A closer look at Millennials and the Workplace

Millennials, those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, have garnered special attention as a topic of study and discussion in that they are the largest and most dynamic cohort of the population since the Baby Boomers.  The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that this year, Millennials, who comprise about one-third of the population in the U.S., will actually surpass Boomers as the largest living generation.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that Millennials will make up 75% of the U.S. workforce in 15 years, and Deloitte predicts that Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce in a little more than 10 years.

As this generation becomes a more pronounced presence in society, many have wondered how Millennials will shape social, cultural, and economic norms.  Although this generation shares certain defining commonalities, including identifying as the technology generation, studies have revealed somewhat conflicting information about Millennials’ preferences, attitudes, and tendencies, especially with regard to employment.

In the first, large-scale study of Millennials worldwide, called, “Understanding a Misunderstood Generation,” researchers set out to evaluate whether the following generally-accepted stereotypes associated with Millennials and the workplace held true:

Commonly-Held Stereotypes with regard to Millennials and Work:

(1) Millennials want leadership positions and expect to advance rapidly in their careers
(2) Millennials resist hard work
(3) Millennials rely on friends and family for input on career issues
(4) Millennials believe government has significance and influence in today’s society
(5) Millennials care about work-life balance over money and status

The Study gathered data from 43 countries around the globe, surveying 16,637 people between the ages of 18-30 during May through August 2014 to evaluate these stereotypes.  The researchers found that the results supported some stereotypes, but not others.  The results may surprise you:

(1)    Do Millennials want to be Leaders in their Careers?

Yes.  The Study found that Millennials are indeed interested in leadership and rapid career advancement.  However, the reasons behind this desire varied across region.  Notably, one may think that the driving factor behind wanting career advancement would be high future earnings.  While that held true as the top reason for wanting career advancement for Millennials in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe, here in North American, as well as Western Europe, the top reason reported by Millennials for seeking such career growth was the “opportunity to influence their company/ organization.”  In a day-in-age where it is commonly thought that Millennials are the type to job hop from one company to the next in effort to boost their salaries and earning potential without much thought to organizational loyalty, this finding may undermine that notion to the extent that many Millennials tie their own career growth to serving the betterment of the company where they invest their employment.  However, to those employers who think that salary is not important to Millennials, think again, as “high future earnings” was found to be the third most popular reason for North American Millennials wanting career advancement, closely behind “the opportunity to coach and mentor others.”

(2)    Do Millennials Shun Hard Work?

No.  When asked whether they were up to the challenge of leadership, including the stress and hard work involved in achieving it, the vast majority of Millennials reported that they were, including those in North America.  67% of North American Millennial Respondents reported that they were up for the extra stress and work time associated with being a leader at work.  Interestingly, however, when asked to define “challenging work,” most Millennials globally pointed to being involved in “innovative work” (39%) and “learning new things on a daily basis” (39%), whereas few (only 10%) defined it as having a constant and heavy workload.  The results point to the fact that Millennials do not necessarily view working long hours as the most important or determinative aspect of challenging work, but do indeed welcome challenging work.

(3)    Do Millennials Rely on Friends and Family for Input on Career Issues?

No.  One of the most widely-accepted stereotypes of Millennials is their desire to integrally involve their friends and family in their professional lives.  Many of us may have even heard stories of employers running with this stereotype to the extent that they will allow Millennial parents to attend job interviews or orientations or be involved in the pre-hire process with their 18-30 year old “kids.”  However, at least so far as Millennials are self-reporting, when asked how involved their parents are in their career decisions, the majority of Millennials globally reported “not involved.”  49% of North American Millennials reported “not involved,” with only 32% reporting “somewhat involved,” and only 19% reporting “involved.”

(4)    Do Millennials Believe that Government Has a Large Influence on Society?

No.  While the stereotypes of Millennials suggest that they are an overall optimistic generation who believe that government can affect change, the Study found that the majority of Millennials across the globe believe that private business and the individual have a much larger influence on society than government.  Millennials in North America and Europe overwhelmingly reported that private business has the strongest ability to influence society.  Some may find these results disheartening as they do not reflect positively on current government, but employers may at least find some redemption that the next generation workforce views them as a direct vehicle of social change.

(5)    Do Millennials Prefer a Job that Provides Work-Life Balance over Money and Status?

Yes.  When asked whether they would consider giving up a well-paid and prestigious job to gain a better work-life balance, the majority of Millennials globally reported that they would (47%).  Only 17% percent said that they would not, and the remainder chose a neutral stance.  In North America, the results were comparable to the global results, with 49% reporting that they would sacrifice a job providing high earnings and high status for one that offered a better work-life balance.  Many employers have already taken notice of this stereotype and made efforts to structure their workplaces to better fit this need, providing employees with greater flex-time, remote work, and work-from-home opportunities.  For those employers not implementing such arrangements, they may want to if they wish to attract and retain up-and-coming Millennial workers.

The Study’s findings are certainly informative and should serve as a valuable resource for employers and employees (Millennial or not) to have a better understanding of the people who will soon form the majority of the workforce and occupy consequential positions of leadership in business and beyond.  For a full look at the Study, “Understanding a Misunderstood Generation,” please visit http://universumglobal.com/millennials