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How Has the Recession Shaped Career Attitudes of Millennials?

Meet the Post-Recession MillennialIt’s dangerous — and often inaccurate — to generalize generations’ workplace preferences and behaviors. Many hiring managers, however, are still clinging onto generational stereotypes, particularly of the oft much-hyped Millennial generation (those workers born between 1980 – 1995) — stereotypes that Millennials themselves have moved well beyond since first entering the workplace in the last several years.

In How the Recession Shaped Millenial and Hiring Manager Attitudes about Millenials’ Future Careers, Alexandra Levit and I examine various research initiatives to determine how the attitudes of Millennials toward their career paths have changed as a result of the economic downturn, how these attitudes compare to the way hiring managers view Millennials’ career paths, and what hiring managers can do to better understand this generation of workers. Many of our report conclusions have been drawn from The Future of Millennial Careers research study, which was commissioned by the Career Advisory Board, presented by DeVry University, and conducted by Harris Interactive among 500 Millennials age 21-31 either employed or planning to seek employment, and 523 hiring managers age 18+ who interact with Millennials at work.

While Millennials and hiring managers can generally both agree that Millennials tend to have certain commonalities, like digital comfort and impatience with certain established processes, there is also much disparity between how Millennials view themselves and how they are viewed by their bosses. This can result in a frustrating situation for both parties — but by learning to truly understand Millennials, hiring managers can create a smoother workplace environment for the multiple generations currently working within it, as well as improve one-on-one relationships with their valuable Millennial workers.

Pre-recession to the present

The oldest Millennials blazed into the workplace in the early 2000s, many of them unabashedly demanding flexibility, seamless communication and desirable assignments right away — and from this, many employers formed their opinions on Millennials right then and haven’t since wavered. However, the recession appears to have caused a shift in Millennials’ attitudes toward achieving immediate career success, as watching hiring freezes and mass layoffs occur, or being affected by them themselves, caused many Millennials to recognize that having a good job was not just a given, but instead something that must be earned. Now, as the economy is picking itself back up post-recession, Millennials have a much different idea of what they need to do to succeed, and more of them are taking the initiative to prove their worth to employers on a daily basis while honing their soft skills in the long term.

Millennials and hiring managers: Different worlds?

While the recession appears to have pushed many Millennials to form more realistic expectations about career advancement, many hiring managers don’t yet see a change in Millennials’ expectations and are still of the belief that Millennials are driven by unreasonably high pay in return for minimal effort. Many hiring managers remain very cynical of the efforts Millennials are making, and believe that this generation continues to have a sense of entitlement and unrealistic expectations of their own career growth and success.

Millennials also believe doing work that is personally meaningful to them and achieving a sense of accomplishment are just as important as earning a high salary for a successful career. In fact, 30 percent of Millennials identify meaningful work as the single most important measure of a successful career. Millennials are also feeling a need to pursue higher education, obtain transferable skills, and hold a variety of jobs in order to get ahead in their careers. Mistakenly, however, hiring managers commonly believe Millennials’ desire to earn a high salary primarily drives their job and career decisions. Forty-eight percent of hiring managers rank high pay as the number one way Millennials measure their career success. In contrast, only 11 percent of hiring managers say Millennials consider meaningful work as the number one measure of success.

Let’s take a closer look:

Disparity in Education

Millennials: Seventy-nine percent of Millennials responded that they had completed at least some college to date, and 65 percent ranked education among their top three preparation activities for getting ahead in the workplace (40 percent of all Millennial respondents ranked “getting the proper education” as the most important choice they could make to prepare for future careers).
Hiring Managers: Meanwhile, only 28 percent of hiring managers cited “getting the proper education” as the most important method for future success (though 55 percent did place it in the top three). Preferable to education was “learning transferable skills” — 62 percent of hiring managers listed this as one of the top three steps Millennials can take today to prepare for the next 15 years. Nearly two in five hiring managers (39 percent) said “setting goals with managers” should be in the top three.

Why? With the passing years, more and more young people are getting advanced degrees. Because managers used means other than getting higher degrees to get ahead in the workplace themselves, however, they may not view education as a key step for Millennials to advance their own careers. And, as managers have more work experience than Millennials, they are able to view the career path from a different perspective as far as ways to achieve workplace success.

Tips for managers: Investigate the learning opportunities available to your employees and make specific recommendations as part of each individual’s development plan. Help your employees set realistic and achievable goals for their future, and provide a path for building transferable skills in their daily roles that makes sense to both you and them.

 

Disparity in Millennials’ career motivations

Millennials: Millennials equate a successful career with doing meaningful work; in fact, 71 percent reported this as among the three most important factors defining career success. Nearly a third (30 percent) believed it was the most critical factor.

Hiring Managers: Only 11 percent of managers reported that meaningful work was the most important factor contributing to Millennial success, while almost one-half (48 percent) of managers said high pay was in fact the most critical factor in defining career success.

Why? Older generations grew up in a different time, when work rules were defined and enforced by the employer, and the primary purpose of work was to provide a paycheck, not to feed the well-rounded employee who increasingly struggles with work/life balance in a technology-driven world. Though pay is still important to many employees, work expectations have shifted over the years as our culture has evolved, and employees want different things from their “work life.”

Tips for managers: Match your Millennial employees with a mentor who is able to help guide their career path and offer advice along the way. In addition, be open to your workers’ proposals to create a work environment that is meaningful to them and enables them to do their best work, such as telecommuting or flexible scheduling, if they have presented clear advantages to the organization in saving time and money and effectively addressed any concerns you may have. In the long run, it may result in a situation beneficial to both your organization and your employee.

Key challenges for Millennials

Millennials are currently faced with two key challenges:

  1. They must overcome the pervasive stereotypes managers have about their generation.
  2. They must identify and address areas that impact their ability to work effectively in the professional world.

As older generations tend to hold opinions of Millennial employees that sharply diverge from the attitudes Millennials have about themselves, it’s important for managers to work with the various generations in their workplace to set a positive example and work to increase understanding of this generation. While research showed us that Millennials and their managers agreed that compared to older generations, Millennials are more likely to exhibit an inability to receive criticism as well as ineffective communication skills, these weaknesses must be viewed as a learning opportunity for both parties.

Moving forward, together

Millennials and their managers have come a long way in understanding one another – though there’s still a long road ahead. That road, however, is more quickly paved by each group doing their part to move forward and understand the other.

Millennials, for example, must be proactive in seeking mentorship from senior leaders, setting goals with their managers, and participating in company-sponsored training opportunities.

In addition to the tips mentioned above,  managers can also start taking steps to better understand and effectively work with Millennials:

  • Give timely and constructive feedback.
  • Keep an open mind and learn from young professionals.
  • Teach by example to set expectations.
  • Implement two types of training into your organization: The first, a session or course on inter-generational dynamics that provides Millennials and their managers with concrete strategies to build a better sense of community within their teams. The second, soft-skill training provided by the organization for Millennial hires that includes instruction on 1) assimilating into a new workplace culture; 2) working with team members assertively and diplomatically and how to receive and process feedback; and 3) approaching a supervisor to seek mentorship and set long-term career goals. This type of course would also help Millennials combat misperceptions about their generation and teach them strategies (like reverse mentoring) that use their digital comfort, ability to multi-task, and multiple other strengths in a positive way.

As managers become more open and tolerant, and Millennials continue to adjust their expectations and make visible and appreciated contributions to organizations, we will continue to see a wider understanding of the Millennials generation – as well as the great additions they can make to a rapidly changing work landscape.

Read the full report here for more statistics, thoughts from both Millennials and managers, and advice on managing the Millennial generation, or listen to my recent discussion with Lisa Johnson Mandell.

 

About The Career Advisory Board
Established in 2010 by DeVry University, the Career Advisory Board is a panel of leading career experts and authors from business and academia who provide actionable advice for job-seekers. The Career Advisory Board generates proprietary research and commentary, and creates tools, insight and resources to prepare job-seekers for success. Its members include executives from CareerBuilder, Cisco, DeVry University, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft Corporation as well as nationally recognized career experts.