I’ve always considered myself an “open book”. I don’t really have many qualms about sharing personal details to anyone really. Maybe that’s why I’m comfortable having this podcast. I’ve always thought I’m open to sharing because I’ve never been particularly interested in portraying myself as perfect. I am human. I have flaws. I try to do my best, and sometimes I fail. I know not everyone is as comfortable sharing as me, but as I get older, I started noticing that my friends and I talk about things that my parents wouldn’t have thought was appropriate. So I decided to look into this, and it turns out I’m not wrong. Millennials do value transparency more than our older cohorts in a variety of places. From finances, to the workplace and even the brands and products we purchase. So today, we’re going to dive into these three areas a little more.
The Wall Street Journal reports that 61% of Millennials are comfortable discussing credit-card debt with their friends compared to just 43% of baby boomers and 50% believe it’s important to talk openly about finances compared to boomers at 41%. I definitely find this to be true as I remember my parents teaching me that it’s rude to talk about finances. Or you never as about how much someone makes etc. And I think for the most part I agree that most of the time, you shouldn’t share specifics. Like for example, I’ve had people stop me on the street when they meet my French Bulldog Ginza and ask me how much I paid for her. I’ve always found this question super rude and to which I usually answer “enough. I paid enough”. But really, maybe they want a Frenchie and are curious. How am I to know? And in general, I will say I’m more willing to talk about finances in the broader sense – not in exact figures.
For example, my friends and I will talk about financial packages we get when we start jobs. Do you get profit sharing? Shares in the company? Bonuses? Etc. We’ll talk about paying off credit card debt or redoing our budgets. We’ll celebrate raises and maybe even share what % the raise was. However, we don’t really get into specifics. I may share that I opened an investment account, but I don’t really talk about how much I invested. I can share I’m paying off a credit card, but don’t really say exactly how much is on the card. Maybe that is because I’m an elder Millennial – I’m comfortable talking about finances, but still have one foot in my older cohort mentality that it’s rude to talk about finances.
I think the idea that it’s rude stems more from the motivation of sharing. It’s still rude if you are sharing financial information to brag or to make others feel less than. But if you are sharing to get or give advice or compare for your own reference and decision making process, then what’s wrong with that? Maybe our parents were more thinking of the Country Club type guy with his sweater tied around his shoulders, probably named Trip, talking about how much he paid for his yacht. In reality, when I talk about finances with my friends, it’s a different story. I’m not bragging about how much I spent on our condo, I’m sharing that we got a good deal. I love sharing good deals actually – someone will be like, cute dress. Thanks I literally spent $20 on it from online. Ha! I actually don’t like sharing when I know I kind of splurged on a clothing item. But a good deal? Girl, you should go get yourself a cheap ass cute dress too! Leaves you more money for rose.
Another area of transparency for Millennials is the workplace. Millennials want to understand the why behind their company’s decisions. Part of this is so they can find ways to contribute in a meaningful way. So what does transparency in the workplace look like? First it’s honesty. Millennials want the truth, even if it’s not good news. It’s also conflict. Millennials want companies to address conflict head on. It also comes in the form of transparent feedback, both giving candid feedback to Millennials as well as accepting feedback from them. Ultimately, the quickest way to build trust with a Millennial in the workplace and probably in life, is transparency. According to a study called Millennials in the Workplace, At work, Millennials view transparency as confirmation they have been heard and have the opportunity to make a difference.
This I can totally get behind. In my career, I’ve been at some small companies and some large. In my experience, the larger the company, the less transparency. Decisions would be made with some very public PR statement that was super vague and gave no real insight as to the rationale behind the decision. The why. To me, the why is very important. Now, I also am not naive and I understand that companies sharing the real rationale behind decisions is not always the right route either. I will say as I grow in my career and as a leader, I try to be as transparent as possible, when it makes the most sense. I have found that employees don’t always want the real reason behind decisions. Especially the more junior the team member, the more they tend to not take the information as well.
One example of this is scope of work and staffing. I’ve been on both sides now of this subject. I’ve been the employee that has no line of sight as to how projects or accounts are staffed or scoped which was frustrating. When you were working late nights you cursed your employer that they needed to hire more help. When there were open positions, you were frustrated when they weren’t filled quickly. You didn’t have the perspective of how these decisions were being made, why these positions remained open and therefore it really just became an easy place to put the blame on struggles you may have been facing at work. It was a lot easier to blame staffing or staffing allocations to projects than to look at the way you do your own work to determine if there’s a more efficient way of doing things.
On the flip side, now I am the one making those decisions. I have more perspective on the business behind these decisions. And there have been times when I’ve shared more information behind the decision to some junior team members and it did not go well. Ah I will never forget, I had sat in this two hour meetings with our c-suite where they explained the whole business behind how they made staffing allocations etc. I found it fascinating to finally get to go behind the curtain to understand more about this topic that really had impacted me my whole career in some way. So after this session, I was so excited to share some of the information to my team in hopes it would also help give them more perspective as I had wished someone gave me earlier in my career. Well that blew up in my face. One of my employees (no longer works at my company btw) who was less than two years in the business started to give his critiques and it became very clear to me that he didn’t want to actually learn about the business side of it. He was more concerned about himself and not about the company as a whole. And that’s fair. It was fascinating to me because I can actually impact these decisions, but he can’t. He’s less than two years in – so what good is understanding the business when you cannot actually impact it? That would be frustrating. So that was an important lesson for me that transparency in the workplace makes sense in a lot of ways, but there are times when it can actually have the opposite effect to and it’s up to leadership to walk that line.
The last area to talk about today where Millennials value transparency is in the products and services we purchase. According to Forbes, 94% of those surveyed said they are more likely to be loyal to a brand when it offers complete transparency. Now in terms of brands, this can mean a lot of things. It can mean transparency in sourcing. Or it can mean transparency in social causes. For example, Chick Fil-A. Chick Fila-A’s CEO’s beliefs and values don’t align with mine. He’s uber religious and has a history of donating to charities that stand against the LGBTQ community. Not that I really eat fast food a lot, rarely actually – but if I were, because of this, Chick Fil-A is not my first or second or third choice. In fact, I really can’t remember the last time I had Chick Fil-A and there’s a new one about two blocks from my house. I also have been getting more and more into female owned brands and brands that have a focus on sustainability. For example, my skincare I go between Drunk Elephant and Scratch Goods – both female owned and operated, actually also one of my new favorite clothing designer brands Cuyana. Also, female owned and operated. Brands and products are an extension of ourselves and what we stand for, and Millennials really are the first generation to start putting these two things together.
I remember when I started in advertising in the early 2000’s, it was pretty unheard of to have brands participate in social or political conversations. In fact, back then people responded to brands getting involved in these conversations in the same way they are today around athletes or celebrities speaking out about social injustices or politics. My mom, for example, doesn’t like watching awards shows now because she doesn’t want to hear movie stars give political speeches. I can’t say I totally disagree with her on that one. While I can understand their desire to use a large public forum to get their message across, sometimes I also just want to see some pretty dresses and see who won best picture.
Or my uncle who has completely boycotted the NFL because of the whole kneeling during the anthem thing. This argument around how kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful is comical to me actually. Let me get this straight – it’s disrespectful to silently protest during a song that stands for our nation being free and giving people the right to peacefully protest? I would say it’s actually a very respectful way to do so. Disrespectful would be painting #BLM on your chest and running around naked across the field screaming during the National Anthem. Silently kneeling? 100% respectful. Either way, not sure the NFL is hurting because my uncle has decided to boycott ha! Nike also isn’t hurting because my uncle won’t buy a pair of shoes next time he’s in market, maybe in 5-10 years. But at the end of the day, he’s also making decisions based on transparency isn’t he? His choices are just different than mine – and I say that as I click add to cart on a new Bears jersey for the 2021 season.
Overall, transparency can be tricky. Being transparent about your finances can make other people uncomfortable. Transparency at work can be helpful but also create tension when folks aren’t ready for the truth or don’t know what to do with it. Transparency in the consumerism can cause you to make different choices. There’s pros and cons to transparency. But to me, being uncomfortable is not a bad thing – it’s actually good. Transparency that brings a level of discomfort can lead to growth. Personal and professional growth. It can also lead to deeper, more meaningful relationships. Not perfect relationships that have zero conflict – but authentic relationships. So get comfortable with transparency, especially when it makes you uncomfortable.
Until next time.