Debunking the Millennial myths

31 October 2017

Executive MBA Council Global Conference, October 23-25 2017
Executive MBA Council Global Conference in Seattle, October 23-25 2017

This year’s Executive MBA Council Global Conference took place during four days last week in Seattle. The presence of 436 participants from 160 schools in 28 countries is ample testimony to the value our global executive education business attributes to this possibility of meeting to share best Executive MBA programme practices, take part of the latest market research conducted by the Council and to be enlightened by keynote speakers.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Exploiting New Frontiers”, covered through keynotes on seven dominant technology trends to watch, on what can be expected from leaders today and tomorrow and on true values of the Millennial generation, some making their debut in working life, some already moving upwards in the corporate hierarchies.

Jennifer Deal, PhD, of the Center for Creative Leadership ( delivered her thoroughly researched keynote on “What Millennials want from work”. Jennifer presented the findings from a comprehensive study across 22 countries, interviewing 22 000 Millennials (defined as all people born 1980-2000) and 29 000 older respondents from professional, managerial and executive staff. The book with the same name, presenting all findings of the study, can be found here.

Jennifer Deal, PhD, Center for Creative Leadership
Jennifer Deal, PhD, Center for Creative Leadership

Why is this topic so interesting, when trying to forecast the future of corporate leadership needs and its implications on our Executive MBA programmes? Because there a number of myths around about how Millennials are believed to differ from earlier generations in their values and behaviour at work. The purpose of Jennifer Deal’s study was to “paint a comprehensive, scientifically accurate picture of what really motivates Millennials around the world”.

In starting out with the many prevalent myths, Jennifer shared with all of us in the audience a word cloud, comprised of values commonly associated with Millennials:













Figure 1: Values assumed to be held by Millennials

The most senior sections of the Millennial generation are now reaching career levels, where we are pleased to see them show up in increasing numbers as Executive MBA participants at our business schools. Junior sections of the Millennial generation are entering their young adult work life as employees. Hence, managers at all levels are already tasked with managing Millennials.

So, what are Millennials really like at work? That’s the very question which Jennifer Deal’s study set out to answer. In summary, the study unequivocally shows that Millennials, by and large, are no different from other generations.

Altruism vs. Compensation

Let me share with you just a few findings from the study, starting with the Millennials’ alleged altruism: yes, when asked, Millennials do value involvement in community, charity or even world-improving efforts highly. But they value decent compensation packages even higher.

Narrow down the answer options from “at least somewhat important” to “extremely important”, the picture that emerges is one of clear priorities. Millennials are not prepared to trade compensation for their efforts at work for the sense of doing good at work:














Figure 2: The importance of Altruism vs. Compensation


Working hours

The notion of Millennials working long hours is indeed true, according to the study findings. Count on Millennials to do their fair share and more, a respectful 89% of Millennials work 9 hour days or more:












Figure 3: Working hours of Millennials


Preferred means of communication

So what about the technology-savvy Millennials, so often credited with preferring virtual interaction over physical? Millennials do favour using the latest technology (i.e. IT tools and functions) simply to work more effectively – who doesn’t? In cases where their superiors are not willing or able to meet them in using such tools, mutual frustration can sometimes arise.

That said, in researching for Millennials’ preferred means of communication, face-to-face dialogue is by far the preferred method. Why is that? Jennifer Deal explained, that as Millennials work long hours, it’s at the workplace where the lion’s share of their person-to-person interaction takes place. The study found 98% of Millennials saying that having friends at the workplace is important:













Figure 4: Millennials’ First choice of communication


Job jumping

Are Millennials job jumping? Not really.

69% say they are satisfied with their job, 76% say they like working for their current organization and a stunning 49% (of people aged 17-37 years) say they would be happy to spend the rest of their career with their current organization!

To the extent that they do change jobs, the study identifies main reasons such as overload, organizational politics, bad manager or bad compensation (only 30% are satisfied with compensation).


In conclusion, what do Millennials then want from work? The study lists a number of motivational factors which companies, its leaders and all of us business schools, who develop those leaders, need to factor in:

  1. Having a life
  2. Development opportunities
  3. Promotions
  4. Community sense
  5. Good boss
  6. Good compensation

The study also shows that Generation is not a good explanatory variable for differences in preferences, but that Life stage and Level in the organization are. Jennifer Deal ended by sharing a quote by management consultant Roger E. Allen, author of “Winnie-the-Pooh on Management”:

“In case you’re worried about what’s going to become of the younger generation, it’s going to grow up and start worrying about the younger generation.”