Financial Outlook By Generation: Millennials and Gen Zers

There's a telling scene in the new Netflix series Partner Track when the lead Asian-American character, a bright, super-ambitious millennial, approaches the executive assistant of one of the managing partners of the law firm where she works. She has been throwing herself passionately into her work for the past six years, opting to sacrifice a social life, in exchange for being fast-tracked to making partner. Yes, she's young — on the cusp of turning 30, but she thinks she's paid her dues, never mind the fact that partners tend to be older. Much older. The real problem, to her mind at least, is this: The managing partner, a Baby Boomer, still subscribes to the boys' club viewpoint and won't take her seriously, opting instead to overlook her efforts in favour of the male associates her age with half her talent.

So she tries to sneak in one-on-one time with the boss by approaching his assistant, also a boomer, and a formidable gatekeeper, offering her a soy latte and two honey sticks, which she knows the older woman likes, and which she hopes will be a harmless bribe that will get her access to an unscheduled meeting with the boss. It should seem pretty clear what she's doing, right? Literally catching flies with honey. But the unimpressed older woman merely looks up and asks, deadpan, "Are you a stalker?"

Last week, we looked at how generation classification is oftentimes a good gauge of how people from the different groupings in today's workplace — whether Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Yers (known as Millennials) or Gen Zers (also called Zoomers) — view money. The focus in that article was the boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980).

It is generally accepted that the boomers of any particular western culture hold the majority of the wealth. Xers, meanwhile, forgettable as they are (for some inexplicable reason, they are referred to as the "forgotten" or slacker generation, a title which is justified apparently by the fact that there has never been a Gen X American president. Or maybe it's the X that's interpreted as a cancel symbol, who knows?) have a little less. But tensions in the workplace generally lie between millennials and these two older groups who are decidedly not leaving the workforce anytime soon, preventing what millennials see as their own rightful ascension up the ranks.

Aka: The "partner" track.

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1995, making the oldest of them 41 and the youngest 27. That makes them the biggest population in the labour force today. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) says that, as at April 2022, there were 669,500 people between the ages of 25 and 44 making up the Jamaican workforce. As against 216,500 people between 55 and 65+, meaning boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials are also the most populated age group in modern history. They were born into an already technological era and came of age in a new millennium. Consequently, they did not have to adapt to the rapid advancement of technology in the same way their parents and grandparents had to. Their understanding of technology is intuitive.

But, unlike the misconception that boomers and Xers have of them, in the workplace they really want mentorship from older team members. Yes, they are ambitious, and their actions can be misconstrued, but millennials generally just want to achieve something meaningful career-wise in a shorter space of time than the generations before them did. According to a Pew Research Center study, they are considered more progressive, more creative and more far-thinking than previous generations and often identify as concerned with moral values over material ideologies.

The problem, however, especially for the oldest of them, is they can't see how any of this is necessarily benefiting them. They have arguably had the dubious distinction of living through more world economic chaos and volatility than any other generation. There have been two recessions and one that's looming, two wars and one that's still raging even as we speak, and let's not talk about a crippling pandemic that has seen over six million people lose their lives. All these things have affected their ascension in the workplace because of the consequent financial toll on world economies, Jamaica's included. Money now has little value. Where is this brass ring their parents spoke about? The mortgages they can afford? The cars they can afford to purchase without parental input? Millennials are often deemed entitled, but can you see that their feelings of financial insecurity, especially the younger ones, are often valid and are spurring the new international phenomenon of "quiet quitting", which we in Jamaica call "work to rule"?

Zoomers, meanwhile, who are 24, 25, the youngest in the office, are so-called digital natives who don't know any other world except the information age they were born into, consuming digital stimuli without batting an eyelid. After all, for them, Google and Wi-Fi have always existed. The biggest crisis they're old enough to appreciate is, well, the pandemic, which they are still currently experiencing. They have no real memory of September 11. So what of the future for them? Put yourself in their shoes: They can't dream up a future that will be bright. They don't have that frame of reference; the world they're living in has always been quite volatile. Their pay at the entry level is paltry. Why even bother to contemplate a retirement plan, let alone build an emergency savings fund, when the world they know may not exist in another 10, 20 years' time? So, "like, click, subscribe" — nothing really matters. Still, they are the future, and it is imperative that any company with plans for longevity beyond 2022 engage with them.

HR department heads, when attempting to work around the generational dynamics in their offices, would be well-served if they understood not just the emotional, but also the financial mindset of all the demographic cohorts represented in today's office space.

Lamar Harris, vice-president, wealth management, NCB Capital Markets

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