New Data Tells Some Surprising Truths about Millennials

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Most employers say that competing for talent is one of their greatest challenges.

Employers that want to remain competitive will need to meet the requirements of rapidly shifting demographics in the workforce.

Cangrade, a company specializing in data science and predictive analytics to help firms hire, engage, and retain employees, crunched the numbers from their recent large-scale study.

The data was obtained as part of an online survey conducted using Cangrade’s state-of-the-art data collection platform. Cangrade surveyed more than 800 working-age adults in the U.S.. Unlike most other research, they surveyed a diverse age range, allowing for new insights about the similarities and differences between generations.

What job characteristics do Millennials find most desirable?

First thing’s first: What are Millennials looking for in a job? Here are their most desired characteristics, in order of preference.

  1. Work-life balance (having time for activities outside of work);
  2. Security (job security, safety, benefits);
  3. Stimulation (challenging work, task variety, learning opportunities);
  4. Achievement (opportunities for recognition, prestige, and growth);
  5. Pay (high salary/income);
  6. Affiliation (opportunities for friendship and interpersonal connection); and,
  7. Power/influence.

These are the job characteristics to have (and to advertise!) if firms want to attract and engage top talent.

How do Millennials differ from previous generations?

Now that we know more about the job characteristics that Millennials find desirable, let’s looks at how these preferences may have changed over time. Here is a comparison with previous generations (left):Millennials 1

Millennials and Baby Boomers show similar preferences for most job characteristics (security, achievement, affiliation, power/influence). These characteristics were rated quite differently by members of Gen X (who only comprise about 15 percent of working adults).

Only two work characteristics show steady increases in desirability over time: work-life balance and pay.

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The desirability of stimulation at work, while quite high overall, nevertheless appears to be declining.

Are Millennials’ preferences more diverse than other generations?

The basic argument goes something like this: a generation growing up with certain technologies (e.g., the Internet, cell phones, video games, on-demand entertainment) is likely to have been influenced by a wider variety of opinions and viewpoints, and to have had greater control over what they are exposed to and when.

The data confirms that the overall variability in job characteristics that people find desirable is, in fact, increasing.Millennials 2

Takeaways for managers

There are several big conclusions that we can take from all of this.

  • Millennials most strongly value work-life balance, job security, and intellectual stimulation. This seems to indicate a strong desire to find fulfillment, both in and outside of work. While Millennials do value achievement, pay, affiliation, and power as much or more than previous generations, they do not appear to be top priorities.
  • Millennials and Boomers show similar preferences for most job characteristics. However, these characteristics were rated quite differently by members of Gen X. Most differences between generations are not as large as we might have expected. There are many more similarities between Millennials and Baby Boomers than previously assumed.
  • The job characteristics people find desirable have more variation than ever. What this means is that we can no longer use one-size-fits-all solutions to attract employees, or to keep them happy, satisfied, and productive.

Younger generations have diversified as they adapted to modern advances, and businesses will need to do the same to stay competitive.


Greg Willard, PhD, is Senior Vice President of Scientific Research at Cangrade, a company that helps businesses hire the best people by uniquely combining predictive analytics with an easy to use candidate management system. He has over a decade of experience conducting psychological research, and currently teaches and conducts research at Harvard University. Dr. Willard's research on goal pursuit and intellectual performance has been published in top academic journals, and featured by numerous media outlets including, The New York Times, and National Public Radio (NPR).


7 Comments on “New Data Tells Some Surprising Truths about Millennials

  1. Regarding the comparison looking “at how these preferences may have changed over time”. Does this mean you are comparing data that was collected from Baby Boomers in the 1970s when they were the same general age as the Millenials that were included in this recent survey? If so, then I’m quite impressed to see such a long-term research project.

    If all this data was collected recently, then I suspect the results are more about differences associated with career stages, not differences in generational attitudes. Here’s something I wrote on this topic:

    1. Steven, great points all around! Let me just clarify a few things.

      -While the broader longitudinal studies out there are impressive, their main benefit is theoretical utility. Here, we were more interested in practical utility–info about what people from different generations want right now.

      -Yes, we collected data on career progression, job status, educational attainment, etc. And yes, these things do matter when it comes to desired job characteristics. However, the generation cohort effects we report are largely independent from this. Both effects are there, but it is not the case that one explains the other.

      -I absolutely agree with the main point you made in the post you linked: engage employees by focusing on people rather than generations, per se. Perhaps the major contribution of the new data (see the 2nd graph) is showing that this point is even more true than ever before when it comes to Millennials!

  2. stupidest article i have ever read. stop generalizing. you’re using the term millenials to group everyone in that generation together. we aren’t all the same. i bust my @$$ for my pay and you best believe the number one job characteristic is (and forever always will be, after having grown up in the modern equivalent of the Great Depression) money. you can’t have a work-life balance without a living wage.

    1. Thanks for trolling! If you actually read and understood the article, you probably would have noticed that the data show younger generations are much more diverse in their preferences…meaning precisely what you ask is a good thing. Generalizing is NOT a good idea. Even less so now. Since we agree, I choose to take your comment as a compliment.

      1. it was really poorly written, buddy. no need to troll. everything i stated was factual- you state “Millennials most strongly value work-life balance, job security, and intellectual stimulation.”

        i am calling your bluff. the generation to which you give that term doesn’t “most strongly value work-life balance”.

        your vague terminology and generalizations don’t really make for an interesting read, and are in no way representative of people aged 19-35.

        1. Sorry that you don’t understand what a survey is, or how statistics work…and that the writing style apparently wasn’t interesting enough for you. Would you have paid better attention if there was more nudity or explosions?

          1. *yawn* you never utilize anything of real statistical value. no one cares about your contrived opinions- especially when devoid of sound reasoning

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