Millennials And Quality: The Search For A Better Everything
Millennials are slowly inheriting America. They represent an ever-larger portion of the workforce and, before too much longer, they’ll be spending a majority of their discretionary dollars in this country.
Along with this changing of the guard will come significant shifts in values. How and when millennials spend their money, cast their votes and sell their time to employers has changed dramatically since their parents’ generation, but the one thing that brings it all together is quality. Millennials want a better everything.
Whiny? Entitled? Maybe. But the millennial obsession over quality doesn’t end with consumable goods — it extends to business and manufacturing ethics, politics and almost everything else about modern life.
Quality Business Ethics
More than any other previous generation, millennials are concerned about business ethics, motives and methods. According to a Deloitte study of millennials, 58% of respondents indicated they believed corporations, in general, are moving in a more ethical direction, yet 64% still believed companies operate according to their own agenda first and society’s needs second. Slightly over half believed the average company has “no ambition” beyond turning a profit.
That’s a bit of a mixed bag. But it tells us two things: 1) Millennials desperately want the business world to improve its reputation and 2) Things are already looking up.
That so many millennials already believe ethics are improving in business is encouraging, but it’s clear there’s still work to do. America as a whole is far more progressive than the turnout of recent events would have you believe, which means folks at large are coming around to millennial-championed ideas like a living wage in every workplace and guaranteed sick leave.
Millennials prefer businesses that maintain a focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility. Anything less is increasingly becoming a deal-breaker.
There is significant overlap between what constitutes quality ethics in business and what it takes to build a sympathetic, efficient safety net at a societal level. This isn’t a political column, but any conversation about millennial sentiments must touch on one subject that explicitly or tangentially connects all others: Politics.
And millennials are not down with politics that brags about destroying the administrative state.
The administrative state is the thing that helps feed folks who can’t feed themselves. It’s also responsible for keeping drinking water clean — at least it should be.
The point is, politics is an intrinsic part of this country’s fabric and touches almost every other facet of human life. By championing some crucial issues — 63% support a $15 minimum wage by 2020 — millennials are hoping to unite business and government with the same expectation of high standards and quality leadership.
Nobody loves buying the same product three or five times — when you plunk down cash on a new mattress, car, set of kitchen knives or a pair of socks, you hope it’s the last time you’ll have to do so for a while. In the world of capitalism, millennials are showing strong preferences for the “Buy It For Life” mentality — that is, they want to buy vehicles, homes, furnishings, appliances and other items that last a long time or can be serviced by the user to extend its useful life.
In other words, they want the world of manufacturing to return to the quality-over-quantity, built-to-last paradigm that helps keep Americans employed in decent-paying jobs. Ironically, that means they have quite a bit in common with both the farthest reaches of both the political Left and the Right in this country.
For example, both ends of the political spectrum seek more sensible trade deals that would make it easier to keep domestic production alive. America has some of the highest standards for manufactured goods anywhere in the world, and, to millennials, it simply makes sense to stock our shelves with slightly higher-priced items that require replacement less often than cheaper imported alternatives.
Unlike previous generations, millennials are looking past the quality of the product itself and becoming more conscientious about the quality of the process that manufactured it. In many cases, that means discovering some ugly things about some favorite brands, like the startling role slave labor plays in harvesting cocoa beans for the world’s chocolatiers — we’re looking at you, Nestlé — or the horrific conditions in the average factory farm — you’re officially on notice, Tyson.
It’s not that folks didn’t know about these things years ago — they simply didn’t have the tools necessary to get the word out. And that’s where this activism-fueled, internet-savvy generation comes in. For obvious reasons, millennials are the “most digitally connected” generation ever, and they’re using all that technology to ingest information at a prodigious rate, learn about the world and its problems and help drum up support for alternatives.
The millennial generation accounts for almost one-quarter of the U.S. population and that means they’re one of the most powerful blocs of consumers in the world today. By 2020, millennials will be spending 30% of all product dollars plunked down by consumers.
Modern companies are falling all over themselves trying to learn how to “relate to” millennials. Unfortunately, that probably means they’ve already failed: Millennials don’t like it when you try so hard.
A Quality Vision For The Future
We’re not here to say millennials are perfect — like every previous generation, this one’s made of people, and people make mistakes. But the larger trends discussed here paint an optimistic portrait of the future and the folks who will preside over it. In the parlance of our times, millennials are “woke” — and they’re turning their attention toward improving the quality of our most important institutions, including business, manufacturing and politics.