The expectations and attitudes of millennials, the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, towards working life arise for discussion more and more often. The book The good, the bad and the millennials – how we should be led figured highly on the news last week.
It was reported that the book is based on a survey according to which millennials had completely different expectations concerning work compared to the previous generations: above all fairness in the work community, experiences of success, pleasant work community, good supervisory work and meaningful, inspiring tasks and not so much titles or a supervisory position. The significance of money lowers: meaningful work is more important than good pay.
That sounds somewhat familiar – do not these values describe today’s Finnish employees in general as well?
Statistics Finland's Quality of Work Life Survey has charted employees’ experiences in Finland starting from 1977 and tells the story of “millennialisation” already since long ago.
First of all, the significance of the content of work has grown for employees as the level of education has risen for decades. According to the 2018 Quality of Work Life Survey, 61 per cent of employees aged 15 to 67 (69% of women, 53% of men) considered the content of work definitely or to some extent more important than pay, while this was the case for 48 per cent of employees in 1984.
It is true that millennials aged 25 to 34 prioritised the content of work more often than others (68%) in 2018. But in the 1984 Quality of Work Life Survey employees aged 25 to 34, that is, those born in the 1950s, also considered the content of work more important than pay more often (53%) than their older generations.
Throughout the Quality of Work Life Surveys, young people have led the way in appreciating the content of work – at the same time valuing the content of work more than pay has become more common for people of all ages from one survey to the next.
In contrast, the most important factors increasing general job satisfaction are exactly the same in different age groups: satisfaction with development opportunities, the content of tasks and appreciation of professional skills most commonly increased general job satisfaction in all age groups in 2018. For millennials, satisfaction with the management style of supervisors and social relationships at workplace were the key factors of general job satisfaction. However, they were not the only ones: in other age groups those factors were just as important.
Supervisory work has been emphasised in developing working life particularly in the 2000s, and the results also show. The share of those very satisfied with the management style of their supervisor has grown from 21 per cent in 1997 to the present 29 per cent. Those aged under 35 were slightly more satisfied with their supervisor's management style than their elders in 2018.
Nevertheless, there was not much difference between the age groups in which characteristics of supervisors most increase satisfaction with supervisory work: the fact that the supervisor is inspiring, gives enough feedback on successes at work and shares responsibility in a sensible manner. The employees who thought these statements were totally true were the most satisfied with their supervisor's management style regardless of age in 2018.
And when in the Quality of Work Life Survey 2008 – at the time when millennials were mainly at school or taking their first steps in working life – employees were asked about factors increasing job satisfaction, independence of work, relationships with co-workers, how interesting the job is, variability of work and workplace atmosphere were at the top of the list. Pay and advancement opportunities were the last ones of around 20 factors.
Nice titles and supervisory positions are thus not as essential incentives for millennials as the opportunity to develop and fulfil oneself at work. In this respect the new generation does not, however, appear to differ from its predecessors. In the 2018 Quality of Work Life Survey, just 14 per cent of employees aged 15 to 67 (women 12%, men 15%) considered advancing to a better position at the workplace very important. Instead, for more than every second (women 58%, men 46%) development at their present job was very important.
It should be noted that development at work appeared to be particularly important for millennials: thus felt as many as 71 per cent of women aged 25 to 34 and 58 per cent of men. On the other hand, advancing to a better position was more important for these young people aged 25 to 34 (women 21%, men 26%) than average for employees.
Emphasis on development and advancement opportunities is understandable at the early stage of the career: in the 2003 Quality of Work Life Survey, those aged 25 to 34 born in the 1970s also regarded their development and advancement opportunities very important clearly more often than older age groups.
Employers, supervisors and co-workers should understand that members of the work community of different age and in different life stages may have quite different expectations, needs and strengths. This is a richness and challenge for work communities, which should be understood to ensure high-quality age management.
Today's young people in their twenties and thirties have grown into a very different world than their parents and grandparents. Quickening communication, digitalisation and fast pace of the world, fragmented labour market, atmosphere of uncertainty, climate change – is it any surprise if millennials are more impatient and variety seeking than the previous generations, as it is claimed?
The results of the Quality of Work Life Survey indicate that millennials are not, however, the first generation to notice that rewards from work come from elsewhere than a good title and high position.
Today's Finnish employees – regardless of age – generally think that work should above all offer interesting tasks, fair management and nice work community to increase job satisfaction.
These expectations have gained strength over decades as the population’s educational level has risen. It might be even claimed that development at work and the opportunity to fulfil oneself at work are important values for Finnish employees – regardless of age.
The author is Senior Researcher at the Population and Social Statistics Department at Statistics Finland.
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