“Entitled, tech-driven job hoppers.” That’s how some people might describe millennials, but Brad Harrington was tired of hearing the stereotypes. As executive director of Boston College Center for Work & Family, he works closely with millennials, many of whom are completing undergraduate degrees and pursuing MBAs.
“Some of the things people were saying didn’t jell with my experience of this generation,” he says. “I’ve always had difficulty swallowing assumptions, and I was seeing millennials with a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed.”
So Harrington decided to separate myth from reality. Partnering with KPMG, an audit and tax advisory firm with a workforce made up of nearly 60% millennials, he conducted a study to find out how young adults navigate their careers.
“Millennials are different than other age groups, but also they’re similar in meaningful ways,” says Harrington.
After surveying 1,100 millennial professionals, he found several beliefs about them that didn’t hold true. He shares eight myths about this generation and how they view the workplace:
Millennials have a reputation for not staying at a job longer than 12 to 18 months. In Harrington’s study, however, participants said staying with their employers was their preferred strategy to advancement versus leaving their organizations. In fact, 60% of millennials said they plan to stay in their jobs to advance versus 25% who want to get ahead by moving from employer to employer.
“When asked what they value most, having career growth opportunities was very important,” says Harrington. “Fewer organizations offer lifetime job arrangements, however, and the world has moved away from the idea of long-term job security. But it is something these young people embrace. At a rate of two to one, millennials prefer to stay, and that was surprising.”
While millennials are more heavily immersed in technology and know how to better utilize it than other generations, Harrington says that doesn’t make them people-averse.
“What was interesting was when we asked how they found their most recent position, instead of saying ‘social media’ like we expected, the number one answer was that they were referred by a friend, relative, or another connection,” he says. “They are using the tried-and-true method of networking.”
Millennials are often thought of as being entitled because they’ve been raised by helicopter parents.
“We’ve heard ludicrous stories of parents attending job interviews,” says Harrington. “We wanted to know if that was true, so we asked about career success markers and had them rate 13 things. ‘My parents’ expectations’ was by far the lowest scoring. The idea that all millennials want to make mom and dad happy isn’t the case.”
Millennials are less likely to be bound by gender roles than their predecessors. In fact, 51% of men said they would consider staying home if their spouse’s income was adequate, while just 44% of women said they would want to stay home.
“The results run contrary to the likely gendered response, suggesting it may be time to drop assumptions about both men’s and women’s roles in family life to support the coparenting narrative,” says Harrington. “Graduate school and the changing structure of the family has people rethinking traditional gender stereotypes with the dad who works and mom who stays home.”
When asked how much effort they give beyond what is considered normal, 80% of the millennials in the study answered, “A great deal of effort beyond what’s expected.”
“They know they have to work hard to get ahead, and they’re willing to do that,” says Harrington. “A high percentage of respondents wanted to take on increasingly challenging tasks and develop expertise to advance up the career ladder.”
While millennials are willing to work hard, they’re not willing to sacrifice their personal life, and work-life balance was the most important factor in choosing a job.
“While only a third of the participants had children, this is more about setting boundaries,” says Harrington. “The majority felt that their lives outside of work were much more important to their sense of identity than their careers. Few–approximately 20%–were willing to pursue these goals at the expense of their personal lives.”
While much as been written about the social consciousness of the millennial generation, “how much I am helping others” and “contribution to society” were among the lowest ranked items in importance of career success measures for the millennials surveyed.
Compared to other generations, Millennials often have delayed milestones that indicate adult transition, such as marrying later, having children later, and buying a home later.
“I don’t view that as being unwilling to make commitments,” says Harrington. “Millennials are staying in school longer. They’re buying homes later because the cost of housing is becoming exorbitant. I think these differences are explainable. It’s not attitudinal; it’s often for economic and social reasons.”