Rick Arpin

Generations in the Workforce (Yes, I’m Talking About Millennials)

I looked back, and I am shocked I haven’t written about millennials in this column. I have written and spoken about millennials and generational issues in the workforce several times in the last few years, so I took some of those writings along with information from a recent talk I heard on the subject from an expert to present to you. (Yes, generations in the workforce is absolutely something you can study, get a Ph.D. in, and be an expert at! Some of the insights here are from speeches by Kim Lear, of Inlay Insights.)

I first wrote about millennials as their own topic in 2014. Even by then we had a significant amount of information about this generation, all the accounting firms were incorporating this generation into their workforce surveys and sociologists were doing deep dives into what makes this generation tick.

Just before that article, I referenced millennials in an article on talent management for this publication. Here’s a portion:

“We often hear that millennials want to move up the corporate ladder too fast, and aren’t loyal. But giving them the opportunity to develop, leads to loyalty. According to a 2012 Deloitte report, “Surveying the talent paradox from the employee perspective,” two of the top three incentives desired by millennials are promotion and job advancement (#1) and leadership development opportunities (#3).”

As backdrop, millennials are those born between 1980 and 1995. Generation X includes those born from 1965-1979. And Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. Here are some characteristics that relate to each generation:

Baby Boomers

  • Work ethic – stayed late, because if they didn’t, one of their 80 million peers would
  • Competitive
  • Rely on institutions
  • Optimistic, young at heart

Generation X

  • Work/life balance – leave at 6 for daughter’s softball practice
  • Independent
  • Institutions broke down (24-hour news cycle, divorce)
  • Skeptical, give direct feedback
  • If you want something done right, do it yourself


  • Yoga at noon, life wins over work
  • Collaborative
  • Tribal, build own networks
  • Want validation of ideas
  • There is no “I” in team

I think you can see how some of these characteristics would clash in the workplace, particularly between Gen X managers and millennial workers. Having said that, I personally think that the “millennial issue” is more relevant for us to think about on the consumer side. It seems clear to me that younger people spend differently, want to interact differently and like to do different things when on vacation than other generations. That is a serious issue, and we need to be adaptable and innovative, trying new products and delivering new experiences.

But from an employee perspective, I haven’t seen it as much. Sure, we want to upgrade/modernize the technology we use since millennials are used to modern web/mobile/touch interfaces. But heck, I want that too. In terms of what drives them in their career, I ask lots of interns, college students and recent hires about this issue, and they often tell me they want things that sound exactly like what we want (or at least what we wanted when we were their age) – recognition, growth, learning, a bit more pay.

One difference that plays out in both consumer and work orientations is the deep desire for meaning among millennials. This just wasn’t explicit in my generation, but it is quickly a non-negotiable for companies to provide millennials with meaning, at work or in their products and services.

The other “fact” we see is the tendency for millennials to have more jobs and work for more companies than previous generations. While this may strike some as a move away from loyalty, it should be noted that the trend existed in Gen X and is just expanding with millennials. Recall, institutions don’t matter as much anymore, a tribe or network can be formed anywhere. As employers, we can help them understand how to stay fresh and stay aligned with the larger company values when people get “small” and petty. Don’t let them get sucked in to that drama.

“The workplace has become a psychological battlefield and the millennials have the upper hand, because they are tech savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first.”

– Morley Safer

My best advice to millennials I first wrote almost four years ago: ignore all the talk about their generation. They might work for someone who seems to perceive that they are lazy, expect things handed to them on a silver platter, or want to just get promoted as fast as possible. I tell them to keep their head forward, work hard and keep learning, and eventually that leader will realize the millennial isn’t so different than they are.

My advice to those managing millennials is to focus on their positives and get to know them to see how they fit with the generational themes we saw earlier. If you make an effort to stand beside them, and see the world through their eyes, I think they will teach you a few things and will be more open to your counsel.

Maybe you still think you haven’t figured out millennials; well guess what, we’re about to see another generation coming through. One positive – the millennials will now see a new generation that will similarly have different perspectives and challenge the status quo. They likely will react with indignation and start writing articles about the “Generation Z problem.” Then you will have an unexpected ally with you in the fight against the new generation!

Rick Arpin is the Senior Vice President of Entertainment at MGM Resorts International. He was recently named to Treasure and Risk Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list.