23-30-Year-Olds Are Not Millennials; Introducing Generation S
Last updated 1-5-21 to reflect the unique challenges and expectations of each distinct generation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
by Ken Dulaney, Betsy Burton, Samra Anees
We hear the term 'millennials' in almost every conversation or article about social change due to technical innovation these days. But that term is about 25-years-old and its hardly relevant to call the entire group of 23-38-year-olds by such an anachronistic description.
The term millennial is out of date with what behaviors are observed of the age group that is becoming adults today. In addition, grouping a 15 year span of people under one moniker will miss the opportunity to recognize how the generation coming to age today is distinct from Millennials, and also distinct from Generation Z, and thus require different engagement as customers, employees, and partners.
This distinction has become even more important with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millennials, Gen Z'ers, and what we are calling Gen S'ers are having varied experiences in the workplace—and entering the workforce—due to the risks and challenges brought on by the widespread virus.
In this blog, we introduce the term and concept of Generation S, highlight how they are distinct from Millennials and Gen Z, and discuss how organizations need to support them differently. Generation S will be uniquely identified by their use of two key digital age capabilities: sharing and services.
Where Are the Millennials Today?
The term millennial generally refers to people who became adults during the turn of the 21st century. Millennials were the first smartphone/app generation and they were just beginning to use Facebook and Messaging. And as such, represented a significant technology-enabled cultural shift that impacted business and consumer behaviors. However, we must recognize that the breadth of available information, services, bandwidth and apps, have progressed way beyond that infantile state!
Millennials are quickly turning 40-years-old; they are not the group currently getting acquainted in the workforce. Millennials are managers, executives, presidential candidates, and members of congress. Millennials have children (even if they waited till they were in their 30s), mortgages, a career, a 401k…..and maybe a creeping back-ache. From a lifespan perspective, Millennials have become their parents.
Millennials and COVID-19
When the COVID pandemic hit, millennials were already in their career stride. They have several years to a decade or more of professional experience under their belt in a variety of industries. Millennials are not newbies to the workforce, and for this reason, the workplace challenges they may have faced throughout the pandemic look very different than their younger counterparts (Gen Z'ers who have been perhaps the hardest hit by the pandemic as some try to obtain their very first job in a difficult market). That said, many millennials experienced job loss, being furloughed, or pay cuts for perhaps the first time in their professional careers. They are now having to pivot and re-think their professional career if they were in an industry that has been greatly affected, such as events or hospitality.
They're looking to save money as much as possible. Many have moved in with their parents to cut costs during this time of uncertainty. The gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials in traditional life milestones such as getting married, owning a home, and having children may have widened further due to the pandemic.
Sharing and Services Generation Comes of Age
The generation that is coming into adulthood today has grown-up with Uber/Lift, AirBnB, Youtube, Snapchat, and Slack available to them at any time and anywhere. People who are 18-30 today have always had food delivery, map directions, videos and music, and a cloud full of information always at their fingertips. They were raised talking to devices, accessing apps, and posting pictures, videos, and music. In speaking with this group, two key terms arise in conversation: sharing and services.
Millennials ages 23-30 are closer to Gen Z (1997 and onward) in terms of their experience coming of age with the same technologies. However, unlike Gen Z, 23-30 year-olds have already entered—and many are established in—the workforce. And they've also likely never experienced formative schooling years completely online. For this reason, we are separating this group out from Millennials and Gen Z as a whole, and calling the current generation coming to age Generation S—a generation that is coming of age at one of the wildest, unpredictable times in history: during a pandemic.
Generation S Is Distinct From Millennials and Gen Z
Generation S (Gen S) grew up in a digital world. A Pew Research survey of late teens reveals that 95% surveyed individuals responded that they have a smartphone and 45% reporting that they are on-line “nearly constantly." This trend will only increase due to COVID-19, with Gen S'ers logging online not only for their social lives, but for their educational and professional lives as well.
Millennials grew up with the internet always available, which lead many of them to use the medium to create new companies, art forms, music and videos, nonprofits, communities, and forms of communication. Gen S grew up with a plethora of services, which means they are able to readily access, augment, and enhance these services, as well as create new services. The pandemic's influence on them also cannot be overstated; overnight, their entire lives were moved online.
Generation S constituents, to save money, will often share services across non-related friends that the provider intended to be delivered through separate accounts. A Netflix subscriber gets several IDs and those are given to friends who in turn split the cost. Lyft and Uber drivers share their cars with paying customers and there are even services that let you rent out your car unattended by the owner. Medical costs can be shared among groups with certain religious or work affiliations (see www.freelancersunion.org). Sharing is pushing the benefits of ownership into the background.
As ownership declines, necessary functions for daily living come increasingly from services. Within 10 years, we expect self-driving cars to be prevalent. Why would one want to incur the capital cost of car, the maintenance headaches, and the expectedly higher costs of fuel and/or electricity when you will be able to summon a driverless car to wherever you wish (this assumes that without the Lyft or Uber driver, the cost of such services will continue to decline)? Generation S workers will rent apartments as a household service. The transition to services is endless across all types of capital expenses, clothes, bikes, and decorations/furniture.
The Impact of Generation S
We believe that the Generation S will expect and demand more from organizations as a customers, employees, and partners, because they grew up with the expectation that services and information would be readily available. Their expectations will also be shaped by COVID-19.
Generation S will expect:
- Information and analytics to be easily accessible
- Technology to be pervasive, in fact they will likely not even think about it as technology just as the Baby Boomers didn’t think about the TV as technology
- Digital assistants, gaming, and immersive technologies will be part of their home and work experiences
- A high degree of customization by mixing and mashing services, rather that customized business processes and code
- Work flexibility in terms of hours, location, collaboration, and resources, since many Gen S' grew-up with their parents having some degree of flexibility and since the pandemic has forced many families to juggle multiple responsibilities at once.
Further, Gen S individuals won’t wait for their businesses or employers to provide these services; they will just find a way to procure it for themselves, which could introduce additional security, corporate privacy, information integrity, and integration (data and services) challenges. As the market recovers and becomes more competitive, they will look to organizations who have mastered the art of digital transformation, and who can offer them services in the midst of national emergencies so that they can continue going about their lives as normally as possible.
Organizations must stop lumping individuals under 40 years old into one category—millennial. Gen S and Millennials are not the same—and neither are Gen S and Gen Z—and should be recognized for their distinct expectations and characteristics. Organizations must specifically start to prepare for Generation S by thinking about how these new customers and employees will want to access and share services–anywhere and anytime. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult lesson in forcing organizations to do just that, almost overnight.