8 Things Millennials Know About Work and Money That Other Generations Don’t

Millennials have had to become wiser about careers and finances more quickly than other generations before them did.
Updated April 3, 2023
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Millennials, the generation born from 1981 through 1996, are often dismissed as being too young to have serious concerns or diminished as being entitled and overly sensitive. This view is both inaccurate and ignorant of the realities this generation lives with.

Millennials are the largest generation in number, even bigger than the baby boom generation. Millennials have gone through a unique set of economic circumstances that have limited their financial prospects but increased their loyalty to each other and their comfort with risk and with self-reliance.

They are significantly different from Generation X and baby boomers, the two generations before them, in some interesting ways. So maybe there are some things we can learn from this generation as far as how to eliminate our money stress and smart money moves to make.

They can’t rely on the system

Photocreo Bednarek/Adobe interlocking gear

Previous generations were able to come out of college, get a job, and then advance in their career with increasing wages to create stable lives. Millennials haven’t had that luxury.

The federal minimum wage hasn’t increased in 13 years, which is the entire working life of all but the very oldest millennials, the xennials. The cost of living has increased 34.76% in that time.

Most millennials came out of college during the Great Recession, and most will never recover from the slow start their careers had. This generation might be making less in real money than their boomer parents ever did, and they might not anticipate any sort of correction.

They might be cynical about systems and authority precisely because they haven’t been rewarded for playing by the rules to make extra money.

They don’t trust conventional wisdom

Marc/Adobe student loan application form

This is the student loan generation, the generation that was told by older people to do whatever it took to get a college degree. They might have taken out student loans and then were unable to find jobs that paid enough to pay back the loans, so many of them might be stuck in student loan debt.

They might also be the first generation to grow up under more control from the credit system and reliant on credit scores for opportunities.

The student loan system and lack of mobility of credit scores leads them to mistrust wisdom from previous generations. They rely on their own experiences to make decisions about careers, housing, money, and families.

They bet on themselves

oneinchpunch/Adobe Male tourist at Times Square

Since they might not rely on an economy and job market that rewards loyalty, millennials have discarded the idea that they need to spend decades working for the same company, or even the same industry.

This generation is much more entrepreneurial than previous generations, as well as more likely to work in flexible freelance or contingent jobs, which has more value because they can’t count on stability.

They are much more comfortable with risk, whether in entrepreneurship or in exploring volatile new investment vehicles such as cryptocurrency. They are also unwilling to sacrifice their personal lives for work, so controlling their hours by working for themselves is satisfying.

They’re team-oriented

JacobLund/Adobe Stack of hands showing unity and teamwork

Millennials grew up in day care and care after school, so they’re used to being around other people and working together in teams. They are more likely to crowdsource information and collaborate to make decisions and share work.

This generation is much more likely to do business with friends and share money with friends than any previous generation (think Venmo or Zelle).

They have a different set of boundaries for friendship and finances than previous generations do. They enjoy the feedback and interaction of working in teams at the office.

They’re connected 24/7

fizkes/Adobe Happy Afro American young business woman in glasses using smartphone

The oldest millennials were barely in middle school when American families started owning personal computers.

They learned to type on computers instead of typewriters, were online as soon as online existed, and have grown along with technology without the friction previous generations have experienced.

They are constantly connected with their friends — real-life and internet friends — through their phones. They have access to a steady stream of information and news that they use to make decisions about money and work, and use technology to manage the balance between work and personal lives.

They can handle the truth

fizkes/Adobe frustrated lady reading sms with unbelievable news on smartphone

Millennials value transparency and resent information hoarding as a way of flexing power. Perhaps because of their ease with collaboration and communal decision-making, they are comfortable with analyzing and processing information in public.

They mistrust people and organizations that are not transparent about how they make decisions and about predicted outcomes. They want to work for organizations that have transparent processes and hierarchies and are honest about their missions.

Because they started their careers in a recession, they aren’t tipped over by bad news, and are efficient and creative at finding solutions.

They thrive on recognition

SFIO CRACHO/Adobe people clapping

All “participation trophy” jokes aside, millennials do value recognition for a job well done, especially when they have done something they find value in themselves.

Millennials are less likely to do a job strictly for the money than previous generations were, and they value work that is meaningful and makes them feel like they are making a positive change in the world.

This makes recognition for their work even more meaningful to them. Financial recognition is important to them, too, and they are more likely to leave a job when they aren’t being paid as much as they feel their contributions make them worth.

They’re focused on retirement

WONG SZE FEI/Adobe Retirement savings

Millennials have watched the generations ahead of them retire with pensions and employer-sponsored retirement plans, and know that those retirement vehicles are less available to them than they were to previous generations.

This makes them more focused on working hard, sometimes taking on side hustles, to earn more now not only to take care of immediate living needs but also to sock away money in retirement funds.

They use technology to crowdsource wisdom about investing and information about companies and markets, as well as keeping track of their investments in real time.

While they may not be able to replace the lost income from the beginning of their careers, they are trying to manage retirement planning so that they can continue working by choice and not because they can’t retire.

Bottom line

leszekglasner/Adobe Hiker young woman with backpack rises to the mountain top

Millennials are hard workers who are loyal to their friends but not to employers. They are making the best of bad economic and financial circumstances that are out of their control, including figuring out how to deal with inflation.

Despite being the butt of jokes about being entitled kids, millennials are fully grown adults who are not afraid to take risks and apply the elbow grease to get what they need to feel stable and secure.

Companies that want to tap into this talented and focused generation need to be transparent and mission-driven, and give teams the chance to collaborate and share responsibility.

Author Details

Elizabeth Rollins Elizabeth Rollins has degrees in literature and business, and she's combined these loves into a career in writing about personal finance. Her special areas of interest are debt, value, budgeting, education, and retirement.

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