It’s the Millennials, Stupid.

Photo of Ron Kitchens
Ron Kitchens is the managing partner of Southwest Michigan First; author of four books, including Community Capitalism and Uniquely You; and a trustee of Western Michigan University. His podcasts and writings can be found at

James Carville, the campaign guru said of the state of America in 1992, its “the economy, stupid”. While Carville was correct for the past 30 years, the next 30 will be “it’s the Millennials, stupid”.

The future of work is going to be determined by people who are 25 today. I don’t want to be cliché, I know there is a lot of talk about the Millennial generation going around, but it’s simple math. Look around your business, church, governmental office or charity at team members who are in their early to mid-20s – it might seem surprising, but they will determine your future.

Baby Boomers are leaving a massive vacuum in the workforce today and the new kids coming in have a completely different work style. It’s not better or worse; it’s just different. Frankly, I’m excited about the Millennial generation because they’re driven, they have high social consciousness and they’re hard working. While the media may portray the myth of the lazy self-important Millennial, data tells us the opposite.

According to no less than the Harvard Business Review, “Millennials are more likely to forfeit unused vacation days than other groups – 24 percent of Millennials, 19 percent of Gen Xers, and 17 percent of Boomers forfeited time off that they’d earned”. All these clichés about them wanting corner offices and company vehicles right away have never been true. In fact, if you look at history, previous generations usually don’t have very nice things to say about the up-and-comers. In my experience, most of the things we’ve heard about Millennials couldn’t be further from the truth.

When you have an abundance of people, very little power goes to employees, but when you have a shortage, the people become a force. This generation is a force to be reckoned with. In Michigan, for every three Baby Boomers that retire, two new Millennials enter the workforce – leaving employers with a gap to fill. When you have a shortage of people, the employees have way more say in managing the culture.

So, if all this is true, what will the future of work look like? If Millennials have their way, work isn’t going to be about punching a clock from 8 to 5 for 40 years; work is going to be much more about meaning and mission. This generation is driven to make a profit, but they want to make sure some social good comes from it too.

Millennials are much more about experiences and less about “keeping up with the Joneses” regarding material possessions. They work to live, not live to work. The future of work will be much more flexible, always connected and there will be minimal lines drawn between who you are as a professional and who you are in your personal life. Millennials care very little about hierarchy and titles and more about collaboration and creativity.

If you need real-life examples, look no further than Tom’s Shoes and Charity:Water, these companies are getting it right when it comes to bringing the future of work to the present.

Michigan can indeed have an incredible future, but it will not come from a focus on, or celebration or remediation of the past. It instead will depend on – what to others will look like an insane drive and energy placed on being one of the states in America (yes, Texas and Colorado, we are looking at you) – where Millennials want to curate their lives and lead Michigan into our next amazing future.