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Recently, I was at a networking event chatting with other executives when one caught sight of a casually dressed younger gentleman across the room. He pointed out the jean wearing Millennial and related, with annoyance, that he has an employee who keeps showing up in sandals to work.

There was a pause in the conversation where he anticipated that we would agree with him. Instead, I asked about the employee’s work performance; he was stunned by the question. He replied, “Actually… he is a hard worker.” I mentioned that Einstein was well known for refusing to wear socks and that I would hate to be the person who let Einstein go from a job because of a wardrobe choice. I am not sure he agreed with me, but perhaps he might look at that one Millennial a bit differently from now on.

So, I ask the question, who are the Millennials? Well, the answer depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? There are no precise dates for the Millennials or Generation Y (as they are also called), but individuals born between 1980 and 2000 fit most lists. Doing some quick math, that makes most Millennials between 17 and 37 today, which is a huge age range.

I am a part of Generation X and I often feel bad for Millennials. They have been labeled with words like entitled, lazy, impatient, and self-absorbed. The Millennial generation grew up in an electronic filled world, which makes them special but also makes it easy to overshare negative descriptors. When my dad, who was a part of the baby boomer generation, wanted to complain about his kids he did it with his two friends over a 25-cent cup of coffee at the diner. Afterwards they would go their separate ways and that would be the end of it. Today, if I want to complain about my Millennial daughter, I just change my Facebook status with those opinions for all the world to see while sipping on my $5 Mocha Frappuccino. The benefits of a digital world are a blessing and a curse and the Millennial generation is caught in the middle.

Generalizations about generations can be tricky business. A Millennial could be a 17-year-old high school senior about to go off to college OR a 37-year-old parent with 2 kids, both are within the same generation but are going to have some serious life differences. However, researchers and social scientists use generational age cohorts to understand how shared life experiences shape both behaviors and views of the world. Although the day to day lives of young Millennials may differ from an older counterpart, research shows both are more likely to live comfortably with technology and embrace personal choice in marriage and politics.

When Millennials topped Baby Boomers as the largest generation by population count, businesses faced two major impacts:

  1. Millennials became the largest workforce in Q1 of 2015 with 53.5 million strong.
  2. Millennials will account for 30% of retail sales by 2020 making them the dominant buying generation.

Given this information, all businesses will need to look beyond the negative generational stereotypes and focus on understanding Millennials. This generation has already impacted business and will continue to change how businesses manage everything from hiring to marketing to customer service.

This is true not only within individual companies, but across many different industries. Working in software development, Millennials shape our world daily. Many of our best and brightest developers are members of this generation. They taught themselves to code before schools could find teachers with the skills to offer programs. They seamlessly move between computer languages with a fluency that would impress any United Nations interpreter.

Fortunately, they also have strong feelings on their generational identity and are willing to share opinions on the good, the bad, and the inaccurate. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Millennials and engage in related discussions that demonstrate what they hate about this stereotype, what they agree with, and what makes them tick.

We help companies redesign their software to outpace the competition because we understand the Millennial marketplace. We see the unique value of Millennials in the workplace – and we understand that they are here to stay. In order to help other businesses, we will delve into different aspects of this generation on our Millennial Mondays. We hope you will join us. See you next week!