Have Millennials Been Dealt a “Bad Hand”?…

By: Beckie Reilly, 20-20 Services, SVP Sales

At 20-20, we often talk about Millennials. Why? A large percentage of the training programs we offer are attended by Millennials. We need to ensure that we know a lot about them – especially how to engage them in our classrooms. Engagement and active participation are two key design elements of every one of our training programs.

Who are Millennials?

A Google search for the definition of a “Millennial” yields quite an interesting array of characterizations for those born roughly between the years of 1980 to 2000. From a somewhat humorous yet searing definition offered by the Urban Dictionary, to the more just-the-facts definition provided by Wikipedia, there is no shortage of commentary on this generation. The following data provides a telling snapshot of the Millennial:

  • Numbering nearly 77 million, millennials make up nearly one-fourth of the US population (Nielsen)
  • One-third of older millennials (ages 26-33) have earned at least a four-year college degree, making them the best educated group of young adults in US history (Pew Research Center)
  • More than 85% of millennials in the US own smart phones (Nielsen) and touch their smart phones 45 times a day (SDL)
  • 87% of online adults in the US age 18-29 use Facebook, with 53% on Instagram, 37% on Twitter, and 34% on Twitter (Pew Research Center)
  • The top five favorite brands of millennials in the US are Nike, Apple, Samsung, Sony and Walmart (Moosylvania)
  • Just 26% 0f millennials in the US are married, compared with 36% of Gen X, 48% of Baby Boomers and 65% of the Silent Generation of the same age (Pew Research Center)

Millennials are Important to 20-20

As most of you know, 20-20’s most popular courses are our core level staff training programs for both audit and tax professionals. The participants in these programs are – you guessed it: Millennials. Our entry level courses are developed for those coming right out of college and into the workforce. We offer programs that map to their career progression into roles of Manager and Experienced Manager and ultimately into Leadership Development programs developed for both Directors and Partners.

It is very important that we understand the Millennial generation for our business. We develop training programs with the ultimate goal of keeping our audiences focused, engaged, actively participating and learning! But let’s face it, this is no small feat when our participants are accustomed to virtually uninterrupted connection to their mobile phones, social media sites and email accounts (personal and professional), texts and the evergrowing list of apps available to them on their handheld devices or tablets. This issue is one of the greatest challenges we face when developing our interactive programs.

Millennials In The Workplace

Several weeks ago, I came across this YouTube video titled, “Millennials in the Workplace”, featuring, British/American author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek. It caught my attention because it was getting heavy social media traction, so I tuned in. Sinek delves deeply into some prevailing ideas about the millennial mindset and their behaviors. To date, the video has been viewed nearly 5 million times. You can view it in its entirety here.

I watched the video several times. I was intrigued from both a business and a personal standpoint, as I am the parent of a teenager and a tween. I think there is little disagreement that obsession with our handheld devices is changing nearly every aspect of our lives, some for the better – and some not so much. Sleeping with our cell phones next to our beds is common place, banning cell phones at family dinner tables at home (often heavily protested and disregarded by both children and adults), ignoring people in in our immediate company so we can text with those who may be hundreds of miles away (or sadly, across the room), occurs regularly. Texting while driving occurs all too often –  and can lead to the saddest of consequences.

In the video, Sinek explains how the dopamine release within our brains when we interact with our devices mimics the release that occurs when we use and /or abuse alcohol, tobacco and drugs. The most notable difference is, we impose legal age restrictions on these substances to prevent them from effecting young minds, but this not the case with cell phones. There are many cell-phone carrying thirteen-year-olds.

Has the Millennial Generation Been Dealt a “Bad Hand”?

In an effort to explain the Millennial, Sinek suggests that the Millennial generation may have been dealt a “bad hand”, resulting from four primary factors:

  • Parenting – and / or Failed Parenting Strategies, i.e., everyone gets a participation medal,
  • Technology – and the Facebook and Instagram world, thus filtering emotions and pretending to always be happy,
  • Impatience – largely due to the instant gratification world we live in, and
  •  Environment <— one area where we may be able to help – When Millennials enter the workforce…

You may draw your own conclusions from the video. A key take away for me is that this “issue”- our fascination and possible addiction to our handheld devices, affects more than Millennials. It likely impacts all of us who have one. I’ve witnessed addictive-like behavior from  toddler-aged children through septuagenarians!

So, What Do We Do?

From a corporate perspective, I am not certain how “we” attempt to manage the use of digital devices in the workplace – or if we should even attempt to at all. I do believe and agree with Sinek when he says that “…we need to help Millennials to overcome instant gratification and teach them the joys, impact and fulfillment of working hard for something over a long period of time.” We (corporate America) can play a role in providing Millennials a resource of Leaders and the respective positive influence that leaders can and should attempt to spread throughout the workplace. Millennials will follow our lead, they will emulate us, if they trust us – similar to the way children trust and value their parent’s traits, both positive and negative.


The conclusion I have come to is that I believe we should all consider taking a step back to pause and reflect on our own use of our digital devices and consider what our behavior is modeling to our co-workers and our families. What does it say when we check our phones on our nightstand in the morning before even saying “Good Morning” to those we love? What does it say when we are attending a meeting and we choose to focus on our mobile device rather than those who sitting among us? These are things to consider. Should we consider reevaluating our own habits?

At 20-20, we’ll continue to assess our core level training programs, especially how we can best design and develop our programs to resonate with the Millennial generation. We are always interested in your thoughts on matters such as these. If you have instituted policies and or procedures specifically around character traits of the Millennials that you employ, please let me know. And, if there are specific training programs that you need in this area, we’d be happy to talk with you further to see if we may be able to develop a program for you.

Only time will tell if our habits change, and if they do – what that means to society and our future generations. The world needs a thriving generation of Millennials and we all work in an environment where we can positively influence their behavior and their future success!