September 18, 2018

Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Millennials are the Future of PR and They’re Not as Bad as You Think

On behalf of all other millennials, I would like to make some apologies.

First, to the napkin industry. We’re leaving you for paper towels and we’re not coming back.

Next, to fabric softener. My sincere apologies that our clothes will never know your silky soft touch.

Finally, to stilettos. Actually, I’m not sorry. My feet won’t miss you.

All this to say, there are a lot of notions and perceptions about what millennials are and aren’t. Namely, other generations tend to stereotype millennials as lazy and entitled. Of course, not all millennials fit these stereotypes.

So who comprises the population of rising PR professionals in the communications field? What is their background and what kind of work do they produce? Are they really as entitled as people claim? And how can millennials work with other generations to continue to bring innovation and success to PR and communications?

These are important questions for all professionals to consider, regardless of the generation they belong to, as their answers will shape the future of the communications field.

Who are millennial PR pros?

Millennials now make up 35 percent of the workforce in America, becoming the largest generation of working adults in the country as of 2016. This means a large number of current employees in the PR and communications industry belong to the millennial generation.

So who are millennials? All young people tend to get lumped into this group, but Pew Research recently identified millennials as anyone born between 1981 and 1996. By this definition, millennials would be anywhere from 22 to 37 this year. Additionally, this means that most people of traditional college age and younger fall into the next generation, Gen Z.

Marketers and researchers try to find a homogenous identity to characterize the whole generation, but this is a mistake, as a hallmark of this generation is their commitment to personalization and individuality. As Pew Research said in their article outlining the parameters for defining a millennial, “generations themselves are inherently diverse and complex groups, not simple caricatures.” With this in mind, it’s impossible to pigeonhole millennials into a single identity.

What do they want? 

A lot of research has been done about millennials, their background and skills, and their expectations for the workplace. Millennials and Public Relations Leadership in the 21st Century: Are They Ready?, a study published in a 2015 issue of Public Relations Journal, outlined some of the positive and negative traits associated with millennials in the workforce. Leadership skills, willingness to work as a team, optimism, tech-savviness, and goal and achievement orientation were among the positive skills outlined. On the other hand, the study cited a lack of focus, critical analysis, and deeper thinking; aversion to risk-taking and independent thinking; a tendency to conflate effort and quality; and decreased attention span as negative traits of this generation.

In addition to stereotypes about their skills and ambition, there are a lot of perceptions about what millennials want out of a job and working environment. Contrary to popular belief, millennials don’t demand material perks, like catered lunches or in-office ping pong tables. Although some offices do now provide those bonuses, a Gallup survey found that millennials are more concerned with benefits that enhance flexibility and quality of life, such as occasional work from home days and comprehensive health benefits.

Unlike previous generations, however, millennials are willing to switch jobs to find these benefits. Additionally, millennials will switch jobs for greater stability, while less than half of baby boomers find this as important. Flexibility in working hours and location also matters to millennials. Previous research found that more than half of employees would take a new job if it allowed more flexible working conditions.

Managers and millennials 

The relationship between millennials and older generations is one of the most challenging aspects of the modern workplace. A study conducted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations highlighted this tension. The study, conducted as an online survey of 420 millennials working in communication and 420 professionals in management roles, revealed the gap between millennials’ trust in themselves and their managers’ opinion of their younger employees’ capabilities.

Eighty percent of millennials, for example, answered that they believe they feel passionate and ambitious about work, but only half of the managers surveyed agreed. Additionally, more than 70 percent of the millennial communication professionals surveyed stated that they felt ready to lead effectively, while less than half of their managers agreed.

In addition to these deficits in trust, one of the stereotypes that often gets thrown around about millennials is their lack of independence, as stated in the study cited earlier. Millennials get accused of lacking the confidence and motivation to take on projects independently. Millennials are not averse to taking on projects or working independently, but this generation grew up with mentors and working collaboratively. They thrive in this environment and benefit from open lines of communication with their superiors.

One of the best ways more senior managers can develop their millennial talent is by pairing up as a mentor, which can be mutually beneficial. Senior managers provide millennials with the knowledge and guidance they need to grow and flourish at an organization, preparing them for leadership roles. A millennial can introduce their managers to their own experience and skill set, especially their knowledge of technology and digital expertise, and the unique perspective of the challenges facing people in their age bracket.

Despite all of the stereotypes surrounding millennials, this generation is largely comprised of motivated, competent professionals looking to gain the experience and knowledge necessary to ascend to higher roles within their field. Understanding this generation of employees and working with them to develop their talent and modernize traditions in the workspace will train strong leaders for the future of PR and communications.

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