Millennial IT Worker Survey: How Should Managers Approach “Generation Why?”

Written by Shawn Mills on Wednesday, March 14th 2018 — Categories: IT Operations

At Green House Data, we've experienced the same workplace shift as many businesses when it comes to multi-generational workplaces. We wanted to answer this question: now that Millennials have become as ubiquitous in the workplace as the internet, how can managers ensure the first generation of digital natives both fits into the business and is poised to be successful? And, just how entitled are they? Our conclusions might surprise you.

In order to answer our question, we conducted a survey. Our respondents were:

At a high level, we found Millennials in the IT industry want to work on their terms, prefer open-ended leadership that gives them agency, are more likely to leave a job for a better opportunity elsewhere, and are strongly driven by compensation.

However, we also found that Boomers, Xers, and Generation Y have a lot in common with Millennials when it comes to the reason they leave jobs overall. In a word? Advancement.

Are MillenNials Really Job Hoppers?

The new generation has a reputation of never staying at a gig longer than a few years. Our data showed that they might leave earlier than Gen X or Boomers, but that they aren't as likely to quit as you might think.

how long would millennials stay in a job vs. baby boomers and gen x?Here are some quotes from Millennials themselves about how they are perceived in the workplace and why they might leave a job.

While Millennials are quicker than other generations to jump ship if they find a better opportunity elsewhere, there is convergence across all generations when it comes to the need to move forward in their roles. The biggest reason, aside from better opportunity, cited for leaving an enjoyable job was lack of advancement, regardless of age.

From a management perspective, our data shows that supervisors and leadership teams must be diligent about creating opportunity for all employees. You should recognize that if you try to force the concept of “paying your dues,” you could lose talent. Are you measuring productivity and success by hours, or by tasks? Are you rewarding the employees who are performing the highest, or who have been around the longest?


Do You Need a Ping Pong Table?

Millennials more than any other group are motivated by salaries. When given a choice between a job that pays 10K more annually or a job that is at a more altruistic company (defined by strong commitment to sustainability, transparency, and community), Millennials go where the money is, in an almost identical split with older workers.

do millennials prefer jobs at sustainable or socially responsible companies?This is despite the general consensus that Millennials care more about altruistic aspirations and accountability. While those values may be important, when it comes to personal career choices, the monetary compensation comes first.

Managers will do well to remember this. Millennials are less motivated by perks. Grappling with heavy debt loads and little to no nest egg, many are not in a position to take less money in order to work at a more socially or environmentally conscious employers. This point ties back to the need for advancement, which would ostensibly translate into higher salaries.

Perhaps one of our most surprising finds was that when asked about job benefits, 43% of Millennials identified retirement funds as an essential component. Comparatively, 64% of Boomer, X, and Y workers overwhelmingly insisted that paid time off (PTO) was the benefit they care about the most.

what job perks do different generations of IT workers care about the most?We did ask about other startup-style benefits and perks, like beer in the fridge, snacks available, and gym memberships. They were hardly a deciding factor for either cohort, surprisingly.

Project Time Off's 2016 report shows that Millennials leave an increasing number of vacation days unused, for a variety of reasons that include being afraid that taking time off will take them out of the running for a promotion and being afraid of what their boss may think. Older workers both demand more vacation time than Millennials and they go on to use it more regularly.

Managers should keep this in mind when managing Millennials. Encourage them to take mental health days. Make it clear that using their PTO will not negatively affect their compensation or chances at promotion, assuming their performance remains strong.

And remember that your Millennial workers may work in a different manner than you are used to. In the words of one survey respondent:

“If I have cell coverage, I am working. If I'm on top of a mountain or on a chairlift, I'm still working. My boss ‘clocks in’ at 7AM and out at 4:30PM. He [wants me] in the office between 8AM-5PM, ignoring the fact I was working Saturday/Sunday and until 10PM most weekdays. He never writes or reads an e-mail outside his normal business hours. He doesn't understand our cultural differences.”


Managing Millennials

When we asked which kind of manager they preferred, Millennials were much more likely to choose attributes like self-direction, leading by example, long-term vision, and clear persuasion and feedback relating to tasks. Older generations, on the other hand, preferred team effort, professional development, and harmony.

Millennials are looking for a manager who is a pacesetter, leading by example with self-driven work and motivation. That doesn’t mean that you can leave them completely to their own devices, but rather that once they understand how their work supports the long-term direction, they are better able to work towards those goals. Specific task feedback is still highly valued.

Older generations tended to prefer a coach type of manager, someone who gives them what they need to succeed. They were more likely to choose a leader who rewarded team efforts rather than individual initiative.

Here are the leadership styles we used, as defined by Daniel Coleman in Leadership That Gets Results:

Affiliative: Looks for harmony first and foremost. “People first, task second.” Motivates by keeping employees happy.

Authoritative: Long-term direction and vision. “Firm but fair.” Motivates via pursuasion and feedback based on tasks.

Coaching: Long-term development of employees. “What do you need to succeed?” Motivates through opportunities for professional development.

Directive: Seeks compliance. “Do it the way I tell you.” Motivates via discipline/threat. Rewards successfly completing tasks as requested.

Pacesetting: Focus on accomplishing the task. “Do it myself, follow my lead.” Motivates by setting high standards and rewarding self-direction.

Participative: Builds commitment and consensus. “Everyone has input.” Motivates by rewarding team effort.

what kind of leadership do different generations prefer?In Millennials’ own words, here’s why they’re always asking “Why?” and looking for that long-term vision.


Entitlement, Optimism, and Our Conclusions

In the course of compiling this data, we had to go back through it all and ask about entitlement, since that is the “Millennial pink” elephant in the room.

While we certainly see that Millennials are more willing to leave jobs, the reasons that they do this are not as tied to “entitled” seeming reasons, like flex work or vacation. If anything, it's Boomers, X, and Y who demand these types of perks.

And it's true that Millennials do need reinforcement that their contributions are valued, and they do need to be shown the big picture, ultimately the generation that was told they can do anything and be anything truly believes this, though they still have to figure out a way to pay their rent. Even though the oldest Millennials are by now in their mid-30s, it's still an optimistic group.

With a better handle on technology than any other generation and extremely comfortable with rapid technology change, our data show that much like entrepreneurs, Millennials don't eschew hard work, but they absolutely do reject gatekeepers.

It was the trailblazing computer scientist Grace Hopper who said “It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission,” and we hear this in tech circles all the time. Millennials, for their part, seem to embody this spirit more fully than any other generation. If that's what entitlement looks like, I'm all for it.