Busting the myth that Millennials are work-shy

All four generations have been subjected to some pretty negative stereotyping over the years with Millennials – the generation born between 1982 and 1994 – coming in for some particularly harsh criticism it’s fair to say (and no I’m not a Millennial!). Millennials, also known as Generation Y, have often been dismissed as workshy, irresponsible and unable to stand on their own two feet with an over inflated sense of entitlement. But more and more evidence is coming to light which disproves this idea that millennials are workshy and in fact have a work ethic at least as strong as their older counterparts.

Echoing Talent Works’ own Gen Up research, a new report shows that across the globe seventy-three percent of young adults aged between 18 and 34 work more than 40 hours a week, and nearly a quarter work over 50 hours a week. Twenty-six percent globally are working two or more paid jobs.

A young adult in India works an average of 52 hours every week, making them the hardest working millennials.  Millennials in China, Mexico and Singapore are not far behind, working an average shift of 48 hours. Next are millennials in Japan and the United States, they notch up an average of 45 hours per week. Australia and the United Kingdom are closer to a standard working week with their shifts coming to 41 hours on average.

In short, and as the chart below shows, millennials across no less than fifteen countries work over and above normal business hours 40-hour week.

But they want to be rewarded for their effort. Millennials prioritize three things when choosing where and how they work: money, security and time off.

Conor Cawley of Tech.Co comments “… one fourth of millennials around the world are working more than 50 hours per week…I’m sure you are more than capable when it comes to mathematics, but that’s 10 extra hours per week! In what world could these industry workhorses be considered lazy?”

“Apparently, three fourths of all millennials are already working more than 40 hours per week, a standard set by the ‘hard-working’ generations of the past,” adds Cawley.

All of this of course reflects Talent Work’s own Gen Up research. If you’ve read any of our earlier blogs or heard us speak at The Firm conference last month in Manchester, you’ll know that Gen Up has found that of all the generations it’s the younger generations that are the most relaxed about working outside normal hours. Only 14 per cent of Gen Z (born 1995 to 2009) and 35 per cent of Gen Y strongly disagree that they should be on call evenings and weekends compared to 39 per cent of Generation X and 37 per cent of Baby Boomers. Looked at another way, Gen Z is at least twice as likely as the older generations (Gen X and Baby Boomers) to strongly agree that employees should be contactable evenings and weekends. Gen Y is as likely to strongly agree as Baby Boomers. When we asked the different generations to describe their ideal culture and atmosphere at work, hardworking featured in the top three attributes for all generations, including the younger ones.

But the younger generations demand frequent reward and recognition (not necessarily monetary rewards) in return for their hard work. We found that members of Gen Z are five times as likely as Baby Boomers to think rewards should be given out weekly, while more than half of Gen Z and Gen Y think rewards should be given out monthly, compared to less than half of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Graduates who work in banking and investment give new meaning to the hard-working but reward-hungry Millennial. Hazel Shearing of The Sunday Times wrote recently about how many of her friends who graduated from Cambridge in 2015 work in banking and work extremely long hours. One such friend who graduated in June has just joined a team where the average working day is 8.30am to midnight! He rarely gets away before 10pm on a weekday.

“I just use my house for sleeping. I get back at 1am … I just go to sleep for six hours then I’m up again. I shower and head out the door at 7.30am”

Several of her friends have joked about “the magic roundabout” – corporate slang for the routine when a taxi takes you from work to home in the early hours of the morning, waits for you to shower, then takes you back to the office for another shift.

Interestingly, some of her friends see long hours as a natural extension of university life. “At Cambridge you’re never off the clock, you’re constantly working. Now I may stay late but when I leave the office I can turn my phone off and not think about it”, said Lauren who works in an investment bank.

They are on huge salaries though – many are on starting salaries of at least £40k (versus a median average full time UK salary of £27,600). For someone not five minutes out of university that is pretty amazing. Whether the high pay is worth the long days is another question though. But there’s enough young graduates out there who clearly think it is. According to The Cambridge Careers Service almost one in ten students work in banking and investment, the third most popular choice for alumni after health services (13.6%) and IT (10.2%).

By 2020 Millennials will make up over a third of the global workforce. Thanks to Gen Up and other research, we now understand that contrary to the lazy label, this increasingly significant section of the talent market is as hard working as their older counterparts but more demanding of frequent recognition. Given this, there are a number of things employers can do to successfully attract younger candidates:

  • Incorporate in their employee proposition how they define “going the extra mile”. Everyone has their own definition but how does their company define it
  • Provide evidence on their careers website and social media of when employees have been rewarded for going above and beyond
  • Emphasise the frequent recognition, not just monetary recognition

It will be interesting to see how employers respond.

Information Sources

“Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision”. Facts, Figures and practical advice from workforce experts. ManpowerGroup

“Got the graduate dream job …in the office till 3am”, Hazel Shearing, The Sunday Times, 30th October 2016