IBM busts the nasty myths of the millennial employee

Lazy, entitled, selfish? Not so much really

Lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow – that’s one description of what’s known as the Millennial Employee defined as a worker aged 21-34.

Pretty crappy reputation, I’d say. But IBM did a study recently that busts a number of the Millennial Employee stereotypes finding that, well, maybe they are more victims of a character assassination.

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IBM’s study, "Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths" found that the central difference between Millennial and older employees is their digital talent, which comes from growing up immersed in a digital world. But, for things like career goals, employee engagement, preferred leadership styles and recognition, the study shows that Millennial share many of the same attitudes as Gen X and Baby Boomer employees, IBM stated.

But the rant about Millennial suggests that the differences go much deeper, IBM said.

“The most unflattering commentaries claim that Millennial are “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. More complimentary assertions paint Millennial as open-minded with a strong sense of community fueled by the digital networks they’ve formed, and committed to saving the world," IBM said.

And good thing too. That’s because by 2020, Millennial will be approximately 50%of the U.S. workforce and within the next five years, Millennial will wield increasing influence over organizations’ decisions, move in to leadership roles and basically take over the workforce, the IBM study stated.

IBM said its study interviewed 1,784 employees from organizations across 12 countries and 6 industries and compared the preferences and behavioral patterns of Millennial with those of Gen X (aged 35–49) and Baby Boomers (aged 50–60) to find out what was going in in the business world relative to Millennial.

Some interesting tidbits from the study included:

  • 54% of Millennial don’t fully understand their organization’s business strategy (for Baby Boomers, it’s 58%)
  • 47% of Gen X would leave their current job for another offering more money and a more innovative environment (for Millennial, it’s 42%)
  • 70% of Baby Boomers don’t think their organization is effectively addressing the customer experience (for Millennial, it’s 60%)
  • Employees of every generation think their enterprise handles the customer experience badly.
  • Only 4% of respondents claim their organization has no issues implementing new technologies. The vast majority point to a variety of inhibitors that keep their organizations from adopting the latest innovations, including the complexity of new technologies, as well as their leaders’ lack of vision and technological savvy.

The following are the five myths IBM took aim at, from the report:

Millennial’ career goals and expectations are different from their elders (that is, unrealistic). As it turns out, Millennial want financial security and a diverse workplace just as much as their older colleagues. Millennial have similar career aspirations to those of other generations. And their goals are as varied—in nearly the same proportions—as those of their older colleagues. Millennial desire financial security and seniority just as much as Gen X and Baby Boomers, while Gen X and Baby Boomers are just as interested as millennial in working with a diverse group of people. Our data reveal no standouts or trends that signify any generational predilections.

Millennial need endless praise and think everyone should get a trophy. (No losers here, no sir)

Millennial’ idea of a perfect boss isn’t someone who pats them on the back. They’re looking for an ethical and fair boss who shares information. Thirty-five percent of Boomers and Millennial listed this as the top quality they seek in a boss. Last on the priority list for Millennial? A boss who asks for their input.

Interestingly enough, it’s Gen X employees, not Millennial, who are more likely to think everyone on a successful team should be rewarded. 64% of Gen Xers agreed with this statement compared to 55% of Millennial.

IBM also asked our respondents what employees should be rewarded for, and how. Here, we did identify some interesting generational differences. Surprisingly, it’s largely Gen X employees, not Millennial, who think everyone on a successful team should be rewarded. Gen X employees are also more likely to believe collaboration and information sharing should be recognized.

Millennial are digital addicts with no boundaries between work and play. (Post those party pics from last night!)

Millennial are less likely than older generations to use their personal social media accounts for business purposes. Twenty-seven percent of Millennial never do so -- compared to only 7% of Boomers. Millennial enter the workforce with a strong social presence and personal social media strategy. They know what they want to communicate, where they want to share it and how it best suits their audience.

Millennial who are accessing their personal social networks for professional reasons do so less frequently than Gen X employees. It’s the latter who are more inclined to use their personal social media accounts regularly to communicate, access information and market or sell their organization’s offerings.

Millennial can’t make a decision without crowdsourcing.

Millennial value others’ input, but are no more likely to seek advice when making work decisions than Gen X. And, even though they think gaining consensus is important, more than 50% of Millennial believe that their leaders are most qualified to make business decisions. Baby Boomers, by contrast, feel far less compelled to include others or worry about seeking consensus and are more skeptical about whether the boss knows best Millennial are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfill their passions. (Who wouldn’t if they had the choice?)

Millennial change jobs for the same reasons other generations do, and they are no more likely than older colleagues to leave a job to follow their passion. In fact, Millennial, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are all two times more likely to leave a job to enter the fast lane – i.e. to make more money and work in a more innovative environment -- than any other reason, including saving the world. 

There’s some evidence that Millennial are more itinerant than other generations: 27% have already worked for five or six different employers. However, this is likely a reflection of today’s economic conditions. Seventy-five percent of millennial respondents said they’ve held their current positions for three years or more, suggesting that they are no more inclined than older colleagues to gallivant from one job to the next.

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