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Millennials would give up a good paycheck to work for a cause or company whose mission they believe in. Millennials care more about work-life balance than their parents do. Millennials are job-hoppers, always on the lookout for their next opportunity.


These are a few of the stereotypes managers have come to associate with the latest generation of adults to enter the working world. These young workers, generally defined as those who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, are expected to comprise nearly half of the U.S. labor force by 2020. They’ve been the subject of intense speculation and research by workplace experts hoping to understand how their expectations will change the shape of work in years to come.

But it’s not clear yet whether Millennials are a whole new species of worker at all. Maybe they’re just young, idealistic, and not yet initiated into the realities of adulthood.

A new survey plants itself in the second camp, with some caveats. According to SAP, the German software giant that has bought up a number of human resources-related companies over the last few years, Millennials are no more likely to prioritize meaning, mission and personal life than workers of other generations. In particular, they are just as concerned about compensation as their older counterparts, SAP found in a survey to be released Wednesday.

Millennials, who came of age in the boom-and-bust years of the early 21st century, “have been in the workforce longer now,” said Mike Ettling, head of SAP’s HR business. Now that many of them have mortgages, credit cards, and other financial responsibilities, “they have different perspectives.”

The “2020 Workforce” survey polled 2,700 employees of all ages, as well as 2,700 executives, across 27 countries. It was conducted by Oxford Economics on behalf of SAP.

Competitive pay is the single biggest contributor to job satisfaction for Millennials and non-Millennials alike, with 68% and 64% citing it as important or very important, respectively. The second largest factor for both was bonuses and merit-based rewards, at 55% and 56%, respectively.

(However, employers may not be getting this message; just 39% of executives say their company widely offers competitive pay.)

Only one-fifth of each generational group felt that “making a positive difference in the world” had an impact on their satisfaction. And slightly fewer Millennials – 29% versus 31% of other workers – said that achieving work/life balance was a key contributor to their professional happiness. Same thing with “finding personal meaning in work,” where the numbers came out 14% to 17%, in favor of non-Millennials.

As for retention and turnover, SAP asked respondents whether they expect to leave their jobs in the next six months. An approximately equal proportion of Millennials and non-Millennials said they did: 21% and 23%.

On the other hand, SAP’s research found that some truisms about this generation may hold water. For example, Millennials expect about 50% more feedback than older workers, hewing to stereotypes that young adults were raised in the mirror-like loop of social networking and also with a steady drip of positive reinforcement from parents and teachers.

Is this the last word on Millennials? Probably not. As they age and approach new life stages—and the economy shifts toward greater or scarcer opportunities—Millennials, like every generation before them, will be shaped by events as much as they shape them.


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