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IBM Survey Busts Millennial Workplace Myths

As a small business owner, you’ve probably spent hours reading about the changing face of America’s workforce as Baby Boomers retire and Generation Y—or the Millennials, born between 1980 and 1993—take their place. Most reports would lead you to believe that managing a multigenerational workplace is difficult, and that Millennials—with their penchant for technology and drive to advance their careers—are likely to start a perhaps unwanted revolution. But a recent survey conducted by IBM has something else to say.

The multigenerational study surveyed 1,784 employees in 12 countries and six industries, comparing the preferences and behavior patterns of Millennials with those of previous generations, namely, Gen X (born 1965-1979) and Baby Boomers (born 1954-1964). The findings revealed that Millennial workers actually want many of the same things their older colleagues do. Their attitudes are not, in fact, that different from other employees. For example, consider the following common myths most employers believe about Millennials and the study’s contradictory revelations.

Myth 1 – Millennials have different career goals and expectations than older workers do.

When given a range of career goals to rate, including “do work I’m passionate about” and “start my own business,” all three generations were quite close in their responses. Millennials and Baby Boomers were actually closer in response rankings to each other than either was to Gen X. And they all want financial security, seniority and the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people.

Myth 2 – Millennials expect recognition and constant acclaim.

Millennials grew up during a time when children’s sports organizations began awarding trophies to everyone on the team, doing away with “losers” and making everyone a “winner.” Their parents told them they could become whatever they wanted, and some have said this generation has unrealistic expectations as a result. However, the IBM study found that they don’t really expect more recognition at work than Gen X or Baby Boomers do. They focused their definition of a “perfect boss” more on a manager who is ethical and fair than one who always recognizes their accomplishments.

Myth 3 – Millennials are addicted to social media and want to do everything digitally.

Millennials are adept at surfing the Internet, communicating via social media and text message, and interacting digitally with the world at large. However, they actually prefer face-to-face contact for a number of things including learning new skills at work. They also easily distinguish between their personal and professional lives, using social media accordingly. While 27 percent of Millennials reported never using their personal social media accounts for business purposes, only 7 percent of Baby Boomers kept their online personal and professional interactions separate.

Myth 4 – Millennials are job hoppers who are likely to leave your company for lack of passion.

In actuality, according to the IBM study, Millennials change jobs for the same reasons Gen X and Baby Boomers do. These included “enter the fast lane” (make more money or work in a more innovative environment), “shoot for the top” (take on more responsibility), “follow my heart” (do work they are passionate about), and “save the world” (have a positive impact on society)—in that order. Additionally, 75 percent of the Millennial survey respondents indicated they had held their current position for three years or more, indicating they are no more likely than other generations to jump from one job to the next.

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