80 million baby boomers will retire over the next 25 years and so the baton is handed to the next generation to lead the brave new world.  As a person of generation X, you might think this is my time but statistics show that the Gen-X reign will be short lived if it happens at all.  When the 80M boomers depart their cubicles, there are only 46M gen-Xers waiting in the wings.  No, the world will not be gen-X but will more likely skip, Prince Charles style, straight to the 75+ million Millenials who will dominate the workplace for the next 70 years. 

In the US, the number of available jobs could outnumber workers by 4.3 million when the baby boomers start leaving in 2011.  A study by the Employment Policy Foundation concludes with the staggering prediction that the gap will then widen to a terrifying 35 million workers by 2031.  The graying of America will affect every industry and its effects are already being felt.

If you are in any doubt about the importance of attracting and retaining talent in your workforce then you better think hard and fast or you will not be in business for long.  So it becomes very important for us to get a grip on what drives this new generation and what can we expect from them?

As a Gen-X I need to come to terms with the fact that I am not the generation that will change the world and if I want to stay in tune with the culture, I need to look to those now in their teens and twenties.  There are some similarities but as I have noted before, I struggle to overcome my own facebook fatigue.

So what do we mean by these definitions?  lets address that first.  There are many debates about where exactly to draw the lines and those discussions miss the point because no culture shift happens that precisely.  By definition, these changes happen gradually.  That said there are some distinct characteristics we can observe and caveats aside, this table may help.

  year of birth characterised by:
Veterans 1922-1945 Company loyalty
Baby boomers 1946-1964 Financial success
Gen X 1965-1979 Strongly independent
Gen Y/Millenials 1980-2000 Personalised work

So what has shaped the millenial generation?  This is the generation that has grown up amongst corporate scandals, the outsourcing and downsizing of companies.  They've seen the .com bubble burst and are not pinning their hopes on a pension scheme paying out.  It's not surprising to find then that they have little trust in corporations and are quick to ask "what's in it for me?".  A job is a route for them to achieve their personal goals and success and is very short-term in perspective.

Unlike Gen-X who may have adapted to the rise of connective technologies such as the Internet, millenials have never even thought about it, they just use it, effortlessly.  They have a very relational view of life, a job becomes an activity where you enjoy getting things done with your friends rather than a place you go 9-5.  Millenials are very open, with virtually no prejudicial attitudes towards issues such as ethnic or racial diversity. Indeed they are the most diverse and most educated generation ever.  From single-parent and dual working families, they are also the most "coddled" generation ever having had parents who would take them from football to piano lessons to whatever hobby appeals.

All this means Millenials are easily bored, very focused on relationships and working in a great team of friends.  They want to build community and unlike their parents, are just not interested in selling their souls to the corporation - they will gladly sacrifice pay and prospects for having a life. They care about social responsibility too so if your company does nothing much for society then you'll have a job convincing them to join you. 

Millenials are not easily bullied either - they will work how they want to work and when they want and frankly don't care too much if that seems to buck your status quo.  They will use whatever tools come to hand, and with remarkable dexterity.  If they can solve a problem by calling up a mate in another company they will - probably before considering if that breaks confidentiality or some 'regulation'.

Recent examples of the facebook generation driving large companies such as the recent HSBC case and the Cadbury Wispa bar show how major corporations are starting to adapt to the new world. 

Of course this is why we talk about People Ready business at Microsoft and why it is the central vision for the Microsoft Office system. 

Whereas other companies say the future is all about understanding your information and how it can drive greater advantage for you, we say no, its all about your people.  Are you thinking hard enough to understand them and how they will drive success for you?