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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Emily Jaksch on the Myths, Misconceptions and Realities of the Millennial Generation

Emily Jaksch on the Myths, Misconceptions and Realities of the Millennial Generation

In this podcast Shane Hastie, lead editor for culture & methods, spoke to Emily Jaksch about the myths, misconceptions and realities of the millennial generation.

Key Takeaways

  • There are lots of misconceptions about millennials in the workforce: they're job hoppers, they're unreliable, they're flighty, they're selfish, they're entitled.  The reality is quite different
  • Millennials now make up the largest cohort of the population globally
  • 30% of people in the workforce in Australia are reporting to someone younger than them, millennials have a unique challenge in that they're going to be the first generation on record to be managing people who are older than them, which creates a whole different set of challenges and a different dynamic
  • Millennials have a different way of thinking and they are really into self-development, self-care and wellbeing.  This means that, from a psychological perspective, they are much better equipped to deal with hardship than other people who are not doing these things
  • Research showing that successful millennial entrepreneurs have three common aspects – a story of overcoming adversity, deep determination and a strong sense of purpose 


00:05 Introductions

00:05 Shane Hastie: Folks, this is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast. I'm sitting down with Emily Jaksch. Emily is from Australia and has been doing a lot of work in exploring the myths, misconceptions, and realities of the millennial generation. Emily, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

00:26 Emily Jaksch: No problem.

00:27 Shane Hastie: To kick off with, do you want to give our audience a little bit of your background, who you are, where you've come from and why this passion?

00:34 Emily Jaksch: I've worked for the last 20 or so years in the HR space. So I started off my career working in corporate HR. And after doing that for about 11 years, I got disenfranchised with working in a corporate environment, particularly working HR, it's not always the funnest department to be working in, as some people might sympathize with me there. I started a HR consulting business after I left corporate and I have been working with clients who all are having very similar problems, which is how do I attract, engage and retain millennials. So that was one of the questions I was continually being asked by my clients. And then I was having the same problems in my business myself. So initially, when I started my business, a lot of my employees were gen Xs. I'm a gen X so that was return to work mums. So, we kind of hire people who are like us. I think everybody does a bit of that.

01:33 Misconceptions about millennials in the workforce

01:33 Emily Jaksch: And then it got to the point where I needed to expand and I needed to get some different personalities and experience levels in the business. So I started hiring millennials and the first time I did that, it was a big snorting failure. I hired three all at once and they all left within the first six months. That was a big lesson for me. Initially, I joined in the chorus of everybody out there who likes to blame millennials and say that they're job hoppers and they're unreliable and they're flighty. They're selfish, they're entitled. I went through all of that. And then I woke up one day after self reflection. And I was like, well, hang on a minute. How can a whole generation of people be all of those things? And then I realized that actually it wasn't their fault. It was my fault. I did a whole bunch of things wrong.

02:21 Emily Jaksch: Firstly, I hired the wrong ones. I didn't make sure that their values were aligned to my business and I didn't lead them the way that they wanted to be led. I led them the way I wanted to be led. So that was a massive learning for me. And that's when my interest and passion really started. And then I started trying to do some research. What I found was that a lot of the research out there was really old. A lot of it was outdated. Much of it was from America. So it actually wasn't relevant in Australia. And most of it had a really negative spin. So a lot of the research really focused on all of the weaknesses and all of the shortfalls of millennials. And I then decided to do my own research. So I self-funded my own research study back in 2018, so a year ago now.

03:07 Research that showed how wrong the misconceptions are

03:07 Emily Jaksch: And I really focused on what millennials want in the workplace and the results shocked me, because they were very different to what I thought they would be, and they tell a very different story. And so now my passion is really changing the negative narrative around millennials and sharing positive stories through data and leadership, positive leadership stories. So I've now embarked on a qualitative aspect to my research. So the first part was quantitative and now I'm writing a book and I'm interviewing successful millennial entrepreneurs and I'm unpacking their mindset and what makes them so different, but also what I believe makes them so successful and what we can learn from them.

03:49 Shane Hastie: Cool. Thank you for that. Some interesting foundation. So I suppose a reasonably important starting point is let's define, what do we mean by the millennial generation, gen X and so forth? What are the boundaries today?

04:02 Defining the generational cohort

04:02 Emily Jaksch: Well, it depends where you live, but in Australia, it's 23 to 37. So if you're in America, the age brackets are slightly different. And this is the thing with generational studies, it's quite contentious and you could read three different reports in Australia and they might also categorize the start point and finish point at different times. But according to my research in Australia, it's 23 to 37.

04:30 Shane Hastie: So these are people who today are sort of early to mid career. If they're not already, they are going to be the leaders and managers in our organizations.

04:39 Millennials make up the largest cohort of our population now

04:39 Emily Jaksch: Exactly. So when I started doing the research, what shocked me was that the balance of power has now shifted to the millennial generation, but in Australia they make up the biggest cohort of our population and that's the same globally. So the biggest generation on record, and that's why they have so much influence and why everyone's so terrified of them, I think in a way. They call it the echo boom. So millennials are the children of the baby boomers and the baby boomers are the biggest generation on record. So it stands to reason that they've now created the next biggest generation on record.

05:13 Shane Hastie: Even if it was just the one for one replacement.

05:15 Emily Jaksch: Exactly, exactly. According to my research, over 60% of millennials that I surveyed are already in leadership positions. And in Australia, about 30% of people are already reporting to somebody who is younger than them. So millennials have a unique challenge in that they're going to be the first generation on record, on mass, to be managing people who are older than them, which creates a whole different set of challenges and a different dynamic.

05:46 Millennials in leadership result in workplace culture and dynamics 

05:46 Emily Jaksch: So it's really interesting times ahead of us. But if I look at all of my research and all of the millennials that I coach and work with, I think that they make great leaders and that we're going to see some really exciting changes in workplace culture, in workplace dynamics. And I think it's all good because a lot of people ask me, those are questions about millennials. I speak in the media and on the radio quite a beat, but one of the questions I get asked all the time is, "What's going to happen when there's an economic downturn and things get tough, how are millennials are going to cope with that?" My answer is always the same and that is, I believe that millennials have a different way of thinking and they are really into self-development and self-care and they're really into wellbeing. So I think that from a psychological perspective, they are going to be much better equipped to deal with the hardship that's coming than some other people who are not doing these things.

06:46 Focus on self-care and mindfulness 

06:46 Emily Jaksch: So when I'm doing my research, the qualitative interviews, I ask the people I'm interviewing about their daily practices and something like 70%, I don't have all of the data collated just yet, meditate in the morning. They all get up in the golden hours, so between 6:00 and 7:00 AM. Most of them get up actually between 5:00 and 6:00 AM. So I think that millennials are ahead of the game in some ways, because they are working on their mindset and doing personal development that I didn't start doing until probably five years ago, because I wasn't really exposed to those types of things. And I think that when people used to say Tony Robbins, like most people would cringe, but now Tony Robbins is cool. It's completely acceptable to be interested in life coaching and all this kind of new age stuff.

07:39 Shane Hastie: The stereotype millennial is the entitled job hopper and so forth, but you're telling me that it's an unfair stereotype. It doesn't exist. So what is the stereotype millennial?

07:53 Emily Jaksch: According to my research, the new millennial?

07:55 Shane Hastie: Yeah, The real one.

07:56 The real profile of the millennial

07:56 Emily Jaksch: The real one. Cool. So according to my research, millennials have now grown up. So over half of millennials are 30 plus. I think that's one really important thing to note because a lot of the research that was done, millennials were a lot younger and they were at a different life stage. So according to my research, a really big driver for millennials is secure, full-time work. And I don't know what it's like in New Zealand or where you're from or other countries, but in Australia we've had a messy casualization of our workforce. So the amount of full-time jobs that are available has diminished. For some millennials it's really difficult to secure full-time jobs. And then what my research shows is that a huge proportion have actually been in their jobs for what I consider to be a significant amount of time. So one in two, according to my research have been with their current employer for more than three years and 47% have stayed with an employer for over five years. That tells a very different story to them changing jobs every 12 months.

09:02 Shane Hastie: So thinking about the real millennials, rather than the stereotype, what does it mean for people who are leading them and what does it mean for them as team members?

09:12 What millennials want from their leaders and their teammates 

09:12 Emily Jaksch: In terms of what millennials want from leaders is they want that, they want leadership. So if they're being very closely managed or micromanaged or working in an environment where they don't have any autonomy or choice, that's not going to work for them. I guess if you think about the way that millennials have grown up and the way that they've been parented, they've been included in decision-making, they've been given options. You know, "Do you want the red one or the green one?" They haven't really been told what to do. Their parents have treated them more like friends than maybe their children. And they expect that same type of relationship when they get into a workplace.

09:48 Emily Jaksch: So for millennials, the new family is their work buddy. They want to come to work and work in an environment where they feel a really close bond with the people that they work with, also a close bond with their manager or the leader. I work with a lot of businesses where some of the older generation CEOs that I work with, they really struggle with these concept because their whole philosophy in the time they've grown up and learned how to be a manager is that you need to have that really clear boundary between yourself and your employee and that you shouldn't make friends with your employee or have personal relationships with them. So I think that that explains some of the disconnect and some of the challenges that we're facing, like having multi-generational workforces.

10:34 Shane Hastie: And advice for millennials as team members and working in teams?

10:40 Advice for millennials working in teams

10:40 Emily Jaksch: I think that millennials need to understand that not everybody thinks the way that they think, and that things may be different now, but they need to respect the people that they're working with and know that sometimes when they get shut down or they get told no, that they shouldn't take it personally. They should really have a think about, "Well, maybe I should put myself in that person's shoes." I believe that the best organizations understand that we need diversity in our teams and that's not just based on ethnicity or gender, that's also based on age.

11:13 Emily Jaksch: So there is a lot to be learned by millennials from older generations. And if you think about some of the really amazing companies that are doing this well, I know Airbnb is really respected for this. So they have recognized that initially their workforce was made up of only millennials and they thought, "Hang on a minute, we really need to get some experience in the organization." And they have set up recruitment programs, specifically target people from different generations and they're utilizing that knowledge and they talk about the transparency of knowledge going both ways. So they have the cross mentoring programs where millennials mentor the older employees and vice versa because they understand that there's a lot to be learned from all the different generations.

11:58 Emily Jaksch: So I think that that's something that millennials could keep in mind because when I speak to them, they don't really even understand that they're different or that they may be rubbing people up the wrong way or that they may be able to learn something from working with somebody who's older than them.

12:14 Shane Hastie: Expanding on this idea of generational diversity. And I don't know if I'm throwing you into a spot that you're not comfortable with, but who's coming behind the millennials?

12:24 After the millennials: Gen-Z

12:24 Emily Jaksch: Sure. So the generation after millennials are gen Z. So their age group in Australia is 8 to 22 and they call this generation screen ages. So it's going to be really interesting to see what impact they have on the workforce. I mean, if you think about the impact that they're having on consumer markets, gen Z apparently are the ones that are influencing parents to buy products. So they have enormous buying power. I was actually at a conference the other day, and there was a presentation from one of the people from Tik Tok... I don't know if you've heard of Tik Tok. Tik Tok is like a new app on your phone. It's a new program where, I don't even really understand it because I've never used it. It's kind of like Snapchat, but they were talking about how you could market your product using Tik Tok. Now I didn't even understand that was possible. I thought Tik Tok was just one of these social media platforms where young people share videos of themselves and then people like it.

13:24 Emily Jaksch: And they make use that gen Z. So 16 to 22 was the age bracket of the majority of their users. And they've got like billions of users worldwide. Essentially you make a little picture of yourself lip-syncing to songs. I just don't even understand why that's a thing, but apparently it is, and you put all these filters on yourself and stuff, and then you post them and then people like them and follow you.

13:49 Shane Hastie: I'm at the very far end of that. I have to ask my granddaughter.

13:53 Emily Jaksch: Yes. Yep. She's probably into it. So gen Z is the next generation. And then after that, we've got alpha generation. We go back to start again.

14:04 Shane Hastie: You made the point that the millennial generation is one that is for the first time having to manage people older than them in the workforce. And I saw a figure that, wasn't the numbers, but that again, in the workplace today, we can have people spanning five generations working in the same team, literally from 17 to 70. What are the implications of this?

14:29 The need to manage the complexity of having people from 17 to 70 in the same team

14:29 Emily Jaksch: I think that the implications could be positive if organizations learn how to manage that complexity. And it really depends on what kind of work culture they have. Is their culture agile? I think that tech companies probably do this a lot better than many other companies, but I think that each generation has strengths and weaknesses and brings a certain type of thinking to the table. It's just really about how we embrace that. And for me, when I go into organizations or work with teams, it's all about communication because the way that we communicate is really going to dictate what outcomes we get working in these teams.

15:07 Emily Jaksch: So I think that it's really important that people get ready for this paradigm because apparently it's only going to get more pronounced because they're now saying that the generations are getting shorter and shorter. This generation used to be defined biologically based on the average span of time between a parent and its offspring. And now because people aren't having children until much later, they realized that they needed to start by societal norms and technology was progressing at such a fast rate, they needed to define them sociologically based on a group of people who share similar experiences that shaped their values, beliefs, and behaviors. So if you look at the time span of each generation, they're actually getting shorter and shorter and they're calling them micro-generation. So there's actually a micro-generation in between gen X and gen Y or millennials and they're called xennials, and I'm actually one of those.

16:00 Emily Jaksch: So it's like a group of people that don't fit into either of the generation, and now they're calling them micro-generation. So who knows? In 30 years time, we might have eight or nine or ten generations working in the workforce together. I saw a presentation the other day about the fact that every year, the average age or lifespan is getting longer and longer. And they're predicting that millennials, by the time that they come to the end of their life, they are going to be the first generation where the average age is going to be a hundred. So we're talking about a hundred year life. And just when you think about that, it's crazy because how many millennials are thinking about retirement now? Not many, I would imagine. If you're going to be living to a hundred, people need to start thinking about this a lot earlier.

16:49 Shane Hastie: So thinking about the InfoQ audience, probably a lot of them are in that millennial generation. They're technical influencers, they're technical leaders in organizations. They're looking at building their own skills and competencies, and they're also guiding other people, their teams, their colleagues, and their own growth. What areas should they be looking at for themselves and for when advising others?

17:15 Advice for self-development

17:15 Emily Jaksch: So I believe that having a coach is probably one of the best things that you can do for yourself in terms of self-development and awareness. Particularly if you are a business owner. When I first got a coach working as a business owner, probably about six years ago, that's when everything just started coming together for me and continually being willing to upgrade your skills and work on yourself is something that I think in this day and age is so, so important. And I know that millennials are really into personal development and they're really committed to that, but having a coach and having somebody work with you and continually hold you accountable, I think is probably the best advice I can give anyone out there who's either a leader or a business owner.

18:02 Shane Hastie: You mentioned the qualities of research that you're doing and the quantitative that you have already done. What are some of the things that you're finding? What are some of the interesting insights that are coming out of this?

18:14 Common attributes of successful millennial entrepreneurs 

18:14 Emily Jaksch: What's coming out of these is that there's really three aspects that I'm finding common to successful millennial entrepreneurs. They all have, firstly, a story of adversity. And so they are really good at owning their own story and creating a positive out of that. So a lot of them have had something really awful happen to them in their life, instead of them being a victim and using that as an excuse to not do anything, not be successful, they use that story to want to make a difference, or want to make a change, or it drives them to do something extraordinary. That's the first thing that I've kind of unpacked from the research.

18:54 Emily Jaksch: The second thing is that they all have an enormous amount of grit and they develop that through self-discipline. And what I was talking about before, they get up really, really early. They're really committed to their personal fitness and having balance. They invest a lot of money in themselves. They invest in having a coach and that creates a really strong sense of purpose and a really strong set of core values that they live by. That's another thing that's becoming very evident through the research.

19:24 Emily Jaksch: And the other thing that I think makes them extremely unique and different is they're all socially minded. So a lot of them have organizations or businesses that are a social enterprise or they're giving back in some way. There's always this story of, "I saw this problem in the world. I felt compelled to do something, and this is what I'm now doing." So I think they're the kind of three elements that I'm finding common to all of these really successful entrepreneurs. And I think that there's a lot to be learned from that. And if we use that as a template for our own personal journey, I think that we can get a lot from looking at these stories.

20:03 Shane Hastie: Are these successful millennials the exception do you feel, or are you seeing that this pattern is repeating?

20:10 Emily Jaksch: It's a pattern that's repeating. I thought the same thing when I started doing this research, but it seems to be a real pattern and this whole concept of giving back, being connected with your purpose. It's one of the things that a lot of older generations, when I speak to them, it's one of the things that is annoying to them about millennials is this pursuit of purpose. Quite often, I've heard people say, "Oh, it's a bit lofty to think that you can come to work everyday and be on purpose and make a difference. Who's really going to do that?" And then what I'm finding is there are a lot of millennials who are doing that and achieving it and leading that. And maybe that's what's creating this friction between the generations, because I think that some of the older generation, they had a career for life. They would work in the same factory or the same job for their entire life and be happy with that and content with that, or maybe not content with that. Maybe that's the problem.

21:05 Emily Jaksch: Whereas millennials and younger generations are saying, "I don't want to work in the same organization for my entire life. And I don't want to just come into work and clock-in, and clock-out, I actually want to do something where I feel on fire for what I'm doing, and I want to actually make a difference in the world." So that's kind of what I'm feeling.

21:25 Shane Hastie: Yeah. I've certainly heard “you've got to pay your dues before you can do anything worthwhile”. Oh yeah. For myself, I started my own business because I wanted to do something that was more important and I'm far, far from a millennial. So I can certainly empathize with that desire to do stuff that matters.

21:48 Emily Jaksch: Exactly. And I don't think it's something that's a new concept. I think that millennials are just working it out a lot earlier and they're just doing it. And we live in a world where that is completely possible. You can start a business in a day. You can become a pretty good web developer and create a really good business model, using somebody else's web design software. You don't need to be an HTML coder anymore. So the world is a different place than it was 50 years ago where you went to school and if you weren't academic, you became a trades person. And then if you were academic, you were lucky enough to go to university. So it's a very different paradigm that we live in.

22:26 Shane Hastie: It is indeed. Emily, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. If people want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

22:34 Emily Jaksch: You can look me up on my website, I've got an ebook on there, which has all of the research in it, if anyone is interested in that. And I will be releasing a book hopefully early next year called, The Millennial Mindset. So watch this space.

22:50 Shane Hastie: Thank you so much.

22:53 Emily Jaksch: No problem. Thanks for having me.


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