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Analyzing Why Millennials Think Differently About Money

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Analyzing Why Millennials Think Differently About Money

Recently I gave Danielle Kronenfeld, my extern during her junior year at Cornell, a number of questions to write about and discuss with me.

We published one piece as a blog last year and another about what irritates other generations about Gen Y in May 2015. Below is a third. We hope you enjoy and gain some insights from the conversation.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: How do Gen Y/Millennials attitudes toward money and financial rewards compare with those of other generations?

Danielle Kronenfeld: I think that Gen Y has trouble with the idea of “paying our dues.” We are more resistant than ever to entering the workforce in lower paying jobs before reaching bigger career goals. Many of us feel as though we are entitled to incredibly large paychecks, even just for internships and entry-level positions. An unpaid internship, which used to be the norm, is now considered a torturous last resort. It is common among many Millennials, particularly those who come from elite universities, to expect six-figure salaries and generous bonuses after only their first year or two in the workplace.

PWH: Explain how you/they justify this bounty.

DK: Older generations tend to find our compensation demands unrealistic and greedy. They understood the value of slowly working their way up, and wanted to gain that ground level experience when they were younger, whereas Gen Y does not have the patience to do the same. Baby boomers in particular were critical in shaping the workplace to be the way it is today, and want younger generations to respect their experience and the value that adds. They want Millennials to gain the proper work experience before automatically considering themselves to be of such high worth, just as they did before us.

I think the biggest difference between our attitude towards money and other generations’ is not that we want more money, but rather that we want more money faster. Millennials are becoming increasingly interested in ways to “get rich quick,” most recently through entrepreneurship. So many people have seen huge success with young, small companies, especially in the tech space, and that instant gratification is very attractive to us.

Many Gen Yers see more value in growing our own business from top to bottom than working our way up the cliché corporate ladder. We think we can change the world and don’t have any time to waste. A rapidly increasing number of Millennials are looking to create their own start-ups or join programs like Venture for America, where they can create maximum impact and make their own rules while still bringing home a big paycheck. Although it’s a risk, if you hit it big, you can become a millionaire overnight. Even the simplest game app can make $50,000 a day.

However, I believe that the Millennials’ attitude surrounding money is not as different from previous generations as it may seem. I think that while the money is clearly very important, what drives Gen Yers to believe we’re so deserving of large financial rewards is our passion for what we are doing, which is something older generations can relate to.

PWH: How do you equate passion with material value?

DK: Baby boomers thought that they were a special group when they were around the current Gen Y age and believed that they could make changes in the workplace. They were seen as incredibly radical and criticized for their aggressive approach, but continued to prevail and succeed in transforming the way we work. Millennials have similar feelings and aspirations, but we’re actually less radical.

We simply believe that we bring a unique perspective to the table, and want to be able to provide our fresh ideas and experiment in the real world. Our prerogative does not come out of any disrespect for older generations, but rather from our excitement about what we have learned and the opportunities we have to apply that knowledge. In looking to solve intergenerational workplace conflicts, whether about money or anything else, it could be helpful for older generations to take a step back and realize that the Millennials might not be so different after all.

PWH: This is an interesting perspective, Danielle, which other generations may not have considered. If Gen Y/Millennials could produce a proven formula for translating passion into dollar figures or some form of currency, that would indeed be a contribution that would draw attention.

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* The generational chronology for easy reference: Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were in adolescent-early adult years. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

Traditionalists: born 1925-1942   

Baby Boomers: born 1943-1962

Generation X: born 1963-1978

Generation Y/Millennials: born 1979-1995

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