They Go Their Own Way: Millennials’ Passions Influence Their Decisions

Millennials sometimes get a bad rap, accused of having a sense of entitlement. And yet these individuals – born between 1981 and 1996 – are among the most passionate and optimistic of all generations. If any group is likely to think outside the box, it’s Millennials. 

While that might paint a rosy picture, for businesses it’s also a complication. They’ll have to do a similar amount of outside-the-box thinking to influence this generation’s purchasing and employment decisions. Millennials are less likely to be persuaded by traditional factors – like performance and quality – when making employment and buying decisions. The generation that is now raising young families goes against the grain, making it more difficult for businesses to influence them. 

For most people some level of emotion is evoked when making a decision about what to buy or who to work for. And while the type and intensity of emotion varies, it can further influence their considerations in the decision-making process. We wanted to understand the effect of these passions, as well as their significance in terms of generational thinking on global issues. 

The SAP Insights research group sampled 10,000 Canadians and Americans in an online survey during January 2020. To discern their levels of passion, or emotional intensity, individuals were presented with 17 global issues, including climate change, education, and work-life balance. After selecting the ones that mattered most to them, they were asked to attach their emotional rating to each one, choosing from 12 different emotions, such as admiration, disgust, and enthusiasm. Emotions were equally balanced between positive and negative. Using their responses, we generated a standardized Emotional Index to capture the strength of participants’ emotions across all global issues. 

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We then identified areas of intensity and specific displays of passion around different issues. A group we defined as the Passionates compromise 20% of our respondent base across all generations. Their strong feelings clearly influence their purchasing and employment decisions. For example, 68% of Millennials said a business leader’s position on societal issues affects their buying behavior compared with 73% of the Passionates. 

Based on the Emotional Index, we discovered that each generation places different and varying levels of passion and dispassion on global issues – which affect their buying and employment decisions. And, we found that Millennials, to be sure, are unique. 

Millennial coworkers high-fiving

Issues that matter to Millennials 

Millennials as a whole also demonstrate more optimism about the future than the other generations. 

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They are more passionate than the older generations, with 27.2% falling into the Passionate group compared to 14.2% of Baby Boomers and 18% of Generation X. They’re bested only by Gen Z (31.6%). 

Specifically, Millennials place greater importance on issues like work-life balance and income inequality than other generations. Millennials and the even younger Generation Z also rate education higher than older generations. 

And when individual generations are compared, sustainable sourcing is seemingly an outlier. Baby Boomers feel more strongly than Millennials about several environmental issues, such as climate change (46.9% vs. 37.8%), recycling (31.4% vs. 21.5%), access to clean water (25.6% vs. 18.7%), and biodiversity (15.2% vs. 13.8%). 

These differences may be aligned with the optimism of youth, which tends to believe that current strategies can be course-corrected. Related to that, the younger generations may be taking into account evidence of what doesn’t work. For example, recycling efforts can have a negative impact on third-world nations, which have become dumping grounds for first-world countries. As a result, Millennials may be placing passion in areas where they have a better chance of making a difference. 

Overall, the optimistic nature of Millennials makes them more open to new ideas. And yet, businesses may have more difficulty meeting this group’s expectations. 

Millennial couple window shopping in winter

Buying considerations: A holistic view 

Businesses will have to get creative when trying to influence Millennials because they are less likely to consider so-called traditional factors, such as product/service quality and performance. 

Instead, this generation examines leadership issues, such as the ability of business leaders to effect change, as well as executives’ authenticity and openness to new ideas. Millennials rate all these areas more highly than everybody else. 

Overall, the optimistic nature of Millennials makes them more open to new ideas. And yet, businesses may have more difficulty meeting this group’s expectations. 

Interestingly, Millennials are more likely to seek the opinions of others when making buying decisions: 

Figure showing how Millennials seek out the opinions of others when buying

Unique among the generations studied, Millennials seem to take the whole organization into account in their buying decisions. They pay close attention to what business leaders say and do, whether big-name personalities are willing to align with brands, and what outsiders observe. 

In other words, organizations will need a well-rounded approach to earn Millennials’ business. 

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Similar to their purchasing decisions, Millennials are also likely to be passionate about nontraditional factors in their employment considerations. 

The most significant difference among generations’ employment considerations is the importance Millennials place on celebrity endorsements: 

Yet they’re also more likely to seek empathy from their business leaders (77% vs. 73% of everybody else), and they want to see quality in the organization’s ecosystem of partners (68% vs. 65%). 

Although compensation is important to Millennials (82% rate it as important), it’s less so than for Boomers (88%) and Gen Xers (86%). 

Additionally Millennials, like their younger Generation Z counterparts, pay attention to outside reviews when thinking about who they want to work for, with slightly less consideration than older respondents toward product performance and quality: 

Figure showing how Millennials differ from other generations in the workplace

To attract and retain Millennials, organizations will need to look closely at their brand and how it’s viewed in the marketplace, perhaps paying more attention to comments on employee review sites like Glassdoor. While traditional factors such as salary and a positive work experience matter, this generation – more than others – cares what people say about potential workplaces. 

Millennials’ respect flows when others bestow it first

Outside of the decisions that individuals make about purchasing and employment, we wanted to understand the importance of respect. So we asked survey respondents how important it is that organizations in general, whether or not they directly interact with them, make a difference in the world and improve people’s lives. 

Millennial listening to music on tablet

Overall, Millennials agree with the other generations in this regard. They care about business leadership, organizational transparency, and the quality of products and services. That said, the issues that are most likely to win their respect are strikingly similar to the factors that sway their work and buying decisions: 

Figure showing how Millennials consider the community consensus when determining who they respect

And to a degree, Millennials are more likely than everybody else to respect organizations that bestow a sense of belonging (71% vs. 67%). 

To earn Millennials’ respect, organizations must understand that reputation matters. A part of that includes the right endorsements from public figures. However, it’s also worth accounting for what outsiders think of your brand. Both subjective and objective reviews can seal the fate of your respect quotient. 

Conclusion: Passion begets passion 

Overall, Millennials expect more from organizations, especially those with which they directly interact. They are passionate about a broad range of issues, which makes it tough for businesses to pin down their buying preferences or to hire them. What’s consistent is that Millennials go against the grain, so companies must be willing to do the same. By demonstrating authentic passion rather than relying on rote business practices, organizations will have a better chance of attracting passionate Millennials.