Beware of generation generalizations

With the millennial generation finally coming of age, the question of what they want will assume ever greater importance. Within a few years, as more and more millennials complete their formal education and take up jobs, they will come to make up over a third of the global workforce.

People wonder how the values, ideas and quirks of this generation will shape society, markets and companies. Also of interest are their attitudes to work and the implications these hold for firms, workplaces and economies.

The “gig economy,” where people work on short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs, is considered the preferred work environment of the millennial worker. The flexible hours, opportunity to gain wide experience and learn new skills is attracting troops of temp workers and consultants even in high skilled white-collar professions such as law, accounting and IT. Firms are encouraged to adapt to the desires of this new labor force.

Yet, when asked, a large majority of employed millennials show a longing for more traditional career paths. “It is a surprising result. Clearly millennials have different career aspirations than the way they are being portrayed,” says Dominik Hahn, Global Head of People Attraction at Allianz, about the results of the new Allianz survey ‘Millennials: Work, Life and Satisfaction’.

“Yes, millennials are ‘different.’ They do tend to have more tattoos than their parents, grab news more from Buzzfeed and Weibo rather than newspapers, and sleep with their cell phone next to their bed, but their wants and hopes aren’t really different from previous generations.”

The Allianz survey spanned China, Germany, India, the UK and the U.S. In each of these countries, 1000 employed people were interviewed.2 Based on questions concerning past employment and organizational preferences, as well as future expectations, six different career types can be identified amongst millennials.

Traditionalists follow the well-worn path of previous generations in that they have worked for the same employer since the start of their career or for at least the past five years. At the other extreme are Free Spirits who embrace the possibilities offered by “new” career paths. They have worked for multiple firms and value the flexibility and freedom this offers.

In-between there are four types distinguished by differences between their aspirations and actual career path. Attached and Seekers are Traditionalists at heart. They have changed employers regularly but desire a traditional career. However, Attached millennials believe this is now resolved with their current employment and expect to remain with that company. Seekers are yet to find a home so do not expect to stay with their current company.

Tied and Springers have built careers under opposite circumstances to Traditionalists. While they have worked for the same employer for many years, they aspire to change. Although Tied millennials feel bound to their current employer by necessity, Springers believe they will resolve the discrepancy between their aspirations and actual career in the future.

The survey finds that millennials prefer security and stability. Eighty percent of American millennials prefer work that provides this over change and flexibility. In India, it is 75 percent and in the UK, Germany and China, it is 70 percent.

And the Free Spirits – the personification of the millennial work ideal? Only one in six employed millennials have a clear preference for change and flexibility and can pursue such a career. When Tied and Springers are included, only one in three in Germany and one in five in the U.S. desire a new career path in preference to a traditional one.

Only a minority of millennials are job hoppers out of preferences. For the majority of millennials, changing jobs is simply a response to the changing nature of work, which is dramatically changing.

Gone are the days when a career was defined by employment with one or two firms. Frequently changing companies and professions is no longer considered unusual. But much of this behavior relates to the nature of employment, which is becoming less secure. The result is that careers are becoming increasingly fragmented and discontinuous.

“There are a lot of misconceptions concerning millennials,” says Dominik Hahn. “Often it is presumed that remuneration and climbing the career ladder are less important to millennials than inspiration, meaningfulness and creativity. You cannot make such generational generalizations – we also have young people who are interested in a suit-and-tie workplace and clear structures.”

What emerges from the survey is a better understanding that millennials have similar career aspirations to the generations that precede them. If a millennial moves on from a company, it will likely be for more money, a more secure work environment and greater opportunities – reasons similar to previous generations.

The survey suggests that companies seeking to retain or attract talent may be more successful in their approach if they address millennials’ security and stability needs, rather than focusing on the smaller minority who have embraced the job-hopping lifestyle.

1. As the definition of millennials in terms of years of birth varies, this report adheres to the definition that millennials were born in the past millennium but turn 18 in this one (1982-1999).
2. Chinese and Indian respondents were predominantly well educated and based in major cities. Given their background, the data cannot be considered representative of millennials in general in these two countries.

As with all content published on this site, these statements are subject to our Forward Looking Statement disclaimer:


Dominik Hahn
Allianz SE
Phone: +49 89 3800 18231

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Petra Brandes
Allianz SE
Phone: +49 89 3800 18797

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