Millennials at work: Myth meets reality

Business Chemistry® research unlocks millennial work habits

Older generations may need to strip away what they think they know about millennials at work. The data suggests we simply misunderstood millennial work habits and their strengths. New research from the Business Chemistry® team can help organizations get more from their millennial talent.

Never mind how old millennials are. The idea of them is 30 years old. It was 1987 when William Strauss and Neil Howe hung that name on the people who would start to graduate from high school at the turn of the coming century.

And ever since, we've often heard the same stereotypes about millennial work habits: They're self-centered. Entitled. They value passion over performance. Fulfillment over a full day's work. And they don’t understand why no one has given them a corner office yet. Now that millennials are deep into the workforce, how well do these stereotypes really hold up?

Where folklore falls short, Business Chemistry helps us look deeper. In the course of three online studies, the Deloitte Greenhouse® team used a data-driven approach to see how working styles could aid in our understanding of millennials at work and how to maximize their strengths.

Business Chemistry uses analytics to reveal how each person reflects four scientifically based patterns of behavior: Pioneers, Drivers, Guardians, and Integrators. Knowing which traits emerge more strongly in which people can help drive more rewarding collaboration among people, within teams—and now, even between generations.

Onto the big question: Did the popular view of millennial work habits hold true? Only partially.

60% of millennials represent two Business Chemistry types

Compared to Gen X and boomer colleagues, it turns out millennials at work are more likely (32%) to identify with the Guardian style—respectful of what works, wary of change. They are the least likely (19%) to identify as risk-taking Pioneers. Because the Integrator type is diplomatic and people-focused, one might have expected millennials to cluster in that category, but fewer than a quarter (23%) identify that way. They’re more likely to be Drivers (27%), who focus on outcomes and goals.

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What else did these studies find out about millennial work habits?

  • Millennials may be "secret introverts." The most networked generation ever certainly doesn't usually shun social contact. But our data finds that at the same time, they're inclined to be more restrained, quieter thinkers.
  • They dislike ambiguity even more than Gen X-ers and boomers. Is this why they are more likely to seek feedback?
  • They are the most stressed generation. They've grown up with recession, global conflict, and political polarization.

How can you make the most of millennial talent at work?

  • Coach before you manage. Sounding boards and real-time feedback loops can play to millennials' strengths more than formal reviews and waiting for appointments.
  • Give their brains some elbow room by embracing the place of the "passion project" or "20% project" in their lives. They thrive on making a difference, so consider letting them customize part of their jobs.
  • Rethink the "leadership" in "leadership development." Many want advancement and recognition, but to millennials at work, it’s often also important to be top performers, experts, and innovators. Development programs that boost people up ladders likely won’t resonate.
  • Communicate often, clearly, and honestly. The big announcement at the departmental meeting is good. So is the "micromessage" that arrives, baloney-free, in a hallway encounter or in a quick text.
  • Give them space. Millennials are more likely to cope with stress using out-side-the-office strategies. Demanding bodies in office chairs 9 to 5 without fail might actually stymie the recharge they need to do their best work.

Want to get more insight on millennials in the workplace?

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The changing workplace can be a source of stress and ambiguity for everyone—two things we've learned millennials at work find particularly worrisome.

To forge a better bond between employers and millennials, the answer may lie on knowing you don’t have all the answers. Many of these workers don’t live up to all the stereotypes. But they do live for connections. A little engagement and open-ended questioning, in both directions, may be just the thing that will help the millennial generation find its place at work.

Download the full report: "The Millennial Mindset: Work styles and aspirations of millennials."


To learn more about the study or about Business Chemistry, we welcome you to contact the authors Selena Rezvani, manager, Business Chemistry, Deloitte Greenhouse®, Deloitte LLP and Kelly  Monahan, PhD, manager, Center for Integrated Research, Deloitte LLP.

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