Research Paper By Paul Chang
(Coach for the Working Millennial, CANADA)
Millennial Characteristics, Attitudes and the 5A Model for Coaching Millennials
There is some debate as to what exactly defines a millennial. The United States Census Bureau defines millennials as being born between 1982 and 2000 (2015), and the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey (Deloitte, 2019) plots millennials as being born between 1983 and 1994. As with all other generational definitions, it is not the dates that necessarily categorise the millennial generation. Rather, it is the unique characteristics, behavioural patterns, attitudes and aspirations that differentiates one generation from another.
Millennials in the US make up more than one-quarter of the nation’s population at 83.1 million, outweighing the previously populous baby boomers generation of 71.4 million (United States Census Bureau, 2015). Similarly, at the time of research, Australia’s millennial generation sits at 5.22 million (22%), also outweighing its baby boomer population of 5.17 million (McCrindle, 2015). These statistics are relevant to the coaching profession because of millennials make up the majority of the target market of potential coaching clients. It is therefore important to make sure that the needs of the millennials are considered and catered for by existing and emerging coaches.
Furthermore, millennials have a very distinct set of characteristics and attitudes, refined and shaped by their circumstances, compared to the previous generations. Insight into what these are and how best to adapt to this unique group of people is necessary in order to provide the most effective coaching. Recognising that there are of course individual differences and variations, this paper will investigate some of the general characteristics of millennials and will aim to apply coaching concepts to maximise the benefits and effectiveness of coaching for the millennial generation.
One of the well-known criticisms about millennials is that they are “entitled, self-centred and shallow”, as Bauer (2017)discusses in her article from Psychology Today. This is reinforced by Patel’s article(2018)from entrepreneur, in which he outlines that millennials can often be mocked by their older colleagues from previous generations, that they think that they are somehow different – more unique – from everyone else. However, both authors went on to suggest and encourage alternative ways to consider this seemingly negative quality placed on millennials.
Tradition often values the family unit (immediate or extended), particularly in non-Western cultures. However, millennials are much more global and connected than ever before, so they are much more mobilised to do things on their own. Bauer (2017)offers the explanation that millennials are individualistic and selfish because they lack “generativity”, and blames the previous generations for neglecting to nurture and guide the younger people. Stein (2013) argues that millennials are not unique, that their individuality is only a continuation of the same trend from previous generations, expressed according to their environment.
Whatever the cause, millennials know that they are different and unique. They are unafraid to challenge convention and break tradition, as long as they know that they are doing what they want to do. This demographic expect to be treated as unique individuals; they do not like to be stereotyped or placed into boxes; they value autonomy and making their own decisions, and they take responsibility for their own wellbeing. For these reasons, coaching and communication with millennials, they should be tailored accordingly, as this paper will explore.
In the US, millennials are the second most diverse generation, second only to the emerging, youngest generation of 5 years and under (United States Census Bureau, 2015). According to the US Census Bureau, 44.2% of millennials in the US belong to a minority race or ethnic group (2015). In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that the 20-39 age bracket includes the highest percentages of people born overseas than any of the other age groups (2019).
Furthermore, research conducted by KPMG in their “Meet the Millennials” report (2017) shows that in addition to millennial’s own diversity, they actively seek it – especially within their workplaces. This, the report argues, is due to the quickened pace of globalisation and exposure to other cultures, people, information and goods.
Millennials have now adapted to the effects of globalisation and connectedness. International travel is now much more accessible and affordable, the internet has enabled the proliferation of social media to take hold, and opportunities to connect with others who are different are now much more readily available. Exposure to differences is enabling millennials to move beyond tolerance to acceptance, and often celebration. This will be an important attitude to keep in mind for coaches who are focused on millennials.
Because of their sense of individuality, millennials value purpose and direction. Whereas prior generations can be more focused on stability and predictability, millennials feel more empowered and mobilised to ask “why?”. They are not satisfied doing things without knowing the purpose, particularly if the return from doing the task is not immediately apparent (KPMG, 2017). They also need to know that what they invest their time in will fit into the bigger picture; that there has to be a purpose to whatever they do.
Furthermore, perhaps stemming from their diversity and connectedness, millennials are among the most curious of the generations. More of them place importance and priority on being able to travel and see the world (57%) than the traditional aspirations of owning a home (49%) and having children (39%) (Deloitte, 2019).
Millennials love to see the world because they get to experience something other than them while, at the same time, they get the opportunity to self-reflect and discover who they are when they are out of their comfort zones. Millennials’ careers are no longer the nine-to-five monotony that their parents or grandparents had to endure; they need meaning, purpose, vision, direction and satisfaction in their day-to-day lives. If they do not have these, they ultimately would feel unfulfilled and empty – and would, therefore, benefit from the services of a coach.
According to KPMG’s “Meet the Millennials” report (2017), the millennial generation is less afraid to voice their opinions and more willing to challenge the system. As a result of them being more in touch with their individuality – who they are and what they want – they are more ready and willing to express these aspects of themselves. This is perhaps one of the reasons for this generation to be classified as “self-centred” and “entitled”.
Millennials are also curious – and they often exercise this curiosity about themselves in the way they obtain feedback. They are constantly and consistently willing to accept open, honest and truthful perspectives about themselves for self-improvement. This idea is discussed in many reports, including Heitzman (2019), Patel (2018), and KMPG (2017). Furthermore, Willyerd demonstrates that millennials – particularly in the workplace – not only are open to feedback, but they also expect it much more frequently than their non-millennial colleagues (2015).
While it can be easy to only see millennials’ traits from a negative lens, it is important to note that they are not hypocrites – they exercise the same expectations on themselves that they place on others. In the context of coaching, millennials would be clear about what they are looking for and what they are trying to achieve, and they would expect their trusted coach to give them clear and honest feedback.
Through a study of millennials’ general characteristics and traits, some concepts emerge that are critical when connecting with millennials, particularly in the context of coaching. These concepts form the basis of the ‘5A Model for Coaching Millennials’ and are explored in detail below. It is important to note that the ‘A’s are not linear – any component of the model can, and should, be exercised at any time during a coaching session.
Being a part of a generation that values individuality, the best gift that coaches can offer to their millennial clients is for themselves to be authentic. The priority placed by millennials on individuality and diversity means that millennials no longer tolerate lip service or fakery – they value authenticity and being genuine in others. They can often exercise their intuition, be in tune with those people who are genuine and pick up on those people who put up a façade.
For the coach, it is important to exercise self-awareness and have a full understanding of who they are themselves, in order to be able to present their whole, genuine self to their clients. Therefore, much of the work done by a coach that will be the most helpful for the client is to get to know themselves and to present themselves wholly and truthfully.
One of the most important things that are required in a coaching session is the foundation of trust between the client and the coach. For the millennial generation, this level of trust can only be achieved if the coach is completely accepting of who the client is. In addition to valuing authenticity, the millennial generation (that is more diverse than other generations)readily offers acceptance and respect to those different to themselves, and expect the same level of acceptance and respect back. For millennials, this is a fundamental belief that they hold, and will be the basis on which they choose to engage with a coach.
In coaching, to offer a space that is free from judgement and bias is critical for the coaching relationship to be one built on trust and openness. This space allows the client to be whoever they are, to express whatever they want, and to explore whichever direction they choose. In order to achieve this, the coach must exercise mindfulness – to be aware of their own judgements, biases, feelings and emotions during the coaching session. The coach’s ability to transcend beyond these judgements and biases will be instrumental in allowing the millennial client to place full trust and confidence in the coach.
Millennials are motivated to learn more about themselves. They want to discover who they truly are, and they are not opposed to dedicating time and energy to achieving this goal. They also want to improve, become better at what they do, be more efficient and proficient. They want to know the purpose of their actions, their careers, and their lives. Many millennials are not content with the unexamined life, and instead, choose to take time to “find themselves”.
A coach who is invested in millennials must exercise the skills powerful questioning and direct communication awareness in order to build the clients awareness. For these clients to be willing to progress and grow, they first require a deep understanding of themselves – of who they are and where they want to go, and most importantly – why it is important to them. The coach must use his or her intuition to see beyond the current state and help the client develop more awareness of themselves and when this occurs, the client will be free to pursue growth.
During a coaching session with a millennial client, the coach must be aware of the progress that their client is making and acknowledge accordingly. Millennials, as discussed in the prior section, require and expect clear, honest and open feedback. Particularly when connecting with those in positions of respect – coaches, mentors, managers – millennials do not want authoritative figures telling them what to do or how to do them. Rather, they expect feedback on how they are performing, and how they can improve.
For the coach, exercising the tool of offering acknowledgement will be the critical success factors that enable progress for millennial clients. Because millennial clients expect and require a certain quality and quantity of feedback, coaches will do well by keeping this front-of-mind during a coaching session: highlighting when the client has made progress; pinpointing when the client has had a change of energy; noting the work and effort that the client has put in; observing when the client has made a perspective shift. These will be immensely helpful in keeping the client motivated and willing to progress through their coaching journey.
One of the most important motivators for millennials to act is the purpose of the action. Research on millennials, particularly in the context of engaging them in the corporate setting, consistently show that they need to understand the bigger picture, the vision or background before taking on tasks. They are no longer “yes” people as prior generations tend to be; they are now “why” people. The excellent communication skills that millennials possess are beneficial in this process, as many would leverage these skills to help them garner the information required for them to progress in their careers, lives, and other projects that they choose to adopt.
Once the millennial client understands the purpose and the direction in which they are aiming, they are ready for action. Coaches, therefore, have a responsibility to ensure that clients keep these in mind when they are developing their own course of action so that their actions are aligned to the direction and purpose that they had intended. The coach’s skill in helping the client with goal setting and designing actions will be critical for the client to gain fulfilment and accomplishment from the coaching session, as well as to move beyond their problem to a more productive, positive and constructive state of being.
The common perception of millennials is that they are a unique generation, unlike any before them and unlikely to be like any after them. However, it is also interesting to note that the roots of the characteristics and attitudes often attributed to millennials are not necessarily exclusive this generation. As Stein (2013) states in his Time Magazine article, millennials are “not a new species; they’ve just mutated to adapt to their to their environment”. Shaped by circumstances, events and technological progress, millennials are who they are because they have adapted and evolved, like the generations before they had to do, and the generation before them.
When coaches release themselves from the limiting mindset of viewing millennials as entitled or self-centred and instead seek to understand the reasons behind the behaviours and traits that they tend to display, it will become clear that millennials are open to learning, to building self-awareness and to making progress. Due to millennial clients’ unique preferences, coaches should tailor their communication and coaching style to suit millennials, to ensure that the efficiency and effectiveness of the coaching sessions are maximised. The ‘5A Model for Coaching Millennials’ should serve as guidelines for coaches to focus on how millennials operate, and to assist coaches to maximise the quality of their coaching sessions with their millennial clients.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2019, April 3). Australia’s Population by Country of Birth. Retrieved from Australian Bureau of Statistics
Bauer, B. (2017, April 18). Why Do Millennials Get a Bad Rap? Retrieved from Psychology Today
Deloitte. (2019). The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey.
Heizman, K. E. (2019). The Effect of Workplace Characteristics on Millennial Worker Organizational Commitment. Minneapolis: Walden University.
KPMG. (2017, June). Meet the Millennials. Retrieved from KPMG
McCrindle. (2015). Australia’s Generation Profile. Retrieved from McCrindle
Patel, D. (2018, January 17). 7 Surprising Traits That Make Millennials Excellent Employees. Retrieved from Entrepreneur
Stein, J. (2013, May 20). Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation. Time.
United States Census Bureau. (2015). Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers and Are Far More Diverse, Census Bureau Reports.
Willyerd, K. (2015, February 27). Millennials Want to Be Coached at Work. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review