture and routine of suburban life.
January 2012 marks the date that these “first Millennials” will be 30 years old. For the next two decades, America’s most populous and diverse generation, defined in its teens and 20s by its penchant for social networking and sharing, will enter the phase of life when the choices dramatized in “Thirtysomething” will become central to their generation’s persona.
But, the world Millennial families will be entering is considerably different than the go-go 80s that the Boomers portrayed in “Thirtysomething” enjoyed.
The most obvious dissimilarity between the young Boomers of the 1980s and today’s Millennials is the vastly different economic circumstances that the two generations have experienced.
In one respect, those turning 30 in 2012 are considered the “lucky ones” by their peers. Many of them graduated college and began searching for work before the Great Recession started, enabling these first Millennials to enjoy much higher levels of employment and better paying jobs than those who came later.
Nevertheless, many of the oldest Millennials feel the same burden of college debt and diminished economic prospects as their younger peers. A recent Pew Research study found the average net worth of households headed by those under 35 fell from $11,521 in 1984 to just $3,662 in 2009, a drop of 68 percent. These are hardly the assets required to buy a home or undertake raising a family.
It is not surprising, therefore, that another Pew study found most Millennials postponing marriage until later in life than earlier generations.
The median age of first marriages has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7), according to U.S. Census data.
“Thirtysomething’s” focus on the difficulties of married life and the burdens of work among young Boomers made sense in the 1980s when a large majority of American adults were married, and unemployment was lower than it is now.
To be realistic, a show about today’s thirtysomething Millennials would have to include the travails of living in their parents’ house and trying to make ends meet on a part-time job.
Still, those Millennials who can afford it, and some who can’t, will inevitably provide the impetus for family formation in America as they enter their 30s.
A majority of Millennials (52%) consider being a good parent the most important priority in their life. Owning their own home (30%) and having a successful marriage (20%) also rank high on their list of key lifestyle goals and values.
When they do raise a family, in whatever diverse living arrangements they may choose, the greatest number will want to settle in the suburbs. According to a survey by communication research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, 43 percent of Millennials consider the suburbs their “ideal place” to live while cities, small towns, and rural America were each chosen by only 17 percent.
The Bottom Line
Given these Millennial residential preferences and the cohort’s restricted economic circumstances, the current trend toward three generations living under the same roof is also likely to continue.
Because of their size and uniformity of belief, the Millennials will remake America in their image in the coming decades. They have already begun to do so in politics and technology.
Starting in 2012, their influence will begin to be felt in the institution most central to the country’s social and economic life—America’s families. How Millennial families are formed and how they decide to live will determine what it means to be thirtysomething for the first half of the 21st century.