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What millennials want ... and why we care

Attractive to employers: millennials, sometimes called “digital natives”, are the first generation to grow up with the digital interconnectedness that has changed the way we communicate and consume. Understanding them will aid businesses selling to them and employing them

It’s difficult to go for very long without hearing about the millennial generation. Loosely described as people now aged between 20 and 35, there seems to be a widespread fascination with how they live and what they want from work. Type “what baby boomers want” into the Google search engine and there are 9.8 million hits. Replace “baby boomers” with “millennials” and you get 15.8 million.

The research tends to suggest that millennials are a principled and demanding bunch, who want work with meaning beyond financial profit that will fit into their life and not dominate it.

As US researcher Intelligence Group found, 88 per cent of millennials want “work-life integration” (apparently different from work-life balance, as mobile technology has now caused work and life to be more interwoven than ever before) and 74 per cent want flexible work schedules.

An overwhelming majority also want a collaborative working culture, rather than a competitive one. And nearly two-thirds say it is a priority for them to make the world a better place.

Some in older generations may scoff at such demands and regard millennials as a bunch of mollycoddled, uppity youngsters with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. However, there are good reasons why Bermuda — and Bermudian employers in particular — should concern themselves with what millennials want.

In the coming years, the Island will lose a wealth of workplace experience as baby boomers reach retirement. More than 40 per cent of the workforce was over 50 years old in 2014, according to figures in the Bermuda Digest of Statistics, published by the Bermuda Government.

Those people will need to be replaced and the battle for talent will be won by those who can offer millennials opportunities that are consistent with their values. Those who do not change from the traditional way of doing things will lose out.

Millennials, sometimes referred to as “digital natives”, are the first generation to grow up with the digital interconnectedness that has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and consume. Understanding them will aid businesses selling to them as well as employing them. From a global perspective, the millennials form the largest generation in history. More than half of the world’s population is under 30.

The long-term repercussions of failing to appeal to millennials has certainly dawned on the insurance industry, a major driver of the Bermuda economy. In the US, the industry will lose about 400,000 employees to retirement over the next five years. Replacing them with young, talented individuals is essential to drive the innovation necessary for companies to avoid being driven into oblivion by the forces of disruptive technology that are rapidly reshaping entire sectors of the economy.

Look at what Amazon has done to bricks-and-mortar retailers, what the likes of Priceline and Expedia have done to travel agents, and what Uber has done to taxi drivers around the world.

There is a widespread nervousness among business leaders in many industries about falling victim to disrupters and the insurance industry is no different. Recruiting from the millennial cohort — the generation most likely to think like the disrupters — will strengthen organisations’ ability to modernise themselves before some techie innovator does it for them.

Unfortunately for the insurance sector, it seems that most millennials find the industry boring. A survey last year found that only 5 per cent of millennials would consider a career in insurance.

As Brian Duperreault, Hamilton Insurance Group’s chief executive officer, said at a conference last month in Hamilton: “If we don’t pay attention to what they’re telling us about our workplaces and work policies — and this includes our attitude towards diversity and inclusion — they’re going to continue to snub our industry. We can’t afford to let that happen. Not only are they our future workforce, they’re our current and future customers.”

Mr Duperreault is one of the driving forces behind an insurance industry careers initiative that will span the month of February. More than 250 firms are backing the careers month, which will include millennials already employed in the industry going on to college campuses bearing the message that insurance, far from boring, fits well with the millennial desire to work in a “purpose-driven” business.

Another reason why older generations should listen to what millennials want is that they quite simply envision a better world in which to live and work, one which is now more attainable than ever, thanks to technological advances.

Charlotte Valeur, a corporate governance adviser, said at an insurance conference last month: “What millennials want is nothing new — it’s what women in the workforce have wanted for 50 years. But it was just coming from one gender. The difference with millennials is that it’s what both genders want.”

In practice, the proliferation of instant mobile communication has made free time less free for many of us. However, with the reorganisation of traditional working practices that mobile technology has made possible — and that millennials will force to happen — that same technology could yet prove to be liberating.