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strategy and business
 / Spring 2012 / Issue 66(originally published by Booz & Company)


Five Millennial Myths

A second possibility consistent with our data is that people at lower levels in organizations, who tend to be younger, are slightly less committed to their organization than people at higher levels. Those in the latter group are paid more and are responsible for organizational strategy, and are therefore likely to be more invested. It is difficult for an organization to retain younger people regardless of what that organization does. When young people change jobs and look for new opportunities to learn and grow, it does not represent a lack of loyalty; it’s simply the time in their lives when they are seeking these experiences.

Myth #3: Millennials aren’t interested in their work. Their lack of commitment to an organization is also demonstrated by their lack of interest in their job.

The reality: Our research clearly shows that millennials currently in the workplace are just as intrinsically motivated (“into” their work) as are boomers and Gen Xers. Although many older people seem to think millennials are just going through the motions, the data says that they are doing that no more than the two previous generations. That said, our data indicates that people at lower levels in organizations (who tend to be younger) are slightly less motivated by the content of their jobs than people at higher levels. When looking at people at the top and at the bottom, consider the differences between the content of their work, the scope of their impact, and the level of their autonomy.

It isn’t that millennials aren’t motivated; it’s that they’re not motivated to do boring work. And boomers weren’t any more motivated by that kind of work when they were younger. If you want to motivate millennials, it’s a good idea to give them work they will actually enjoy and find meaningful. Most people understand that it’s not all going to be fascinating, but a reasonable portion of it should be, or why not find a new job?

Myth #4: Millennials are motivated by perks and high pay. They are interested only in material rewards, and organizations will go bankrupt trying to satisfy the millennials’ desires.

The reality: In collecting data from more than 5,000 people age 22 to 80, we’ve found no relationship between a person’s generation and whether he or she is motivated by perks and high pay. In other words, millennials are about as motivated as boomers and Gen Xers by perks and money (although these factors don’t rank all that high for anyone, on average). Again, the real difference shows up between organizational levels. Our data indicates that people at lower levels in organizations — who make less money — are slightly more motivated by extrinsic rewards than people at higher levels in the organization.

You may think giving millennials that iPad or handing them that spot bonus or letting them bring their dog to work is going to increase their dedication to the job, but it won’t. It might make them think you (or your company) are cool (because everyone loves a free iPad, right?), but there is no evidence that it increases overall motivation.

Myth #5: Millennials want more work–life balance. They want to spend lots of time outside the office, whereas boomers and Gen Xers are workaholics.

The reality: This myth is actually marginally accurate. Millennials are interested in work–life balance, but not much more than Gen Xers are. In fact, millennials and Gen Xers agree at about the same level that the demands of their work interfere with their personal lives. Since boomers were in their 20s and 30s (the 1970s and 1980s), U.S. society as a whole has shifted toward the philosophy that life is about more than just work. Although we see differences among the generations, they are small enough to lead me to think that such differences are more likely to be a result of issues related to life stage, such as having young children (which millennials and Gen Xers are more likely than boomers to have), than to represent a generational shift.

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