Managing Millennials For Dummies
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Have you ever managed Millennials and thought, “Wow, one of these things is not like the other!”? If so, welcome to the club of Millennial segmentation. Millennials can be divided into two respective groups that share many traits and qualities but are separated by a few key events and conditions. To do this, we’ll look at the older Millennials and juxtapose their experiences to the younger Millennials.

You may be rolling your eyes at the use of the word “old” here. Yes, even the oldest Millennials have still not hit their 40th birthdays and by no one’s definition are actually old. However, because it’s the simplest and most straightforward way to divide these two groups, we’re going to run with it. We’re only using “old” as a relative term. With that out of the way, Old Millennials can be defined as those born roughly between 1980 and 1987. Young Millennials are those born from 1988 through 1995.

The Millennial generation can be segmented many times over, so this is by no means the one and only way to divide this massive generation. Cool your jets if this is stressing you out or causing an inner monologue of frustration!

The things that divide old and young Millennials

Let’s start with the obvious division — life stage. Old Millennials are tending to their growing families and settling into careers as leaders or soon-to-be leaders. Young Millennials are only just breaking into the workforce and/or thinking about starting families of their own.

When you look beyond life stage, the two major factors that distinguish these groups from one another are 1) the evolution of technology and 2) the Great Recession.

With technology, Old Millennials witnessed the slow start, then exponentially increasing rate of change. Young Millennials began their formative years right as that rate of change picked up and innovation after innovation hit the marketplace. For Young Millennials, touchscreen cellphones were the norm, not the exception, in high school.

While Old Millennials remember a time when you had to have a dot edu email address to get on Facebook, for their younger successors, Facebook is mostly passé and something that their family members frequent. Instead, they turn to the still mostly-grandma-free Snapchat or Instagram for their social media fixes. Older Millennials have expectations around disruption and innovation, and Younger Millennials have expectations around staying current.

Perhaps the biggest difference between these two subgroups is their experience with the Great Recession. Old Millennials graduated college before the U.S. economy took a steep downturn. While they were in school, they received the rosy and idealistic messaging from parents and teachers that they could reach for the stars and do whatever they wanted. After college, they easily found jobs and kicked off their careers. Though like everyone else, they were dealt financial and professional blows in the aftermath of 2009, they retained that optimistic messaging they’d received during their schooling.

On the other hand, Young Millennials were entering, attending, and leaving college as the Great Recession hit full force. They graduated into an economy that wasn’t hiring experienced workers, let alone freshly minted college grads. They were either in high school applying to colleges or in college and planning for their careers when they got the blanket message of: “Good luck, paid internships don’t exist and entry-level jobs require five years of experience; oh, and get humble because you may have to live with Mom and Dad while you try to figure out this thing called life.”

Despite their idealistic upbringing by Boomer parents, Young Millennials weren’t spared the bleak realities of entering the working world saddled with crippling college debt and no job opportunities in sight. Consequently, this latter half of Millennials tend to be more realistic and financially conscious than the collaborative and optimistic Old Millennials.

The ties that bind

As a whole, they’re all still Millennials. For the most part, they were raised by Boomers, albeit differently aged Boomers. They all know what it’s like to live in a world where everything from technology to social media platforms is constantly being upgraded. They transitioned from tapes, CDs, and MP3s. They rocked out to boy bands. They played Oregon Trail, whether it was the first edition or the fifth. They have strong affiliations to team iPhone or team Android. They enjoy collaborative work environments, and flexibility in their working lives. They want jobs that matter, and strive to make a difference in the world.

Old and Young Millennials are not so different that they’re unrecognizable, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’re diametrically opposed! All in all, the commonalities outweigh the differences.

The different managerial approaches

If you want to be a top manager, mind some key differences between Old and Young Millennials:
  • Old Millennials tend to be more collaborative employees and leaders.
  • Old Millennials are more likely to be motivated by autonomy rather than financial incentives.
  • Old Millennials tend to be a bit more optimistic about all the possibilities.
  • Young Millennials are more realistic with themselves and the world.
  • Young Millennials adopt a different tech comfort and use.
  • Young Millennials prefer to focus at work all day and get the work done before playing — outside of work. Old Millennials, however, prefer to work, then play, then work, and repeat this pattern, alternating throughout the day.
“When I was 23, I was so gung ho! I would do everything that I could to fix the world; not that I don’t feel that way now — I’m doing good work — but being out of college you want to do a good job and know that you are not going to fail. But compared to a 34-year-old, your priorities shift.” — Sokun B., Millennial

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Hannah L. Ubl is the Research Director at BridgeWorks and transforms data into stories for the masses. Lisa X. Walden is the Communications Director at BridgeWorks where she delivers compelling, breakthrough generational content. Debra Arbit is CEO of BridgeWorks: a generational consulting company (

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