Generation Y. Millennials. Echo Boomers. Trophy Generation.
Regardless of how you refer to them, the generation of young adults now moving into the majority of the workforce and consumer spending has perplexed organizations worldwide.
In 2015, Generation Y (born 1982-1995) became the majority of the workforce, marking the largest shift in human capital in history. Not only are they the largest generation to have roamed the earth, Gen Y is also the first generation to come of age in the post-Industrial Era – an era driven by technology, instant gratification, customization and globalization.
What’s your association doing to prepare itself – and the industry it represents – for this unprecedented shift in both demographics and economics?
Generation Y poses a great threat – and opportunity – to nearly every industry sector, government entity, nonprofit and membership association, which still are managed, governed and supported almost entirely by baby boomers (1946-1964).
The fact is, most membership associations are ill prepared for this shift. The arrival of Gen Y isn’t just about a young demographic coming into power; this generation is actually introducing an entirely new value system to the marketplace.
Think you know Y? Think again.
This tech-savvy, globally minded generation isn’t joining, buying, networking, learning, or engaging like other generations. This generation has been difficult to engage because the traditional membership association doesn’t meet their values and therefore falls drastically short of meeting their expectations.
Further exploration of Generation Y’s shifting values reveals that as this generation has aged, many of the cornerstones of organizations have lost their value and become irrelevant.
• Ownership vs. access. After defining ourselves for centuries by possessions – cars, houses, books, china patterns, stocks, boats, land and jewelry – what matters to a growing number of young people is not so much ownership but access. The pressure is on associations to deliver continued, quick and easy access to new information, valuable services and products, meaningful relationships, and experiences that deliver a real return on investment.
• Loyalty vs. relationships. Generation Y is more apt to move from one opportunity to the next, garnering them a reputation for having a lack of loyalty. Actually, Ys are very loyal, they’re just not loyal to institutions; they are loyal to people. Gen Y commits when meaningful relationships and great experiences are actively present. To them, loyalty is not something you do “just because”; it is something that is earned.
• Community vs. globalization. Members of the older generations are more likely to define community as knowing your neighbors and participating in association events. Generation Y thinks of community as having access to and interacting with a global network via social media. As a result, some Ys won’t see the need to be organized by geography or physical location, and will desire the option to be organized by common interests instead.
• Status vs. inclusion. Leadership is no longer synonymous with experience. Gen Y is the most racial and ethnically diverse generation in history, the most tech-savvy and entrepreneurial, the most educated, and the first to have more women than men obtain postsecondary credentials. Associations need to take note and reformat their boards of directors to allow for the participation of members from all ages and backgrounds.
• Jobs vs. entrepreneurs. In recent years, more workers have detached from conventional jobs to take on contract work, the demand for flextime has increased, and Gen Ys have launched a record number of start-up businesses. The world of work is moving into an entrepreneurial mindset. Associations will need to reconsider their benefits considering people may not have the time or affinity to a profession to want to join an association.
• Sales vs. service. Gen Y is turned off by anything resembling a sales pitch. They are extremely savvy consumers, seeking a meaningful relationship and expecting exceptional service. Ys want personalized, knowledgeable human interaction when they interact with your association. They want to see that the association is connected to and responsive to their specific needs. They want to feel appreciated, valuable and important.
• Control vs. freedom. In the past, associations have had certain rules that needed to be followed and traditions upheld. This left little room for innovation or change. Gen Y has been raised in a world driven by knowledge, innovation and technology. They will expect associations to forego operating in a controlled environment and be open to new ideas emerging everywhere, from everyone.
Critical to this point is the fact that associations will be challenged to innovate not just a little bit or once, but significantly and diligently, without pause. The relentless pursuit of innovation is a common expectation for a generation raised during an era of rapidly changing technology, customization and instant gratification.
Knowing how to engage Generation Y – the millennials – begins with knowing why this generation is unlike any other. It’s equally important to know why engaging this generation will be the best business decision your association will make.
Take note: The behaviors and choices of younger generations historically have been an indicator of future workplace, consumer and economic trends. The same is true for membership right now.
The trends and influences introduced and shaped by Generation Y are having a “trickle-up” effect – changing the value of membership and expectations of the membership experience for every generation. Trickle-up effect (also known as bubble-up effect) is a term that has been used to describe the flow of wealth and fashion trends. In both cases, as in this case, movement is from the bottom up and eventually influences the majority.
In other words, if membership is declining in value for Generation Y, soon it will decline in value for all generations.
This would seem like “The End of Membership As We Know It” – but it actually marks the beginning of unparalleled opportunity for those associations willing to embrace change and innovate. For example:
– Air Traffic Controllers Association shifted its focus onto Generation Y in 2011, resulting in a 30 percent membership increase and 25 percent increase in event attendance of all generations of members. Equally impressive, the association’s bottom line emerged from losing $300,000 per year to establishing a healthy and growing financial reserve.
– Marine Retailers Association of the Americas launched a Young Leaders Advisory Council in 2009, and observed a 200 percent membership increase and $100,000 revenue increase.
These are two examples of the Trickle-Up Effect at work. Focusing on the successful engagement of a Generation Y membership significantly improved engagement and revenue for the entire membership.
You can choose to dwell on the challenges that lie ahead, and the unprecedented and significant shifts leading to irrelevance, or you can dwell on the opportunities and create something of unprecedented and significant relevance.
One thing is certain – whatever choice you make from here on out, it will begin and end with Y.
Sarah L. Sladek is author of the bestselling Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now; co-producer of the Millennials to Members online course, and CEO of XYZ University, which specializes in helping associations engage younger generations.