IBM is out to debunk myths about millennials. With so many out there, its study designed to do so is more of a starting point on debunking than the final word. But, given the depth of the research (nearly 2,000 respondents with one-on-one interviews and social media information collection included), the study’s overarching theme is worth noting: millennials aren’t much different than other generations in their hopes, dreams and expectations around work.
In fact, the results indicate that, if anything, today’s young workers are pretty similar to their elders’ outlook on work when they were young. They tend to seek direction from their bosses; they're mobile because they’re ambitious to move beyond their initial jobs; they’re moderately interested in social justice through work; they want to believe their bosses are ethical and fair and willing to be honest with them.
IBM’s output, “Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths” concludes that the essential difference between the generations is that today’s youth grew up with social media and “digital proficiency.” Other than that, “for things like career goals, employee engagement, preferred leadership styles and recognition, the study shows that millennials share many of the same attitudes as Gen X and baby boomer employees,” IBM states.
Without further throat-clearing, let’s move to myth-busting.
Myth No. 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from those of older generations
The researchers offered respondents a range of career goals to rate, from “change the world through work” to “do work I'm passionate about” to “become a senior leader” and “start my own business.”
While there were degrees of difference in the generational responses, the most striking feature of the data is how close all three major generations were in their responses. If anything, millennials and baby boomers tended to be closer in most of their responses than were either of those two groups to Gen Xers. The young ones weren’t more or less focused on financial security or work-life balance than the others, and their primary goal was to make an impact on their organization — a higher priority for millennials, but not by much.
Millennials turned out to be less needy when it came to working for a top performing company or a diverse one than their elders. Rather, they emphasized making an impact at work and being part of a company that cared about social and environmental issues — but not much more than did their elders.
Myth Two: Millennials lust after recognition more than do other generations
Here we find that millennials did, in fact, say they wanted recognition at work — but only by a slim (29 percent-26 percent-23 percent) margin. In other areas designed to elicit information about being “seen and heard” by their bosses, millennials scored just about where baby boomers landed — with Gen Xers showing less interest in having input into decisions, working without supervision, and having a boss interested in their professional development. When asked if they needed to work for someone who “is open to new ways of doing things,” baby boomers and Gen Xers scored higher than the supposedly innovative driven millennials.
“It’s Gen X employees, not millennials, who are more likely to think everyone on a successful team should be rewarded,” the study said, as “64 percent of Gen Xers agreed with this statement compared to 55 percent of millennials.”
Myth Three: Millennials are always connected to work via social media
Wrong, says IBM. They are connected, for sure. But they are careful to, and in fact very good at, separating personal and work connections.
“Millennials are less likely than older generations to use their personal social media accounts for business purposes,” the study found. “Twenty-seven percent of millennials never do so — compared to only 7 percent of boomers. Millennials enter the workforce with a strong social presence and personal social media strategy. They know what they want to communicate, where they want to share it and how it best suits their audience.”
Photo: Associated Press
Myth Four: Millennials like to get input from lots of sources before making a decision
Yes, they do — at about the same rate as their elders, this study found.
“Millennials value others’ input, but are no more likely to seek advice when making work decisions than Gen X. And, even though they think gaining consensus is important, more than 50 percent of millennials believe that their leaders are most qualified to make business decisions,” IBM reported.
So who isn't about consensus building? Baby boomers. Says the study: “Baby boomers, by contrast, feel far less compelled to include others or worry about seeking consensus and are more skeptical about whether the boss knows best.”
Myth five: Millennials are job hoppers who hop to follow their passion or to save the world
Not so much, at least according to this study. They tend to leave jobs for one major reason: to get ahead in the business world, just like Gen Xers and boomers. In all three cases, more than four in 10 said getting ahead was their primary motivation behind a job change. Saving the world or seeking their heart's desire in a new job just weren’t huge factors in job hopping.
“Millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers are all two times more likely to leave a job to enter the fast lane — i.e. to make more money and work in a more innovative environment — than any other reason,” the study found.