“Millennials today show less loyalty than those from previous generations.”

I hear this claim a lot these days. Those in institutional leadership see less loyalty to their organization from millennials as compared to previous generations. They don’t see younger people staying connected to them and they’ve chalked it up to what amounts to a character flaw: a deficit in loyalty. Millennials are the “less loyal generation.”

This is a big claim as the big boomer generation recedes.

Boomers are aging and beginning to retire. What’s more, here in the year 2015 those between the ages 18 to 34 in 2015 (whom the Pew identifies as “Millennials”) will number 75.3 million which now surpasses the estimated 74.9 million Boomers alive today (those age 51 to 69). By comparison, the much smaller Generation X (those who are age 35 to 50 in 2015, including me) is not projected to outnumber the Boomer generation until 2028. (Statistics taken from Pew Research Center.)

When we say “Millennials” we are talking about a giant generation of people setting the pace in our society for years to come. Remember that many of these Millennials are likely to live to the science fiction-sounding year 2100.

This is significant in part because Boomers have long set the pace for a great variety of industries. Being such a large generation, their buying power and cultural influence has been unquestioned. Now that boomers are distantly out of the most coveted demographic groups, and approaching an age where their income is set to decrease, not increase, Millennials are the new toast of town. This huge new generation who are all squarely in the coveted 18-38 year old demographic, in fact making up nearly all of it at the moment.

So, “The Millennials are coming and they aren’t your loyal father’s Oldsmobile.” Why does that matter?


Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.00.33 PM

What are the implications of a massive but less loyal generation coming of age?

I want to call into question whether Millennials are less loyal in the first place. I have noticed that those who are age 18-34 (as of 2015) are in fact incredibly loyal, they are just loyal to different categories than their predecessors. Each of these loyalties are significant in their implications. While millennials are not less loyal they are certainly differently loyal. We should pay attention to that.

Part of what has happened is that institutions have had rather less impact on the Millennial generation, and so in looking for something to blame, the finger gets pointed squarely at the generation themselves. I wonder if we in institutional leadership should instead recognize that we simply don’t understand Millennials like we think we do, and deeper analysis would reveal there are loyalties in this generation that can be advantageous if taken seriously, and not dismissed so quickly.

What choices are Millennials making that show how they are differently loyal? I see at least six.


Millennials tend to choose…

1) Benefit over Theory

Studies have shown that 83 percent of Millennials donate to organizations from which they have received services or with which they have participated in programs. When giving of their money, Millennials show loyalty to those organization that have already been a benefit to them, rather than those who theoretically have been helpful to others. Preferring hard personal experience testimony to anything else, Millennials show loyalty to what they already know counts. Millennial loyalty can be gained when you’ve done something significant for them in the past, then they support you and pay it forward through your organization.

2) Brand over Institution

Millennials have shown loyalty to brands over time, and almost religious-devotion to a few (Apple products, anyone?). A quick look at what Millennials voted as their top brands in the past year shows companies that have remolded themselves in a heavily brand-conscious way, recasting their institution in ways that connect to the younger set. Nike did this by refocusing on a lifestyle of health rather than it’s prior overt emphasis on specific products and famous spokespeople. Target’s “Cheap Chic” has a long history with Millennials. Starbucks wins with frequency of brand recognition. An average Starbucks customer comes 6 times a month but a loyal 20% of customers go to the stores 16 times a month. Notable on the list of brands most loved by Millennials are “loyalty and nostalgia” brands connected to the gaming industry–an experience previous generations did not have in their childhood. Five gaming entertainment systems or gaming publishers (Nintendo, Valve, Xbox, Bethesda & Sony Playstation) all made the list of top 50 brands because of this. The experiences of youth still inspire Millennials like other generations, their experiences were just different.

If you pay attention and think about it, you can learn almost all you need to know about the rebranding of Nike for Millennials from this one series of commercials, called “Find Your Greatness.” 

3) Cause over Program

I won’t speak to this much as it’s already been pointed out by many, but Millennials tend to support a cause over an established program. It doesn’t matter how impressive the program is, if it’s not connected to a greater visionary cause it is hard to engender the loyalty to Millennials. What’s more, when a Millennial is connected to a cause, that is a permanent in-road to their heart and passion, becoming a core part of how that Millennial identifies themselves. They often even introduce themselves by sharing passionate causes in a first conversation with a group or individual. It is one of their “core identifiers.”

4) Friends over Family

The first and most valued connection for past generations was often their extended family. But friend groups often feel like extended family for Millennials. Divorce rates quadrupled throughout the 60s and 70s to where it became a completely normalized status when this generation grew up. Never wanting to offend, Millennials got used to asking a new friend, “Are your parents still together?” Divorce was practically assumed as status quo. Friends became a more secure long-term relationship for many. Often Millennials are choosing a friend group to associate with, align their career choices or moves with, or even live with in mid-sized groups, over their extended family.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 10.53.47 PM

5) Values over Sub-group

The last few generations have been obsessed with identity politics, but Millennials are taking a sharp turn toward principles that drive their politics, with much attention given to very narrow slices of conviction. Their loyalty, in the end, is to these values, shaped by different experiences than that of previous generations. Organizations that align with these values, even if they seem like obscure interests to other generations, are the ones that have their loyalty. Instead of being for “people that are like them” Millennial loyalty bows at the altar of their principles. Other generations often demean and dismiss these values in Millennials, not seeing them as crucial as their own organization’s mission. This is part of why they don’t express loyalty to them. It is invalidating to Millennials when different value languages are spoken, so they go elsewhere.

6) Culture over Field

Millennials want to express loyalty by volunteering their time and using their skills and leadership to enhance an organization they are proud to be connected with. They are at times less interested in working in their chosen field than they are in being a part of an organization they feel they haven’t “sold their soul” to work in. Often, the culture of the organization matters more to them than even their fit within it, and they sacrifice advancement for a family atmosphere, or carreer-fit for culture-fit. This is true of the organization they want to volunteer for as well. However, 45 percent of Millennials who do not volunteer anywhere say they have never been asked to do so. 40 percent of young Millennial professionals have never been asked to be on a board.

Could the loyalty of a passionate young Millennial be as easy to gain as sharing your great culture and asking them to be a part of it?

What are you seeing? How do Millennials have different loyalties than previous generations? What choices do you seem them making (or do you yourself as a Millennial make) that show how loyalty works for them?


I no longer open comments on my articles. Interact about this with me on Twitter or Facebook or share this article yourself below.

It is better to share than to receive...
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestEmail this to someoneBuffer this pageShare on RedditShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on Google+Print this page