Expert Interview: The Millennials in the Collaborative Economy


Meet Dan Schawbel. He’s an expert on millennials in the workforce.

I’ve known Dan for years, we both worked in the social business space, him at EMC, while I was at HDS.  We learned together, shared insights, and he even featured me in some of his publications.  In my opinion, Dan has become one of the leading voices of the millennial generation.

Not just because he’s in that age range, but because he’s studied the impacts, tracks the trends, and eloquently speaks on TV about millennials in the workforce.  I’ve been talking to Dan, about how the Collaborative Economy is often being lead by this young generation that wants to make a difference.

Like the movement, Dan is focused on helping this generation be self-empowered, and  the Founder of Millennial Branding and the author of the new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.  I’ve very selective on who participates in Q&A on my blog, to ensure quality in line with the web strategy mission.  Dan agreed to grant me his generous time in the following Q&A.  Also, he’s on Twitter, you should follow him.

Jeremiah: Is it true that Millennials seek access to goods and products rather than owning them?.  What impacts does that have to brands who’re trying to sell to “Consumers”?  What should brands do?

Dan: A lot of industries are having a lot of trouble engaging millennials. For instance, the automotive industry is in trouble because millennials aren’t buying cars. In 2010, despite being a large percentage of the population, millennials bought only 27% of all new vehicles sold in America, down from 38% in 1985. When it comes to the travel industry, millennials are using and Uber in order to save money and have a unique experience, which is why both are experiencing revenue growth.

The real estate industry is hurting because millennials would rather rent than own property. From 2009 through 2011, just 9% of millennials were approved for a first-time mortgage. Fast food restaurants, especially McDonalds, are hurting because millennials are health conscious. Hamburger chains have seen a 16% decline in traffic from millennials since 2007. Companies, in general, are having a very challenging time retaining millennials and the average tenure for a millennials is only two years.

If you want to sell to millennials, you have to build a strong brand personality, connect with them on social networks, align yourself with a cause, have an open culture and include their opinions as you build new products. They want custom brand experiences that take their wants and needs into account. If you want to retain them as workers, you need to invest in their careers, mentor them, provide them with internal hiring opportunities and feed their entrepreneurial ambitions.

Jeremiah: Do millennials share, if what?  And with who, do they even share with strangers?  

Millennials are more willing than any other generation to post their personal information online yet they don’t want just anyone to have access to their personal data or web history. Relative to older generations, they are the most active and engaged group of social media users. eMarketer reports that 84% of millennials are on social media, whereas only 66% of Gen X and 44% of boomers are. 93% have mobile phones and 63% have smartphones. They are sharing their location, what they’re eating, who they are spending time with, personal achievements and interesting articles they find online. They post images and videos using YouTube, Facebook, Vine and Instagram. They see sharing as a way to express their identities and a way to keep in touch with friends. They all suffer from the “fear of missing out” or FOMO as the media calls it.

Aside from sharing on social media, they also have the same behavior in real life with physical goods. 68% share physical media, which includes books and DVD’s. The most shared physical categories are living space (58%), work space (57%) and food (57%). This makes a lot of sense because millennials carry $45,000 in debt, most of which is student loan debt. Millennials prefer access over ownership, especially when it comes to expensive goods like cars. 55% of millennials have made an effort to drive less, which was 10% back in 2010.

Millennials are more likely to share their opinions and information about their social activities with strangers and also many trust the opinions of strangers over their friends, which is what Bazaarvoice found last year. Many millennials are starting to understand the consequences from over sharing. 10% of millennials have lost a job prospect because of what they’ve posted online. Older generations are swarming social networks now in order to build relationships with millennials and many corporations are creating profiles in order to attract them for sales and recruiting purposes.

Jeremiah: What do they share that’s taboo to others?

One thing that millennials do differently is sharing their salaries with their co-workers. They want a transparent workplace that is open, honest and ethical. The workplace of the past was all about keeping salaries a secret so that employees wouldn’t find out and demand higher wages from their managers. The workplace of tomorrow is all about collaboration and competition in order to drive results.

Jeremiah: What supporting evidence they’re living in the collaborative economy?  How are they sharing the physical work, their time, and space around them?

Millennials would rather work in a collaborative setting than in cubicles. Companies, such as American Express, understand this need and have programs around it. American Express created BlueWork, which is an innovative program designed to support workplace collaboration and promote flexibility. Employees benefit from being able to work side by side with peers and the company benefits from higher productivity. More millennials, especially entrepreneurs, enjoy co-working spaces because they are inexpensive and let them connect with like minded people. In Boston, for instance, we have Work Bar.

When it comes to transportation, research by Zipcar finds that 67% of millennials want media sharing programs, 53% want car sharing programs and 49% want home or vacation sharing programs.  Their intent with sharing is to save money because they have students loans and aren’t finding jobs. When it comes to shipping, they do it together and more than older generations. Kit Yarrow and Jayne O’Donnell’s book “Gen Buy” says that 68% of millennials shop with other people at least half the time, while only 44% of older generations can say the same.

One thing that we looked at this year was how college students collaborate and we found something quite surprising. 75% of students want to study alone instead of with others and only 20% want to study with friends and classmates in person. Based on my experience with millennials, I believe that technology makes it easier for them to form work groups so they don’t have to meet in person. It’s interesting because you would think they would develop collaboration skills in college and then use the same skills when they get into the workplace.

Jeremiah: Why do they share?  What’s in their nature to do this? (Dig in deep here and talk about WHY they share. Maybe look at psychographics and that they’re the first generation on the internet that sharing is a default behavior.)

Millennials share out of necessity. They were heavily impacted by the recession and are very slow to recover. They suffer a 16.1% unemployment rate, which is more than twice the national average of 7.4%. Millennials disclose a lot of personal information in order to stay connected with their peers and take advantage of social, economic and political opportunities. As they build their families, they will want to use the internet to keep in touch with them. By 2020, millennials will be more likely to share information online. We did a study for the 2012 elections and found that the second most popular way that millennials followed the election was on social media. They see social media as a way to keep up with what’s going on in the world and other peoples lives.

Jeremiah: Will they continue this behavior of sharing goods and services in the future?

I predict they will be sharing more in the future and the upcoming generation (Gen Z) will probably do it to an even greater extent. What I find really fascinating is how millennial consumerism and employment collide and it’s something I’m going to study more in the future. CareerBuilder reports that one third of millennials won’t buy from companies that don’t send them a response to their job application. So, for instance, if you’re Coke and you don’t get back to them, they might switch to Pepsi! YouGov did a study on sharing that was also interesting. They found that 55% of millennials share bad experiences on social media. If a company doesn’t treat a millennial fair, they might lose them (and their friends) to a competitor.

Jeremiah: What impacts does this have to work styles that we need to adapt to?  Will they work remote? Will they work in shared offices? What?

Millennials want freedom and flexibility over a higher salary. One of my friends convinced his company to let him work from New York full time instead of accepting a higher salary. Their workplace priorities are completely different than older generations. They want to work remote or from a co-working space instead of having to go to the office every day. This is the first generation that is asking a very important question: “why do we have a 9 to 5 workday in a 24/7 world”? Not every millennial want to work from home but the important thing is that location and the time spend doing the work shouldn’t matter. The workplace should be one hundred percent focused on outcomes and results over everything else and we’re moving to that model, which has been reported on by The Financial Times this year.

Jeremiah: Forecast the future of the collaborative economy and millennials?

I think, and I think you would agree, that there will be more collaboration but it will be more virtual. They will have online work groups with their peers and use video and productivity tools to produce high quality projects. They will take on more projects outside of their job description, collapse organizational hierarchies and work in dispersed locations. The future is bright and the future is right around the corner. As of last year, 15% of millennials were already managers and by next year 36% of the US workforce will be millennials. Change is going to happen much faster than companies realize and most are not prepared for what’s to come.

Jeremiah: Thank you Dan, for sharing your expertise, insight, and research.  I think we can summarize the interview as Millennials share (nearly everything), want flexibility and meaning in their work over rigid work styles and salary.  In summary, access to experiences seem to matter more than hard assets.  We look forward to reading your book soon

28 Replies to “Expert Interview: The Millennials in the Collaborative Economy”

  1. Interesting… I think millennials generally get a bad name and are tarred by many myths. BTW, lots of leading questions in regards to the mythical “collaborative economy” 🙂

  2. The differences for millennials get pointed out as a negative all the time, especially work culture, but functionally it stems from a changing sense of what the world should be and that’s something companies will have to embrace (it’s a matter of simple math).

    More apt to share info means a need for actual transparency. // More apt to share goods means a need for different models, service, LTV consideration. // More apt to consider work flexibility means addressing shorter tenures & rewarding what really drives productivity.

    And, thinking about it from my own experience at the very front of the generation, I bet all of those tendencies grow as the power of millennials does.

  3. Great interview!! Love the facts & focus on engagement & collaboration.. I plan on sharing this with those that are my roadblocks in creating a collaborative working environment..

  4. I largely agree with what you say and I think you took a good descriptive snapshot of the millennials. Nonetheless, I feel that you overuse finances as being the driving force behind this evolution. I don’t think so. I rather look at it as a form of spiritual, enlightening development. Millennials listen a lot more to what their inner being real wants, as opposed to what society or culture wants from them. Sharing is part of this personal development process. I very much agree with the idea that millennials want their job to have a different place in life. I think that they want the job to be less invasive. While they recognize the need for a job, they have also discovered how important it is, to find satisfaction and happiness in their daily lives and actions. Thanks for this article.

  5. Enjoyed the interview. Unfortunately I encountered too many executives who don’t understand the need to understand Millennials, but expect them to “grow up” and learn “proper business culture”.

  6. Change takes time to happen but they will be forced to pay attention to this demographic because they are becoming more influential from a consumer and employee standpoint.

  7. Thanks for your response. How can one help leadership see the need to take into account this group now, instead of lose good people to other organizations in the meantime?

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