The US workforce is made up of four generations: Silent generation, Baby boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Many wonder whether the Millennials, the newest generation entering the workforce, are different from other generations, and are concerned about how they might handle generational issues.
We were curious about this too, so we reviewed the existing research on this topic and began conducting studies on our own. We learned pretty quickly that while there are common beliefs about Millennials (e.g., they are lazy; they have an attitude of entitlement), some of them are largely based on myths and a bit of truth. Here, we want to share what we learned about the myths and truth (more of findings to date).
1. Millennials are slightly more extroverted, and think of themselves more positively.
Do the different generations have different personalities? We see some convincing evidence that personalities have shifted a bit both in general and in relation to work. Younger generations tend to be more extroverted and conscientious; they regard themselves in an increasingly positive manner. Researchers predict that this means the Millennials would be interested in careers that are expressive of extroversion and social influence.
2. Millennials aren’t that different in what they value at work, but others think they are different.
What about work values? We are seeing more research findings showing that the younger generation views work as less central to their lives. However, for the most part, the research findings are mixed regarding whether different generations have different work values. Some refer to the Millennials as the “ME generation” and argue that this generation prefers working alone to teamwork. This is not at all backed by research; if anything, this is more of an individual difference than a generational one. Also, the Millennials prefer transformational, relationship-focused leaders who are dependable, supportive, and trustworthy. But so do other generations.
3. They are just as satisfied, committed and engaged.
Many expect to see differences in terms of commitment, satisfaction, turnover, etc. Some academic and industry research report that younger generations are less satisfied with their jobs, less committed to the organization, and more likely to quit. BUT, the findings are still mixed, and we don’t have clear conclusions on this one.
Culture might play a big role here. In our study on generational differences in employee engagement, we see that while Millennials reported significantly lower levels of engagement compared to other generations, the relationship depended on organizational culture. The more effective the culture (i.e., higher level of involvement, consistency, adaptability, mission), the smaller the generational differences in employee engagement. The findings suggest we consider the larger organizational context (organizational culture in this case) when understanding and managing generational differences in employee engagement.
4. They want and need more work-life balance.
Younger generations put more emphasis on and need for greater work–life balance. Although they spend just as much and often more time working compared to older generations, they are different from older generations who were and are more “ok” with work interfering with their family or personal life, and vice versa.
5. They have access…to information and people.
Millennials have more technology-related expertise. Especially with the use of social media, they are used to having access to information and people, and believe they can easily find something or someone. They are connected with others (virtually) more than before.
They will hear about what you, their employer, says, what others say about you and what your current employees say about you. They might be shaping their opinions about your organization as a consumer but quickly as a future employee. For instance, they can easily see interview questions, salary information, etc. on Glassdoor.
6. They expect flexibility and the ability to do telework.
With technology, getting the work done doesn’t require people to go to an office. Many organizations already have full-time virtual or remote workers and flex hours. The Millennials do and will expect to have flexibility and the ability to do telework. Having the right technology allowing telework is critical; policies supporting telework are also important. But our research shows that a culture that supports coordination among employees can have a real impact on the performance of work groups with teleworkers.
7. They will have many jobs, so organizations will be challenged with building a strong commitment to the organization and retaining talent.
Millennials are expected have 7-10 jobs during their careers. While the idea of career advancement and transition have been around for many years, we will see faster turnover. This will challenge organizations with a higher hiring and retention cost. Today, US firms spend about $110 billion on talent acquisition, and that’s about $3000 per hire!
8. Generational issues often don’t cross country boundaries.
We often make the assumption that the generational gaps and trends we see are applicable everywhere. Not true. Generation issues often do not cross country or regional boundaries. The conversation on generational issues might be happening everywhere but the contents are likely to be different.
9. A generational difference we see might not be a generational thing.
When we see generational differences –in our own experience, in more rigorous research findings, etc. – it is often unclear whether the differences are driven by the generation or something else. There are a few things that can be mistaken as a generational issue. First is life cycle (or simply age). While some might conclude that the Millennials value autonomy, the reality might be that 20-somethings in the US have always valued autonomy regardless of when they were born.
The other is ‘perceived’ difference. Research shows that while different generations are not that much different in their work values, attitudes, and behaviors, significant differences are found in how the generations perceive each other. For instance, everyone values teamwork. But Generation X employees think that Boomers don’t value teamwork. Everyone values technology, but the Millennials think that Boomers don’t value it as much as the Boomers actually do.
10. Culture is the key…Millennials will respond to an organization for their culture and brand.
What Millennials want (or anyone really) is an organization that can help them develop as a professional, advance their career, and make an impact. They want an organization that can also support telework and work-life balance. They are attracted to an organization that is known for being a good place to work and high performing in the market. We believe that organizations that can build a culture of high performance and use that culture to build a brand as an employer and drive performance will be more likely to attract and retain the capable Millennials.
“Can you tell me about your culture?” is now a frequently asked interview question – by interviewees. What does your culture look like? How does your organization describe and show off your culture to the newest generation entering the workforce? How does your organization’s culture help or hinder managing the different generations? Now is the time to be more thoughtful about responding to these questions, and be intentional about driving an organizational culture to manage the multi-generational workforce successfully.