Milk spilling from Mug with a surprised face

For the past 20 years annually, KPCB analyst Mary Meeker has compiled various publicly available statistics about the Internet-using public, in an effort to draw important parallels about how our society is evolving.

In her latest study released this week, presented as a long series of presentation slides, Meeker draws parallels between people who crave greater connectivity and mobile work options, and people who appear to be self-centered.

Citing highly trusted public sources such as the US Census Bureau, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the World Bank, Meeker shows how “millennials” — which she defines as people born between 1980 and 2000 — constitute the highest growing segment of the American workforce.

From there, she spotlights a handful of significant trends: that millennials are more actively driving trends in mobile connectivity, that millennials are setting the course for mobile technologies and that millennials are perceived by their employers as the mirror image of “Generation X” (born between 1965 and 1979) — that is, less confident, greedier and less adaptable to working on a team.

1 in 3 Workers

Mary Meeker
Citing Labor Statistics from 2015, Meeker notes that millennials constitute 35 percent of the US workforce, larger than gen-X’ers and boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). To help us see some parallels, she places this slide near others which show that the US population remains more urban than rural (82 percent/18 percent), with three times as many immigrants than in 1970, with a lower percentage of married couples, and with the lowest average household size (about 2.6) than at any time since 1910.

Then citing a September 2014 Freelancer’s Union report entitled “Freelancing in America,” she points out that among 5,000 working Americans surveyed, some 38 percent identify themselves as freelancers, 20 percent say they work outside normal business hours and 32 percent say they will be working “mainly flexible hours” in the future. 

These numbers are bolstered elsewhere in the report with a chart from an independent research firm showing that 44 percent of millennials surveyed there identified themselves as “on-demand workers.”

What has this to do with the mobile Internet?  Some 45 percent of the individuals surveyed by Freelancer’s Union noted they use their smartphones for work purposes. Among this same group, 41 percent reported they are likely to download work-related apps and 34 percent say they prefer collaborating online versus “at work,” which we can assume means, “in a communal office.”

Mary Meeker internet trends 2015

From There to Here

The takeaway so far:  Younger workers are transferring their workplaces from the physical realm to the virtual one. Which leads to this most prophetic slide of all in Meeker’s 2015 report:  As an October 2014 Millennial Majority Workforce Report from online staffing firm Upwork revealed, some 20 percent of hiring managers polled admit to perceiving gen-X’ers as “narcissistic,” while 80 percent would characterize millennials that way.

More to the point, given a list of nine categories that could be used to describe employees or contractors, hiring managers gave millennials all the selfish and self-centered adjectives and gen-X’ers all the forward thinking ones.

There are some possible skews here that these arguably shallow samples may not be taking into account. 

For example, we don’t actually see the relative ages of the hiring managers themselves — whether they’re more gen-X’ers than millennials, for instance — or whether they use their smartphones more or less often than others.

Also, in many organizations, hiring managers are not necessarily the ones charged with on-boarding freelancers.  They may only have direct contact with full-time, W-2 employees — which, as Meeker’s own selected data shows, constitutes an ever-smaller segment of the millennial workforce.

Yet we can perhaps draw one very important conclusion:  If millennials do think they’re more collaborative today than before because mobile connectivity is greater now than before, then it would appear they are being connected with the wrong people — specifically, not the ones responsible for their well-being.

So who are they connecting with?  If, as hiring managers believe, millennials are more creative, equally as optimistic, but less confident than gen-X’ers, then they may be connecting with each other — and, I suppose, sharing their pessimism with each other.

This possible conclusion is substantiated by another Meeker slide, based on data collected in 2011 (admittedly a little old) from the Career Advisory Board. Among 1,023 Americans surveyed then, 30 percent of millennials among that group say the most important aspect of work for them is that it be “meaningful.”  Only 6 percent of millennials said they seek a "high level" of self-expression and 3 percent a "high level" of responsibility.

To risk sounding a bit Clintonian, what does “meaning” mean? If you accept Meeker’s data at face value, for millennials, it would appear to mean the feeling of being connected. Which, at least from hiring managers’ perspective, may not be the same thing as actually being connected.

 

To risk sounding a bit Clintonian, what does “meaning” mean? If you accept Meeker’s data at face value, for millennials, it would appear to mean the feeling of being connected. Which, at least from hiring managers’ perspective, may not be the same thing as actually being connected.