What matters to millennials at work

The Trophy Generation At Work
The Trophy Generation At Work   

Got millennials in your workplace? Then you'd better be serving a larger purpose, and keeping an eye on the young men vying for leadership spots.

A survey released today by Deloitte Global found those and other characteristics are distinguishing the millennial workforce from older generations. Six in 10 millennials said they chose to work for their current employer partly because it has a "sense of purpose," although 75 percent said they believe businesses are more focused on their own agenda than on improving society.

"We might think of millennials as being idealistic, but they're certainly not naïve," said Steve Almond, global chairman of Deloitte, in an interview with CNBC.com.

The survey found that millennials believe "business leaders are too focused on short-term financial targets and their own personal rewards." They would prefer leaders spend more time on the "larger purpose, making a positive impact on society and on the skills and development of their own staff."

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The survey also found a gender gap in terms of leadership ambitions. About 59 percent of millennial men said they were likely to seek the top spot at their organization, compared with 47 percent of the women, and men were also more likely to rank their leadership skills as strong. That ambition and self-assessment gap is not unique to millennials.

While they hold a little more than half of all professional-level jobs, women lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions. A report released last year by the Center for American Progress found women hold fewer than 17 percent of Fortune 500 board seats and fewer than 15 percent of executive-officer positions.

"Much has been said elsewhere about the need to improve gender diversity in the boardroom and in leadership more generally," said Deloitte's Almond. "This is another prompt to business that more attention needs to be paid to nurturing talented younger women–not just mentoring them, but overtly sponsoring them as potential future leaders."

Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com and himself a millennial, is optimistic, noting that the pay gap between men and women is already starting to narrow with the millennial generation. One study by the Pew Research Center found that in 2012 women between the ages of 25 and 34 made 93 percent as much as men in the same age group in terms of hourly earnings; among women of all ages, the gap widened to 84 percent of men's earnings. "Change is happening," said Schwabel. "It's just going to take more time."

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Ambition and confidence

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The Deloitte survey, which included millennials in 29 countries, is Deloitte's fourth annual global millennial survey, and once again this generation appears quite confident in what they have to offer. Just 28 percent said they believe their employer is making full use of their skills.

"There's an opportunity for business leaders to enhance their recruitment proposition and seek a competitive advantage in their own market," said Almond, by "nurturing and developing those skills that millennials themselves say they lack."

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Technology, media and telecommunications were viewed by the survey respondents as the most desirable sector to work in, though men were almost twice as likely as women to rank this sector No. 1. Just 8 percent of the survey respondents named banking and financial services as their No. 1 sector.

Are these results just reflecting the confidence and optimism of youth? Perhaps, but by 2025, millennials are expected to comprise 75 percent of the global workforce, according to the Business and Professional Women's Foundation. Memo to businesses: Ignore millennials' wants and needs at your own peril.

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