Millennials in the Workplace

The following is an excerpt from Carolyn Heller Baird, Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths: The real story behind Millennials in the workplace, IBM Global Business Services Executive Summary (Jan 2015). (View Full PDF)

Many commentaries claim that Millennials are ‘lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.’ However, according to a multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from businesses across 12 countries and 6 industries, IBM compared the preferences and behavioral patterns of Millennials to those of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

From the Study
The research done by IBM’s study debunked 5 common myths about Millennials:

  • Myth 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from those of older generations. Our findings indicate Millennials have similar career aspirations to those of older generations. They want financial security and seniority just as much as Gen X and Baby Boomers, and all three generations want to work with a diverse group of people. Millennials also align with other generations over what it takes to engage employees at work.
  • Myth 2: Millennials want constant acclaim and think everyone on the team should get a trophy. When asked to describe their perfect boss, Millennials say they want a manager who’s ethical, fair and transparent more than one who recognizes their accomplishments.
  • Myth 3: Millennials are digital addicts who want to do — and share — everything online, without regard for personal or professional boundaries. No question about it, Millennials are adept at interacting online, but this doesn’t mean they want to do everything virtually. For example, Millennials prefer face-to-face contact when learning new skills at work. And Millennials are more likely to draw a firm line between their personal and professional social media networks than Gen X or Baby Boomers.
  • Myth 4: Millennials, unlike their older colleagues, can’t make a decision without first inviting everyone to weigh in. Despite their reputation for crowdsourcing, Millennials are no more likely than many of their older colleagues to solicit advice at work. True, more than half of all Millennials say they make better business decisions when a variety of people provide input. But nearly two-thirds of Gen X employees say the same.
  • Myth 5: Millennials are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfill their passions. Another fiction. When Millennials change jobs, they do so for much the same reasons as Gen X and Baby Boomers. More than 40 percent of all respondents say they would change jobs for more money and a more innovative environment.

The study also uncovered three uncomfortable universal truths:

  • Uncomfortable truth 1: Employees are in the dark. Many aren’t sure they understand their organization’s business strategy — and their leaders are partly to blame. More than half of the people we surveyed don’t fully understand key elements of their organization’s strategy, what they’re supposed to do or what their customers want. What does it take to engage employees at work? Millennials’ priorities align with those of other generations Inspirational leadership Clearly articulated vision/ business strategy Work/life balance and flexibility Performance-based recognition and promotions Freedom to innovate Collaborative work environment Millennials Gen X Baby Boomers 20% 30% 40% Source: IBM Institute for Business Value Millennial Survey 2014, Millennials n=1,153, Gen X n=353, Baby Boomers n=278. Q18: Which attributes does an organization need to offer to help employees feel engaged at work? Select your top three. IBM GLOBAL BUSINESS SERVICES Talent and Change Executive Summary
  • Uncomfortable truth 2: All three generations think the customer experience is poor. We asked our respondents to rate their organization’s effectiveness on a number of factors such as workforce diversity and attention to environmental and societal concerns. The results were favorable, with a single big exception: employees of every generation think their enterprise handles their customer experience poorly.
  • Uncomfortable truth 3: Employees of all ages have embraced the technological revolution, but organizations are slow to implement new applications. As more Millennials have embarked on their careers, expectations of a technological revolution in the workplace have increased. However, only 4 percent of respondents claim their organization has no issues implementing new technologies. Most cite the impact new technologies would have on their customer experience as the key inhibitor.


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