Millennials - a new generation

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When it comes to establishing what type of employee you could be, employers may soon be looking to the period in which you were born.

According to historians and generational experts Neil Howe and William Strauss, the early 1980s marked the end of one generation and the beginning of the next.

Born before 1982 (and after 1965): you are a member of Generation X. Born during or after 1982: you are, say Howe and Strauss, a &quotMillennial&quot.

This is significant because, all things being equal, the archetypal Generation X-er does not make for a particularly appealing employee.

Cynical, isolated, pessimistic, burdened by a childhood of neglect at the hands of over-worked and resentful parents, he or she is unlikely to be a great source of bonhomie or enthusiasm for team events.

Members of Generation X are self-reliant, relatively poorly educated, rebellious, and disloyal. In the words of Howe and Strauss, they are part of a lost generation. Entrepreneurism is their redeeming feature.

Millennials are entirely different creatures. Generation X may have been lost but, according to Howe and Strauss, Millennials are found.

They are also adjectively better endowed than their predecessors - Howe and Strauss describe them as: special, confident, team-oriented, achieving, optimistic, and cooperative. In short, Millennials are likely to be more pleasant company in the office.

Graduate Millennials have not yet made it into the workplace, so firms will have to tolerate the shortcomings of Generation X for the next few years.

But when they do start stocking up with these angelic 21- and 22-year-olds, employers may, however, find they are lacking in one crucial component: creativity. Millennials can be expected to be a bit bland.

As the flip-side of being conformist and respectful of authority, Howe and Strauss acknowledge that the Millennial wunderkind may be &quotless creative and more dependent on peer support than other recent youth generations&quot.

Generally, however, Millennials equal good news for investment banks and other top-tier graduate employers. Millennials may bring something that has been missing from the workplace for a while: loyalty - and they are rule-followers.

The workplace, say Howe and Strauss, will become &quotless nomadic and X-ish, and - following the next recession [sic] - more cooperative, standard and loyal&quot.

For banks and consultancy firms concerned at recruitment and retention after dot-coms lured valuable staff away, this is good news.

&quotEntry-level youths will be attracted to solid companies with career ladders and standardised pay and benefits,&quot state Howe and Strauss.

However, Millennials' values may run counter to banks' historical tendency to shower employees with money in return for a hefty portion of their time.

Howe and Strauss suggest Millennials will be less keen to turn themselves inside out to make money, being pragmatic with a transactional attitude to work.

The workplace will be neither saviour, nor demon, but simply somewhere in which to earn a living. Family issues are expected to be more important.

Howe and Strauss are American historians and their book, Millennials Rising, focuses on the US where Generation X-ers are set to be dwarfed by a population of 78 million Millennials. This is a result of a &quotbaby boom-let&quot, in which older baby boomers chose to become parents in the 1980s.

These US Millennials have been raised on a diet of economic success and parental concern. Whilst the average Generation X child experienced 10 weeks of recession per year during his/her childhood, Millennials' teenage experiences are of the long US boom.

Moreover, Millennials were born in an era when parents began positively choosing to have their offspring.

&quotDuring the Gen-X era, planned parenting almost always meant contraceptives of abortions during the Millennial childhood, it more often meant visits to the fertility clinic,&quot say Howe and Strauss.

Outside the US, the emergence of Millennials may be somewhat retarded or, may fail to occur at all. In Japan and much of Southern Europe the population boom-let that constitutes the US Millennials was replaced by a population decline.

Western Germany's boom-let was relatively small and made smaller by the traumas of reunification, after which the birth rate dwindled. The UK and France, however, number among the countries where the requisite population growth occurred.

If Howe and Strauss are right, the next few years may see a change in the type of person applying for graduate trainee positions.

In the right countries, new recruits may infuse the workplace with optimism and civic-mindedness. Generation X had better watch out: the days of self-interested independence may be numbered.

See www.millennialsrising.com and Millennials rising - the next great generation by Neil Howe & William Strauss, Vintage Books, $14 ISBN 0-375-70719-0 available in the UK from www.amazon.com

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