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Millennials want a “better new normal”

Millennials Want a “Better New Normal”
What we can learn from the research to help this generation thrive?

Dr Justin James Kennedy with Meg Price

(Originally published in Psychology Today 27 October 2020)

Millennials are perceived as lethargic narcissists or eager optimists keen to keep the planet green. So, what’s really happening?

Millennials will make up over 70% of the workforce by 2030 according to IBM. This generation does want to create a “better new normal.” This offers an opportunity to create an environment where they feel they can be authentic, trust their leaders, and can combine their intelligence with technology to create the world they want to work and live in, the better new normal.

Millennials, defined by the Pew Research Center as those born between 1981 and 1996, were once seen as an entitled, lazy, narcissistic, phone addicted generation. They are now being recognized as a diverse group of young people with changing interests, innovative ideas with increasing influence in society. This generation now surpasses the Baby Boomers as the largest and also most racially and ethnically diverse generation with higher rates of educational attainment.

A great deal of research is done on this generation with a view to finding out more about their buying habits and how companies can best market to them. Understandably so, as they will account for a major portion of the world’s spending power. They are also seen as a generation who have a completely new way of thinking and are not persuaded by traditional advertising campaigns.

Millennials want to have authentic human experiences, be listened to, feel a connection, and embrace the use of technology. They are creative, innovative, and passionate. This highlights two things – millennials really want to be treated well. The advantage millennials have is their active engagement with technology and their ability to drive innovative change using a combination of collective human intelligence combined with technology.

The key areas from the marketing research that millennials are looking for in brands today are these three areas:

1. Trust and Authenticity

Millennials are looking for information that is relevant, genuine and they feel they can trust. When deciding which brands to support, 90 percent of millennials say authenticity is important to them. (Consumer Content report 2017) They trust what they feel is authentic and gather relevant opinions from real people. If the content is not authentic, millennials will decipher quickly what is true and what is not. Millennials will go to forums, Facebook groups, and friends to decide if a company’s reputation is good.

What can leaders take from this? They too need to be authentic and create an environment of trust by creating a psychologically safe environment. Amy Edmondson coined the phrase “psychological safety” and defines it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” Interestingly, Edmondson points out three main things to consider when creating psychological safety which weaves in with the research above:

a. Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
b. Acknowledge your own fallibility – when mistakes are made, be willing to discuss.
c. Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.

Leaders who actively create a psychologically safe environment will reap the benefits as not only will their people thrive and be more engaged and productive, they will be more innovative and collaborative.

2. Personalization and Connection

Millennials want to see how they fit with the product and if the company’s mission fits with their own values. Millennials are more likely to trust and align themselves with brands that make social and environmental impacts and give back to the community. Eighty-seven percent of millennials are willing to purchase products attached to a social or environmental benefit.

Millennials also want to be listened to and connect with companies and be involved in product development. Forty-two percent of millennials said they are interested in helping companies develop future products. They will only return if their purchasing experience has been a positive one. The experience is as important if not more important than the product.

Millennials feel a greater sense of connection to online communities partly due to the feeling that they can connect with other community members who are also passionate about a particular topic and find value in these exchanges with each other; 77 percent of millennials said that being part of an online community improved their overall well-being (Taptalk 2019). Millennials will also tend to opt for an online chat rather than pick up the phone and call.

There are opportunities for leaders to bring people together and form a collective intelligence to discuss areas they are passionate about and ideas they would like to explore to create opportunities or solve problems. Collective intelligence provides some meaning to a project and will provide opportunities for connection and collaboration: 75 percent of under-30s consider being listened to as their main source of motivation at work.

3. Embrace Technology

In the U.S., 100 percent of millennials use the internet, 93 percent own smartphones with 86 percent of them saying they use social media. (Pew Research centre 2019) Millennials make over 50 percent of all online purchases, so social media is key for marketing to millennials. Millennials in the USA were reported to spend 211 minutes accessing apps or the internet via smartphones per day, compared to only 31 minutes of daily desktop internet usage. During an analysis of smartphone users in the USA, it was found that millennials unlocked their devices an average of 63 times per day (

Marketing strategies must utilize technologies like social media, forums, and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance their presence and product experience. Millennials are generally more optimistic than other generations about the benefits of AI and chatbots in customer service. Half or more agree that AI will create more personalized support for them (Zendesk). We must not underestimate the impact technologies like AI will have. Whether we like it or not, AI will be a defining feature of our future society.

So, let’s join millennials and help them to create a new better normal. Let’s create an environment of trust where everyone feels seen and heard. Ask questions, be curious, seek feedback, and encourage others to propose ideas and be vulnerable. Let’s embrace technological solutions like AI as an added value to our collective. We can learn from this research and seek to engage this diverse, innovative, and passionate generation to find solutions to all sorts of issues we have in the world ensuring not only will they thrive at work, but our planet and all its inhabitants thrive.

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