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January 17, 2019

Marketing medicine:The Millennial mindset

Last week I revealed that one of the reasons modern CEO’s struggle to understand their employees is a generation gap wider than the Rift Valley.

Most C-level executives are over 40, which in socio-demographic terms makes them members of Generation X. The term was coined by the American photographer Robert Capa in the early 1950s. He used it as a title for a photo-essay about young men and women growing up immediately after the Second World War. Describing his intention, Capa said "We named this unknown generation, The Generation X, and even in our first enthusiasm we realised that we had something far bigger than our talents and pockets could cope with."

There’s a great deal of reading matter about Generation X, much of it academic. But one of the most interesting aspects of their mindset is this. Unlike their parents who challenged leaders with the intent to replace them, Gen X’ers are less likely to idolise leaders and more inclined to work toward long-term institutional and systematic change through economic, media and consumer actions. They favour change from within, at a steady pace. Evolution, not revolution.

Here in Africa, this goes some way to explaining why many outwardly modern businesses are often still highly traditional inside. By traditional I mean they tend to be directed, with scant attention service being paid to consensus. Their hierarchies are complex and tend to look inwards and upwards. Opportunities within them are limited by age, gender and ethnic origin. This is not exclusively a failure of leadership. The reality is that people feel comfortable inside a culture they understand, even if it is limiting and sometimes unfair. So in many companies it is the employees who are resistant to change. And anyone who has had to change anything on this continent will understand the enormous power of passive resistance.

But now we are facing a generational schism in the workforce, with the arrival of the Millennials. Broadly defined as people who entered the world of work after the turn of the century, this is a very large and distinct group thought to number 2.5 billion people worldwide.

Millennials are probably as revolutionary as the generation who took up arms in the 1940’s to 1960’s to fight for positive change. But you won’t see them manning the barricades or tearing down public icons. Not physically anyway. They are a new kind of Velvet Underground: connected 24/7 by technology millennials appear to be confident, unconventional, and tech-savvy. Many businesses crave them because being creative and innovative, they’re equipped to meet the demands of the changing working world.

And business everywhere is now facing considerable challenges recruiting and retaining this new generation, which has as much to offer in Africa as it does either East or West of here.

So how can businesses lure Millennials to their organisations and more importantly, keep them long-term? Blogger Hilton Freund says there are four things millennials want from their employers:

1. A reason to stay with you

A whopping 91 per cent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to research by Future Workplace. For the employer, this isn’t a good thing. Where’s the value in training an employee into a valuable business asset, only to see them walk out the door a year or two later?

Freund suggests you give your employees a reason to remain invested in you by paying a competitive wage that is performance based. Offering development opportunities like mentoring and courses. And building a company culture with a splash of fun, whether it’s table tennis, after-work drinks or a weekend away.

2. Flexible working options

The traditional nine to five isn’t really a thing for the Millennials. A study in the US by Millennial Branding found that 45 per cent of millennials choose workplace flexibility over pay. They focus on work-life balance and like technology that makes working processes easier.

Freund says you can create a more flexible organisation by letting your staff work when and where they want, offering childcare, and job-sharing opportunities that allow two people do one job and split the hours

3. Help them work for longer

The Generation Debt interactive study from finance company Wizzcash shows the average life expectancy for millennials to be 80 years of age. Even when you factor in shorter life expectancy in Africa it’s likely the Millennial generation will be living – and working – for longer.

Freund recommends preparing for an ageing workforce by setting up a pension schemes and creating an age-neutral environment (where you can hire and assimilate older staff members).

4. A proper career pathway

PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggests that Millennials need help to grow within an organisation. “Managers need to really understand the personal and professional goals of millennials,” it recommends.

Freund himself recommends offering millennials clear career development by plotting out their development within the company over a five-year period, holding regular review sessions and setting up a mentoring scheme

Much here is not news to some of us. But my take-out is that management and HR practitioners need to find new ways to refresh employee treatment. Oh, and also remember to communicate; communicate; communicate.


Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.


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