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Center Study Sheds Light on Millennials

Brad Harrington
BC Center for Work & Family Executive Director Brad Harrington discusses the center’s study on Millennials at the recent BCCWF 25th anniversary celebration. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Hennessey | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 17, 2011

When it comes to career aspirations, Boston College researchers say, Millennials place a high value on jobs that provide potential for growth and flexibility, and allow for a greater work-life balance.

And contrary to a widespread perception of them as serial job-hoppers, Millennials prefer to stay with one organization – as long as their advancement doesn’t come at the expense of family and personal commitments.

These were among the findings of the BC Center for Work & Family (BCCWF) study, “How Millennials Navigate Their Careers: Young Adult Views on Work, Life and Success,” based on a survey of 1,100 young adults aged 22-35 years old.

The report is one of more than 30 that have been produced by the BCCWF, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last month with a three-day conference at which the Millennials study was previewed. Since its establishment at Boston University with 10 founding companies, the BCCWF – which moved to BC in 1997 and now counts some 70 member organizations – has provided leadership and guidance on work-life issues and the needs of a changing workforce through research and peer-to-peer learning.

One major facet of the Millennials study was the importance of career navigation skills and their link to job satisfaction, effort at work, and career happiness, according to the researchers.

“We found a very strong connection between career navigation skills and job satisfaction – the better people were at understanding their skills, utilizing their networks, and exploring their possibilities on the labor market, the happier they were in their jobs,” says BCCWF Senior Research Associate Fred Van Deusen. “The places where they chose to work were more likely to have supportive managers and more likely to have a supportive culture.”

Researching employee retention among Millennials, the center found that managers have considerable impact on the job satisfaction of this age group. Workers who felt their manager was concerned about their wellbeing were significantly more satisfied with their job than those who felt their managers didn’t care about them. This on-the-job happiness is linked with another finding in the study that shows job loyalty still exists among Millennials, debunking the myth that employee loyalty is a “thing of the past.”

“We’ve heard in the media that Millennials move quickly from one job to another, but that’s not what we found in our study” says Van Deusen.  “We found that they preferred to stick with one company, as long as they felt they were learning and advancing.”

Adds BCCWF Executive Director Brad Harrington, “When we said, ‘How would you define yourself and what’s most important to you in terms of measuring career success?’ the answer with the highest percentage score was work-life balance.” 

While Millennials take their careers seriously and are interested in new advancement opportunities, the study found, only one in five were willing to pursue career goals if it meant less time for their families and personal lives – a rebuke to previous models of success.

“Millennials hear stories of people who have given up everything to climb the corporate ladder: those who are 100 percent committed to the job, willing to pick up and go at the drop of a hat, hire au pairs for their kids,” says Harrington. “They say,

‘Yes, I’m ambitious and I’m willing to work hard, to do the things it takes to get ahead. But if that’s the cost, I’m not sure I define that as a success.’ I do think Millennials are taking a somewhat more holistic view of success and seeing life and work being more connected to one another.”

The model of traditional gender roles also seems to be shifting in this age group, according to the study: More men (51 percent) than women (44 percent) would consider staying home as a caregiver if their spouse was making enough money.

“Saying they would consider it and doing it are two different things,” Harrington says, “but the fact that they say ‘I’m open to that kind of intention’ speaks volumes about how much people’s perceptions of what it means to be good dad or good mom have really changed.”

Change has been at the core of the center’s work: At the time of its creation, Harrington recalls, solutions to big corporate challenges were “add-on policies,” such as building a child-care center or adding a human resources policy that would help with work-life balance. Now the center helps organizations look at themselves holistically.

“We’re playing a role in helping companies benchmark with one another and learn best practices from one another, and we’re also trying to advance the agenda by providing research-based information,” says Harrington, who joined the center in 2001 after a lengthy and successful career in the corporate world. “When you launch a program, implement a strategy, or think about what kind of new initiatives you need in the workplace, you need to do that based on evidence that suggests it will have a desirable impact on the workplace and the work force.”

One of the center’s most important initiatives has been the “New Dad” series, which began six years ago when the BCCWF sought to better understand the changing roles of fathers at home. The center recognized that investing in women’s advancement initiatives would only work if men were supported in their roles as parents and caregivers. Today, paternity leave, shared parenting and stay-at-home dads are a regular part of workplace conversations.

“I think the work we’ve done on fathers really has influenced a growing movement,” says BCCWF Associate Director Jennifer Sabatini Fraone. “We’ve seen so many companies over the last year increase their benefits or implement a new paternity leave policy. These companies believe this is a really progressive way of addressing the needs of working families while retaining the best employees. We’re proud to have been a part of this important movement.”

See more at the BC Center for Work & Family website.