Millennials are different from previous generations in what they want at work — but not in the ways people expect.
The Future of Work

Surprise! Ladders survey of workers says millennials are impoverished workaholics

Millennials are a maligned, misunderstood part of the workforce — which is a problem, because they’re also the biggest part of it.

According to a new survey that Ladders did in partnership with SurveyMonkey, millennials do stand out from other generations: They behave differently, embracing texting at work, and they are far poorer. In fact, millennials were twice as likely to be making under $15,000 than any other demographic — an especially harsh reality considering that many millennials are carrying the burden of student loans.

That said, millennials want exactly what other generations want: flexibility at work and better work-life balance. They just approach it differently.

To get a handle on how this important generation sees work, Ladders partnered with SurveyMonkey to study how millennials compare to other generations when it comes to work and career. This March and April, we surveyed 4,711 adults that were selected to reflect the demographics of the United States. That number included more than 1,000 millennials, ages 18-34. We asked them about what work means to them.

What we found is that millennials aren’t an exotic breed of selfish narcissists. They share many core beliefs with the generations that came before them. But in our digital era, they just have different motivations for holding them.

Millennials are practical about making money

Overall, each surveyed demographic shared common values about what work is — and is not.

Across generations, 67% of all the workers we surveyed said the mission of an organization mattered more to them than how much that organization could pay them.

But baby boomers were significantly more likely to say they believed in mission over money, suggesting that millennials are not as blindly idealistic as we are led to believe. Seventy-two percent of baby boomers said they cared more about mission than money, as opposed to 65% of millennials who said the same.

Why is that? Well, millennials may need to be more pragmatic about money because they are the poorest demographic we surveyed. Millennials were twice as likely to be making under $15,000 than any other demographic.

The low pay for millennials could also be because many are just starting out their careers or working several gigs at a time, none of which add up to a lot of pay. That’s why studies show millennials frequently living with their parents to save money, or sharing expenses with several roommates.

Millennials don’t mix their work lives and their social media lives

As work and play merge in our increasingly connected workplaces, millennials are careful about managing relationships in and outside of work: The majority of those surveyed had never been fired due to social media (97%), would not be friends with the manager on Facebook (81%), and had not pursued a romantic relationship with their co-worker (77%).

Flexible hours are the top perk for all

From the Silent Generation to Generation X and millennials, every single generation in our study prioritized flexible hours as the top perk they sought when seeking a job.

When asked to pick between a game room, a gym membership discount, a nap area, unlimited snacks, free meals, casual Fridays, flexible hours, and the option to work remotely, 39% of millennials said flexible hours was the most important perk with the ability to work from home a close second at 25%.

Of course, this goes against the conventional human resources wisdom that said if you built a ping pong table, the millennials would come.

“Foosball tables, free pizza, all that kind of stuff, it’s just window dressing, it’s not what’s going to make a millennial stay at your organization. And while you may get their attention, where you’re going to keep them is in work-life blending. Can they access their personal life during work? And they don’t mind accessing work during their personal lives but you have to be understanding of that,” Chip Espinoza, professor and author of Millennials Who Manage and Managing the Millennials told Ladders.

Espinoza links the desire for flexible hours to the millennial desire to be a whole person in the office and at home — that is, having full, rich lives rather than putting work always first.

Technology is on the side of millennials: The flexibility they need is increasingly possible with technologies that allow us to access our personal and professional lives at the touch of a button through Slack messages, Google Hangouts, group chats, and phone calls.

But Espinoza thinks too many offices are operating under outdated models: “We still have the 8-5 mentality: punch the clock, be in your office, be in the building, ‘if I don’t see you, you’re not working.’ When in reality, technology has allowed the millennial generation to be accessible to work, and really, to have a personal life 24/7. And that’s where organizations have to adapt to them.”

Wanting flexible hours doesn’t make you lazy

Recent college graduate Chris Garcia, 22, acknowledges that asking your employer for flexible hours can be a “touchy subject” because it “sounds like we’re just lazy and don’t want to work hard.”

But for him and all of his friends in his age group, flexible hours are the way for them to work harder, so they can achieve their dreams.

“We’re all balancing several jobs. My boyfriend is seeking a job with flexible hours because every few weeks, he flies down to Miami to work for Royal Caribbean’s Broadway show productions. My best friend works in finance, but works from home on Fridays to help with a karate studio’s rebranding.”

Like every generation, millennials are ready and available to do the work. They just don’t believe in the rigidity of a 9-5 scheduled to get that work done. Our guess: while there’s a preference among previous generations for making one’s way with a single salary, there’s a high tolerance among millennials for “side hustles,” or passion projects that also earn a little cash on the side.

One example: Mary E. Lemmer, 28, runs a small improv agency and owns a gelato business. For her, flexibility gives her the convenience to do personal errands when the need arises, such as “grocery shopping during off-peak times so I don’t have to wait in line as long” or “being able to meet a plumber in the morning to fix a clogged drain.”

She believes that “as long as I’m getting my work done it shouldn’t matter when I work.”

That was a belief shared by all of the millennials Ladders contacted.

As 25-year-old Matthew DesLauriers, an Atlanta-based digital content manager, put it, “you hired me to do a job. Let me do that job…I don’t believe companies need to waste time telling their employees how to do their jobs.”

Millennials are the most connected generation

One area that millennials really do differ from other generations is in their desire to be as connected as possible. This is a generation that grew up with advanced technology, and they don’t let it go — even at work, which can startle older colleagues.

For instance, millennials were twice as likely as baby boomers to think it’s acceptable to text and use social media at work. Forty-three percent of millennials said it was reasonable to expect someone to answer work-related emails outside of business hours as opposed to 39% of the overall population.

And amongst millennials, 53% of the younger lot, those aged 18-24, were fine with emails after hours while only 35% of older millennials agreed. Why the divide within the generation? It may be because we found that older millennials are more likely to be in full-time jobs than younger millennials and want to have some time away from the clock.

Some millennials believe staying online is the fair tradeoff you make for prioritizing flexible hours.

As Lemmer explained, “because I value flexible work hours and working remotely, I am fine with responding to emails outside of business hours. I do think that if something is urgent outside of business hours, the person sending the email should consider calling or at least making note in the email that it’s urgent.”

She advises that as long as you communicate expectations with your employer or employee, it shouldn’t be a problem. Creating boundaries is key for keeping employees happy.

DesLauriers admits that although he will “sometimes send emails outside of business hours, I’d never expect a response outside of business hours. To do their best work, people need time to rest and recharge and I respect that.”

When it comes to social media usage, gender played a role. Millennial men were more likely to say it was appropriate to answer the boss’s request after business hours than millennial women were — a big difference of 47% compared to 38%.

Of the relatively small 17% of the entire working population in the study who were willing to “friend” their manager on Facebook, the biggest group of those willing to take the risk were millennial women, at 24%.

Millennials are ambitious and expect fast promotions

One more way millennials differed from older generations in the Ladders/SurveyMonkey poll was in their drive for career growth.

When it came to accepting a job offer, more millennials — 36% — prioritized career growth over what their starting salary would be compared to the overall population at 31%.

In short, millennials — thinking practically in terms of raises and promotions — want those opportunities to be future leaders, and they want them now. A whopping 80% of millennials said they wanted a promotion within the first two years at a job.

“Millennials are achievement-oriented,” Espinoza explained, perhaps confirming one stereotype of the generation as somewhat dominated by perfectionists. “Millennials want to achieve in every part of their life, when they become parents, as professionals, as friends.”

He said that millennials can feel like their organization is holding them back from winning at life because “when you have an organization that’s managing your focus, there’s that sense of loss of control.”

But even as someone who studies millennials specifically, Espinoza cautions us against exoticizing them: “People look for behavior that they think they’re going to see in millennials and that’s all they see — even though other generations do similar things. And it creates this enforced stereotype… The one thing I tell millennials is just don’t get hooked by that, don’t get sidetracked by it.”

That’s not just good advice for millennials, it’s also good advice for everyone who works with them. Look beyond the labels and you just might find some common bonds.

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KEY FINDINGS FROM THE LADDERS/SURVEYMONKEY MILLENNIAL WORKFORCE POLL

These are among the key findings of the Ladders/SurveyMonkey poll of the millennial workforce:

Mission matters — though less to millennials

The mission of an organization matters to more people than cash — and this is true across generations, including millennials. Women are more likely to choose mission over money as opposed to their male colleagues (73 vs. 61%).

Millennials expect rapid promotion

Not surprisingly, a job’s wage or salary is the most important thing people think about when accepting a job offer (31%). But for millennials career growth is No. 1, and they aren’t willing to wait too long for it: Opportunities for career growth is the most important factor (36%) and 80% say they want a promotion within the first two years at a job.

Food is the way to the young worker’s heart

What perks will make a person excited about an organization? Topping the list across the board are 1) flexible hours, and 2) a teleworking/work-from-home option. Also: If you want to get millennials in the door, feed them. Other than those top two perks, 12% of millennials say “free meals” are the thing they would be most excited for in a job offer.

Millennials make themselves at home at work

More than a third of adults say that staying in touch with one’s personal life while at work is not so taboo anymore, a number which rises to 48% among male millennials. The top three activities they see as appropriate at work are: texting (36%), personal phone calls (29%), and using social media (19%). Roughly twice as many millennials see texting and social media at work as acceptable, compared to baby boomers.

And they take their work home

More so than other age groups, millennials say it is reasonable to expect someone to answer work-related emails outside of business hours (43% vs. 39% overall). Millennial men are more likely to say it is appropriate — 47%, compared to 38% of millennial women.

They’re ‘friends’ with the boss

Only 17% of people with jobs are friends with their managers on Facebook, but the group doing the most “friending” is millennial women; 24% of them are ‘friends’ with their managers. Perhaps overall friending is low among millennials at work on account of the fact that 44% say they’d turn to social media to find their next job opportunity.

They’re pet friendly, if not people friendly

More than one-fifth of employed people admit to having had a romantic relationship with a coworker at some point in their career; millennials, however, are the least likely to have done so, at only 18% (vs. 24% for Gen X’ers and boomers). When it comes to their furrier friends, millennials and Gen X’ers are the most open to the idea of all pets being allowed at work, with 22% and 21% on board with this concept, respectively.

Methodology: ​This Ladders/SurveyMonkey online poll was conducted March 28- April 2, 2017 among a national sample of 4,711 adults ages 18 and up, including 1,024 Millennials between the ages of 18 and 34. Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 2 percentage points.