Millennials: Willing to Work and Wait for Better Lives

The youngest entrants to the workforce are sacrificing stability now to build a life of impact

We Millennials are growing up in a fundamentally different world than our parents. Through technology, we live in a very interconnected society with constant access to information. We want agency over our careers and the ability to change industries, companies or job functions in order to pursue career satisfaction, community impact, and professional growth.

In the Boston College Center for Work & Family’s 2015 report How Millennials Navigate Their Careers: Young Adult Views on Work, Life, and Success, 94% of the 1,100 surveyed Millennials rated work/life balance as “important” or “extremely important.” However, from my experience going through business school recruitment and working at a startup incubator, I see that Millennials are not wanting to work less — they are just wanting to work differently.

Here are a few of the generational differences relating to this attitudinal change:

1. Young employees are willing to delay gratification to progress professionally

In surveying Wharton MBA students on their considerations when choosing an offer of employment, work/life balance ranked lowest among their concerns, with the highest being firm culture, mentoring, leadership and career development opportunities, and type of project work. Students interviewed were mostly in their mid- to late twenties and said that although work/life integration is a long-term consideration, they still want to prioritize their careers. Women demonstrated more concern with family, while men noted a trend of their male peers wanting to save more money now and work fewer hours later.

Although Millennials may appreciate more career flexibility, in terms of flexible work hours and work locations, they are largely still at the mercy of the policies enacted by top firms. Many are willing to pay their dues in a demanding two-year post-college job at a prestigious consulting or finance firm that they feel will open up more doors for advancement in the future and allow them to pay off student debt. Although Millennials may not be as incentivized by pay, few would turn down a dream job in their field for the opportunity to work fewer hours.

We are, however, seeing shifts in the types of careers pursued by business school grads. More top MBA students are choosing tech firms over traditional investment banks and choosing to work for startups or start their own companies. Although entrepreneurial career paths may not guarantee better hours, they offer the lure of more engaging work with more ownership and values alignment.

2. Young employees are more geographically mobile

When I moved to Washington DC, I was frequently told that it is a very transient city. Friends would tell me, “It is hard to make connections here because people don’t stay around for long.” Your twenties are often depicted as a great opportunity for experimentation — to attend graduate school, take a work rotation abroad or pursue a short-term service fellowship. This mobility has many advantages — it is providing people with the ability to see the world sooner and develop a more international network and mindset — but it is also difficult to form roots amid the constant changes and think about settling down. Although some people appreciate increased freedom, others suffer the consequences of straining long distance relationships or anxiety around constantly shifting friend circles.

3. Young employees are more likely to postpone or opt out of family rearing

Millennials are waiting to get married and have children, often wanting to get their careers, finances, and living situations figured out before embarking on the journey of parenthood.

In Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, Stew Friedman, founding director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, found that the number of “college graduates who plan to have children has dropped by about half over the past 20 years. In 1992, 78 percent said that they planned to have children. In 2012, 42 percent did. And these percentages were nearly the same for men and women.” Friedman found that women today are more likely to fulfill their desire to help others through social impact in their careers and connectedness with friends than through motherhood. Men today anticipate more conflict between work and family. With changing gender norms, men are less likely to be the only breadwinner in the family, and are less confident in their ability to succeed in business and as fathers.

For many of my Millennial peers, there seems to be a tremendous desire for impact in one’s career — in a way that merges social networks, geographic mobility, personal passions, career strengths, and new, emerging industries. There is an increasingly prevalent view that young men and women can have it all — friends, career, family, and societal impact — although they might need to rethink the chronological order of pursuing their goals or the intensity with which they can go after them. Although many students and recent grads are not consciously thinking about work/life integration, we need to start more open dialogue sooner with our peers and our employers about what our values, priorities, and passions are — and how we can merge those with our strengths and interests to lead a life of purpose.

Like what you read? Give Leah Davidson a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.