Millennials mainly seek financial success from jobs, not social impact
Millennials, who range in age from 27 to 41, have not had an easy run of young adulthood. Two decades ago, when the oldest members of this generation turned 21, America was exiting a recession and unemployment was climbing. A few years later, the Great Recession of 2008 wreaked more havoc on Millennial finances. Economic storms are one element that contributed to delayed adulthood and an intergenerational wealth gap. Millennials reach the milestones of older generations, such as getting married and buying a house, slower, and they are less likely to achieve the same lifestyle as their (largely) Baby Boomer parents.
As young adults, Millennials were tagged with three stereotypes. They are less supportive of free markets. They lack a commitment to employers. They evaluate work opportunities based on whether the employer engages with social issues they care about. Our research shows there is little truth to these stereotypes. Leaders who misread Millennial goals in the workplace will make the mistake of missing out on the best ways to retain talent and contribute to politicized workplace cultures.
In ongoing surveys, we ask nationally representative samples of Millennials their views on capitalism, democracy, work, entrepreneurship, technology, and other issues. Our most recent survey asked for their views on free markets, business leaders, and social issues in the workplace. Here are a few things we found out:
· 51% believe the profit system teaches people the value of hard work and success.
· 54% agree with the statement “there is something wrong with a person who is not willing to work hard.”
· 62% want a fair economic system where people with more abilities earn higher salaries.
· 70% say competition is good and stimulates people to work hard and develop new ideas.
We could list more items, but you get the picture. Millennials of all demographics support the principles of capitalism. Support for free markets may increase with age, work experience, and the accumulation of assets, yet, compared with older generations at the same phase of life, Millennials harbor lower positive views about the relationship between work and reward. Only a slight majority think most people who want to get ahead can make it if they are willing to work hard. In short, Millennials see a disconnect between their effort and return on effort.
What about the third stereotype, that financial rewards should take a backseat to social issues? We asked Millennials to rank what they wanted from work and found that among four items, 64% said salary was the most important reason for choosing a job, followed by flexibility (20%), opportunities for advancement (11%), and the employer’s involvement in important social issues (5%).
When we asked for more information on their views of social issues in the workplace, a whopping 59% said people should keep their personal views on social issues out of the workplace. Who is likely to think social issues do belong in the workplace? Race, gender, and ethnicity matter little compared to self-reported ideology. Conservatives are more likely than average to say social issues do not belong in the workplace and Liberals are more likely than average to say they do belong.
Millennials see a difference between purposeful private businesses that work in the market to solve problems people care about and being part of politicized workplace culture. At the same time, many (44%) support the CEOs of big businesses being more involved in solving social issues.
We offer two perspectives for leaders. First, for most Millennials, engagement in meaningful social issues is no substitute for a good job. The best retention tool is to explain how an organization shares success and rewards merit. Second, leaders should not assume uniformity in philosophy. Not everyone in financial services thinks the same. Diversity of thought contributes to richer workplace cultures and is important for generating better business decisions and outcomes.
However, leaders must evaluate and clarify. What processes exist to decide whether to engage as a business in a social issue? What mechanisms are in place to understand the range of thought and to moderate discussions? Different views may exist about what appropriate engagement looks like for leaders, directors, and employees. We encourage business leaders and board members to examine their employees’ views on these ideas and the role they play in shaping the firm’s culture.
To download the study please visit https://capitalism.wfu.edu/what-we-do/research/