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MILLENNIALS? | LABI annual meeting sets out to answer questions about the generation’s politics, economics, and work habits

February 13, 2019
By McHugh David
Originally Posted on The Livingston Parish News

For many owners, managers, consultants, and anyone else involved in business dealings, there is a now a buzz word that seems to resonate with Generation X and Baby Boomers — millennials.

The age group, which (officially) encompasses anyone born from 1981-1996, has now begun to hit the markets en masse.

And not just the basic job market, either — millennials are now holding management positions, owning businesses, purchasing homes, and have a direct effect on political election cycles.

But millennials as a generation operate differently than those who came before them. That phrase is nothing new for any generation that looks back and thinks of their early life, and yet a vast majority of individuals aged 23-38 do in fact buy differently, interact differently, and work differently.

Well, the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry (LABI) set out to try and answer some questions about the age group that, according to both speakers at the annual meeting Tuesday, have lived through more disruption than any generation previous.

Kristen Soltis Anderson, CEO of Echelon Insights and author of “The Selfie Vote,” led the early morning discussion with citations from her book. The pollster, a millennial republican, focused on political aspects of the generation’s lifestyle using personal value markers and economic indicators that, in most cases, did not line up with either Generation X or Baby Boomers.

According to Anderson, millennials are in fact ‘OK’ with capitalism. Their problem, she posits, is fear — a highly risk-averse generation who watched their parents and grandparents lose cash and investment capital to a huge economic downturn, in their opinion caused mostly by free market operation.

So, she said, millennials are starting the normal economic pathway later — buying homes later, getting married later, investing later, and having kids later.

This mindset reflects in their politics as a form of fiscal conservatism. However, on the other hand, the generation has been documented as more socially liberal.

The result is a political limbo of sorts. According to Anderson, who placed a graph on the screen which showed political leanings - left and right - with dots representing current political office holders, Hillary Clinton took many of the progressive liberals in the 2016 election, while Donald Trump also took some fiscal progressive, socially conservative people and almost all voters who were both fiscally and socially conservative.

The quadrant that represented fiscally conservative, socially liberal? Nearly empty, devoid of any clear political representation.

Anderson’s next statement caught the room — women are leading the political discourse among millennials. They’re taking more offices, leading more action groups, formulating coalitions — anything and everything political sees more female, millennial representation.

In the workplace, she says, millennials might be willing to sacrifice dollars to really feel like they’re part of “something” that aligns with their value system. According to her research, those values center around words like “fair,” “equitable,” and “responsible.”

When asked by a crowd member, who identified herself as a baby boomer, how to identify with millennials when her definitions of “fair” and “equitable” may be different, Anderson responded with the term “instant gratification,” but not in a way the audience expected.

“Millennials are so used to giving instant feedback on anything they do - food, riding in an uber... they are immediately tasked with giving their opinion on the service,” she said. According to Anderson, that instant feedback keeps their services honest and reputable.

“That instant feedback is something millennial workers crave. They want to take your feedback, assimilate it, get better and, of course, get promoted quickly.”

Feedback was also brought up by the second keynote of the day, Scott Stratten - founder of UnMarketing.

Stratten, near the end of his talk, painted the picture of a modern day board room with several older employees and a millennial. Most job postings today, Stratten said, ask potential employees to be ‘innovative’ and ‘passionate.’ And yet, in his example, when the millennial speaks up with an idea they are immediately told to ‘shut up.’

Stratten suggested that millennial workers are no different than Generation X workers or Baby Boomer workers - they wanted to feel as if they were part of something, and they wanted to know that whomever was above them in the chain of command had their back. In fact, Stratten shared a clip from Newsweek that described the workforce as 'lazy' and 'entitled,' just to name a few adjectives.

The kicker? The article was published in 1993 and discussed Generation X entering the workforce.

That backup could lead to all sorts of possibilities, he said, as wisdom from older workers and management - combined with the aformentioned disruption and innovation from millennials - can make any company ‘unstoppable.’

The catch? Understanding that disruption and gratification are inherent in the lifestyle of a millennial. When comparing adaptation of items in the home, Stratten said that it took decades for the radio, T.V., and dishwasher to become normal fixtures.

“The cell phone?” he asked the crowd, rhetorically. “Six years.

“Social media? Just two,” he said with a head cock and a grin.

Social media has become a mainstay in marketing to millennials, a point Stratten addressed at the beginning of his talk.

However, he stressed that social media is still an extension of the oldest marketing tool in the book - word of mouth.

Stratten said that legacy brands, in particular, have to focus on doing things ‘worth talking about’ to stay ahead of the curve in the areas customer service, overhead, and product quality.

“Your brand is the first thing that comes to the mind of the consumer,” he said. If companies want to change what consumer's see or feel, they have to do something worth talking about, he finished.