What millennials actually want from work

Compared to other generations, people born between 1980 and 2000 are more preoccupied with achieving fame and like to work independently.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 29 Apr 2016

At least 90% of the opinions you read about millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) are either made up, or based on irrelevant data (cross-sectional data, which simply compares people of different ages, as opposed to different generations). However, scientific research has compared millennials with other generations using the right methodology: putting people from the same ages through the same validated assessments, at different points in time. Examining how 20-year-olds today differ from 20-year-olds in the 1990s, 1960s, and so on. This data is hard to get, but that doesn't mean we should make stuff up or look at the wrong data.

So, what do millennials actually want, particularly in contrast to other generations? 

First, their higher levels of narcissism suggest that they are more preoccupied with being noticed, achieving fame, and occupying leadership. Unfortunately, higher narcissism is also a problem for effective leadership: it makes it harder for you to focus on other people, which is exactly what leaders should do.

Second, their higher levels of individualism suggest that they are more interested in working independently than being part of a team. This explains why entrepreneurship, which promotes an independent spirit and non-conformity, is an attractive career path for them. The danger is that these career choices are generally less successful than traditional employment, at least in industrialised nations.

Third, compared to other generations, millennials have higher materialistic needs, but a poorer work ethic. That is, they aspire to have more but are generally less willing to work hard to achieve it, no doubt due to their higher levels of entitlement. Ambitious aspirations coupled with poor perspiration is a problematic combination.

Now the good news: there is not much we can do about it, so stop worrying. Until recently, it made sense to ask how we should manage millennials, because they were still not the dominant generation at work. Now that they are effectively in charge - most organisations are made up of at least 50% of millennials, and most of them are starting to occupy management positions - the pertinent question is what they do with us. But the reality is they are not that interested in us anyway, and it is way too late to have any significant effects on them. Perhaps we can start to write about the next generation now.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, people analytics, and talent management. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessments and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University. Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter: @drtcp

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Could coronavirus lead to gender equality?

Opinion: Enforced home-working and home-schooling could change the lives of working women, and the business...

Mike Ashley: Does it matter if the public hates you right now?

The Sports Direct founder’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn criticism, but in the...

4 films to keep you sane during the coronavirus lockdown

Cirrus CEO Simon Hayward shares some choices to put things in perspective.

Pandemic ends public love affair with Richard Branson et al

Opinion: The larger-than-life corporate mavericks who rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s suddenly...

The Squiggly Career: How to be a chief strengths spotter

When leading remotely, it's more important than ever to make sure your people spend their...

"Blind CVs don't improve your access to talent"

Opinion: If you want to hire socially mobile go-getters, you need to know the context...