For all the self-entitlement stereotypes and job-hopping reputations, it turns out millennials are pretty commonsense — you might even say needy — when it comes to what they want the first few weeks in a new job. And what will lead employers to quickly lose them as motivated employees.
Being sufficiently trained rather than being given autonomy is the primary way millennials workers evaluate whether they made the right choice to join a company. Knowing exactly what is expected from them also ranks highly in new job expectations, according to a survey conducted by Qualtrics, a Provo, Utah-based survey software firm; and venture capital firm Accel Partners (a Qualtrics investor). The results of the survey were provided exclusively to CNBC.
Experts say Gen Y may be the most complex generation in the country's labor force, but the Qualtrics-Accel survey of almost 1,500 millennials showed several prominent workplace factors to be less make-or-break for millennials than might be expected, including a company's financial stability, culture, the opportunity to make friends on the job and seeing other employees happy.
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"When you're new, you have a lot of questions, and it's important to be encouraged to ask them as much as possible. This is very tough to do when your boss isn't there or isn't an approachable person," said Heather Taylor, 29, a social media associate at MyCorporation.com, a firm based in Calabasas, California, that helps businesses file legal documents for incorporating. "When it's the latter quality, you often feel as though you are bothering them, especially if the questions persist after a few weeks or so."
She would wind up asking co-workers or Googling to find answers instead of talking to her manager. "When there's no access to constant communication, you go into each day with no idea what might come next, and your behavior changes accordingly," Taylor said. "You act by the seat of your pants instead of fully knowing what you're doing and how you will do it."
That millennials want frequent communication from their bosses coincides with other recent workplace research, which shows that 20-somethings and early 30-somethings want feedback from supervisors more frequently than any other generation in the workforce.
But companies that want to get the relationship right — right off the bat — need to strike the right balance.
"The more you set specific goals and outcomes and let them figure out the way to reach it — not force the way of the company or manager on them — it gives them a stronger sense of accomplishment if they're not told how to do it," said David Glickman, founder and CEO of Ultra Mobile, where millennials make up more than 75 percent of his 360-employee and full-time contractor workforce.
In fact, even as millennial workers highlighted the need for guidance and information — and 23 percent said it is important that "leaders seem invested in my success" — only 15 percent chose "my boss spends time to help me" as a key to the first three months of employment.
The need for autonomy grows beyond the first 90 days on the job.
"It has a lot to do with hubris," Glickman said. "When you get qualified millennials, they feel that they can do anything. Feedback is much more important in the first 90 days. … Once they get it, they want to be left alone a bit more."
Because workplace autonomy is a big job requirement for millennial workers, their relationship to their supervisors — what they want from their boss and how often — can be a little complex.
"In the past, people were willing to work for a boss; today they want to work for a mentor," said Mike Maughan, head of brand growth at global insights at Qualtrics. "It goes back to the idea that they're looking for career trajectory."
According to the Qualtrics survey, 67 percent of the workers surveyed said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work at a company that offers good mentorship opportunities. Roughly 80 percent said that emphasis on personal growth is the most important quality of a company's culture.
"That means that a mentor is someone who will invest in them personally, help them grow and develop and have a vested interest in their career," said Maughan, a millennial himself. "A boss just often wants a job to be done, not a person to mold."
But the need for mentorship should not be overstated. At the top of the millennial wish list when it comes to what they value most in their manager is a boss who is "trustworthy."
"When they first start a new job ... they want someone to help clearly define the goal they are aiming toward and help them make sure they are running in the right direction," Maughan said. "Once that's established and they have gotten their feet wet, millennials want to be off to the races. That's where our data shows that managers should give them a playing field and get out of their way to let them play. It's about empowerment. They want enough runway to properly launch, but not so much ambiguity that they don't know in which direction to take off."
Even though millennials ranked "provides autonomy" and "mentorship" among the "least important qualities" in a manager, Maughan cautioned that this is not the same as saying they are unimportant — it just means that other things are higher on the priority list. "The best managers find the delicate balance between offering autonomy, being available for questions and mentoring along the way."
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Taylor came back to MyCorporation.com after two years and four jobs elsewhere, partly because of the firm's collaborative culture, which is led by the CEO. "The first thing I quickly learned after leaving MyCorporation is that not all bosses and workplaces are created equal," said Taylor, whose career began there in 2011. "We have an open floor plan at our office, and our CEO is a one-minute walk away from my desk.
"The value of having a CEO nearby is that I am never left in the dark whenever I need help with something — even something as small as a brainstorming session," she said. "Every morning, [the CEO] visits our desks and greets the team, asking how they're doing. If your boss is out on the floor with you but doesn't say hello or, worse, circles the room to micromanage the team constantly, then I don't feel they're trusting the team to be productive at all."
This underscores another important point: While the ideal boss-millennial relationship needs clear lines drawn between personal and work life, many workers want to feel like their boss is on their side in more ways than one.
Alex Hanse has experience as both a millennial business owner — he is founder of T-shirt brand Foolies — and as a millennial employee. In the past eight years, he has worked in a variety of full-time jobs: in an AT&T store, at a call center, as a freelance audio engineer and currently as an outreach employee at Full Sail University near Orlando.
"If we're spending 9 to 12 hours of our day together and we're walking around like, 'I'm just fine, I'm OK, I'm good,' what does that actually stress? What if you just lost a family member or went through a divorce?" said Hanse, 29.
Hanse said past relationships with bosses has helped shape the way he leads his own firm and helps him know what's ideal in a potential workplace. "If we could be there for each other in a way that's more than just corporate employees, that would make me stay at this company for another 10 years. That would make me work harder for you."
— By Maggie Overfelt, special to CNBC.com