Working With the Most Misunderstood Generation: Millennials

This generation has been much maligned. Here’s the truth about the unique skills they bring to the fitness industry…and what they need in order to succeed in the workplace.

by Fred Hoffman, MEd


Millennials aren’t lazy or self-centered. What do they bring to the workplace? Ambition, tech-savvy, community connections and a sense of adventure.

Millennials are the most studied generation of all time, perhaps because they are also likely the most misunderstood. They have always gotten—and continue to get—a bad rap from older generations. Why is this? Lazy data interpretation may account for some of the problem, but it’s more likely that people have heard and repeated unsubstantiated narratives, leading to prejudice.

Although not everyone agrees on the exact years that define the millennial generation, most members of this group entered the world during the ’80s and ’90s. Last year, the youngest millennials had 16 candles to blow out, and this year the oldest turned 40. Millennials (also known as Generation Y) also represent the largest generation, with about 2.5 billion members worldwide (Kurz 2012). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2015, they accounted for more of the workforce than any other generation, and by 2020, 46% of all U.S. workers will be millennials (Toossi 2015).

The sheer magnitude of this population—and, thus, its potential to transform the world—is not something to be taken lightly. Businesses must be prepared for a huge wave of change in both culture and mindset. 

The fitness industry, which has often been resistant to change, is quickly realizing that a shift is happening, and it must adapt accordingly to survive. It’s important, too, for fitness professionals themselves to learn why they can and should embrace working with people from this generation. And if you are a millennial, it may be helpful to understand how other generations may perceive you—and how to work positively and productively with them. 

Myths About Millennials
Here are a few of the most common and damaging misconceptions about this group, and some insights into what really motivates (and bothers) them.

Entitlement is the word that is most often associated with millennials—a result of constant “positive" feedback from parents, teachers and technology. For years, they have been told that they’re capable of doing whatever they desire and that they did well (even when they didn’t). Participation trophies are a classic example. 

Millennials have a reputation for “expecting the world" without working hard to get it. This is false. They are willing to work hard, but they want to know beforehand that they will advance in their position and career—and they want to know how long it will take them to achieve this.

Millennials are ambitious, and possibly impatient, wanting to move forward as fast as possible. In a changing workplace with changing rules, it’s true that millennials don’t always understand why they should feel obligated to “pay their dues," particularly when they feel confident that they can perform well and produce results.

Some members of this generation, like others before and after them, are lazy. But studies show that laziness is not a common attribute among millennials overall. In research conducted by Bentley University, more than half of millennials are willing to work long hours and weekends to achieve career success (CWB 2013). Another survey found that one-third of millennials reported working every day of their vacation (Alamo 2017). But they need to be motivated at work, they want their work to have meaning and they need to be recognized for hard work.  And they desire reassurance that what they are doing is contributing significantly to the overall well-being and productivity of the business.

Data shows that these behaviors are not specific to millennials but have always been common among young workers in general. As workers age, these characteristics tend to be less true.

Millennials want the same things as other working professionals (job satisfaction, career mobility, flexible hours, etc.), but they are more willing (and more likely) to leave a job if they’re not getting what they had expected, or if they don’t believe that they will be allowed to advance in a relatively short amount of time. They love praise and enjoy being rewarded (financially or otherwise) for hard work and engagement. But if they do not feel appreciated, don’t expect them to give it their all.

On the contrary, millennials are the most highly educated generation to date. And they want to continue to learn, especially in the workplace. Learning new skills on the job and improving overall knowledge keeps them engaged. If they are not learning something new on the job, don’t be surprised if they go somewhere else so they can.

Millennials, like all of the generations, appreciate having continuing education opportunities—formal or informal, work-related or not. They are also open to being mentored. A study from Intelligence Group found that 79% of those surveyed wanted their boss to serve as a coach or mentor (Asghar 2014).

What Matters Most to Millennials
Here are a few things that are important to millennials and should be considered when recruiting, hiring and managing them. Some of these desires may ring true for you, too, even if you aren’t part of this generation. Regardless, they may help you understand why millennials act and react as they do.

A clear-cut role. Transparency is extremely important for millennials. No fluff, no hidden agendas, no fine print. Millennials want to know exactly what their specific job responsibilities are, as well as the actual potential for employment growth within the company.

Perks and praise. They like challenges, but expect competitive salaries and good benefits, and they want to be recognized for their efforts. Confident, hardworking and fast-paced, millennials seek both appreciation and growth opportunities from their employers. They want flexibility in work hours and schedules, and they prefer “remote" options that allow them to work from anywhere at any time. 

Giving back. Millennials want their work to be meaningful and to enable them to “make a difference." This generation is interested in “giving back"—working to help their communities and supporting all things local. They believe that buying local strengthens the local economy; that it creates a healthier environment. Fitness clubs and studios that source locally and work directly with the community are an ideal fit for this generation.

Fitting in. There is also a need to feel that they are part of a larger group who believe in the same things, respect the same things, and rally around a common cause. Millennials need to be part of a family or a network, connected to each other, connected to who is in charge, and connected to an idea or philosophy. In the fitness business, we often talk about it as finding your “tribe."

Personal expression. All generations have had their own proper dress and style. (Who can forget the days of stonewashed denim or the Goth look?) Millennials demonstrate personal expression through clothes, hairstyle, tattoos and piercings. Casual work dress is the rule. This does not mean that fitness club chains and boutique studios should not have rules and guidelines for attire, but it would be a shame to lose a wonderful employee just because they have a pierced nose or tattoos. 

Workplace connections. Millennials view friendships with co-workers and bosses as extremely important. They want to work for a company that cares about them, and they want to feel that their work matters and is valuable to the overall organization. But be aware that they will jump ship for another company if it offers them career growth opportunities and allows them to share their ideas and input. Invest in their development to keep them!

Up-to-date tech. Having grown up in the technology age, millennials are adept at bringing technology to the workplace. They are great resources for information. They also expect technology hardware and software to be current and reliable, and they may look elsewhere if it’s not. They embrace social media and instant messaging platforms as a primary mode of communication. They also maximize tech options that allow them to work remotely: a practice that millennials embrace, as they see it promoting a healthier work-life balance. Millennials’ tech skills also make them excellent tech mentors who often enjoy teaching their older colleagues how to use and be successful with technology.

Building Bridges Between Generations
Although millennials will continue to be the dominant force in the workplace, we must keep in mind that they will be working directly with three other distinct generations for some time to come: baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Z. It is possible (and desirable) that these four generations can work as a team despite their differences. But to work efficiently and to reduce the possibility of intergenerational conflict, management should learn how each generation functions and communicates. They should also consider the positive traits and qualities that each generation brings—and know how the business can profit from their input. Understanding your team members is essential. Just ask the millennials!


Not a Myth: They’re Always on Their Phone/Mobile Device
Millennials are constantly connected, using smartphones more than any other generation. According to Nielsen (2016), when looking at smartphone owners by age, penetration is highest (98%) among millennials aged 18–24. Millennials aged 25–34 are right behind them with a 97% ownership rate. And Kantar TNS, in their Connected Life study (2016), found that the average millennial with internet access spends 3.2 hours a day on their mobile devices—the equivalent of 22.4 hours or almost an entire day—every week (Kantar TNS 2015).

All generations have had their own proper dress and style. Millennials demonstrate personal expression through clothes, hairstyle, tattoos and piercings.


Alamo. 2017. Vacation shaming on the rise: Alamo rent a car’s annual study reveals guilt among vacationing millennials. Accessed Apr 20, 2017.

Asghar, R. 2014. What millennials want in the workplace (and why you should start giving it to them). Accessed Apr 20, 2017.

Baldassarre, C. 2017. 10 tips for millennial marketing. Accessed Mar 27, 2016.

Beaton, C. 2016. 6 millennial myths that need to finally die. Accessed Mar 23, 2017.

ClubIntel. 2016. The Millennial Effect. Accessed May 10, 2016.

CWB (Center for Women and Business). 2013. Millennials in the Workplace. Report. Accessed Mar 21, 2017.

Flanzraich, D. 2017. Why you won’t find millennials doing aerobics: The new wave of health and fitness. Accessed March 28, 2017.

Gravett, L., & Throckmorton, R. 2007. Bridging the Generation Gap. Franklin Lakes, NJ: The Career Press.

Kantar TNS. 2015. Millennials spend one day a week on their phones—how can brands deal with the digital divide? Accessed Mar 20, 2017.

Kantar TNS. 2016. Connected Life. Accessed Mar 24, 2017.

Kaufman, S. 2016. 6 Concepts your millennial employees wish you understood. Accessed Mar 27, 2016.

Kurz, C. 2012. The next normal: An unprecedented look at millennials worldwide. Accessed Apr 20, 2017.

Nielsen. 2016. Millennials are top smartphone users. Accessed Mar 20, 2017.

Notter, J., & Grant, M. 2015. When Millennials Take Over. Washington, D.C.: IdeaPress Publishing.

O’Malley, B. 2016. Millennials and ‘their destruction of civilization.’ Accessed Mar 19, 2017. 

Toossi, Mitra. 2015. Labor force projections to 2024: The labor force is growing, but slowly. Monthly Labor Review. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed Mar 20, 2017.

Meet our experts

fredhoffman Fred Hoffman, MEd, Fred Hoffman, MEd, is the owner of Fitness Resources Consulting in Paris. The recipient of the 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year Award, he holds a master’s degree in health education and is certified by ACSM and ACE.

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