Millennials: The "Risk-Averse" Generation? (

Originally published on the Association for Talent Development's site on June 8, 2015

“While technology is young people's oxygen, risk may be their carbon monoxide," stated Inc. magazine, in its May 2015. This statement was a clear response to the decrease of upstart entrepreneurs in this generation as opposed to other generations. According to the magazine, young people (25-35 years old) launched 35 percent of start ups in 1996, young people start ups only made up 18 percent of the market in 2014. Indeed, although innovative and team-oriented, Millennials may be the most risk-averse generation. But why? 

We all know that life experiences shape our outlook of the world. Millennials grew up during a time of great prosperity (the Clinton years) when they were the smartest, healthiest, and wealthiest children on the face of the earth. That world was smashed apart by the acts of 9/11, two wars, and the Great Recession. 

In 2001, Millennials (who were mostly in middle school and high school at the time) watched as the very fabric of safety and security was destroyed as the Twin Towers fell. In the coming years, Millennials would make up the majority of recruits that were shipped off to fight a new type of war—a war against a belief—terror. Additionally, Millennials witnessed the destruction of the American economy and the very real consequences as their parents lost their jobs, their 401k and their livelihood. On top of all of that, this is a generation where credit card and college debt will enter the trillion dollar range. This obviously affects home ownership, retirement investments, car purchasing, and the ability to take on small-business, entrepreneurial loans. 

Bottom line: The Millennial population is in a perpetual state of safety and security, if we look at it from Maslow’s Need Theory perspective. This leads to the risk-averse reaction we’re currently seeing among this cohort. 

The challenge is that our current global workplace will not tolerate timid thinkers, doers, and entrepreneurs. There is very little room even in our offices for risk-averse workers, as we ask our young people to do more with less and to do it with exceptional speed and quality. Many times you will hear Gen-X managers complain that several of the tasks that need to be done by the younger worker are halted or slowed because the Millennial is afraid of making a mistake, being wrong, or taking a risk. 

This sort of thinking and action could be detrimental to the development and growth of our young workers, as well as our products and services. What can we do as training and development specialists to encourage a more risk-taking, forward-moving mindset in our Millennials? Here are some thoughts, but I encourage others to weigh in.