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Forget Self-Centered: Millennials Could Be the Most Ambitious Generation

They often get labeled by managers as self-centered, but if you really sit down and talk to millennials, you can begin to understand that they actually just want to get better at what they’re doing. This applies to their jobs, their families and their impact on the world. Simply put, this is an ambitious group of men and women.

Take their careers. We’re dealing with a different generation in terms of preparation; they’re highly educated and many have done high-level internships. No wonder they get bored. They want a challenge, to continuously learn and do better. So if they’re in a lower level job more than a couple years, I don’t blame them for asking for more. (Shouldn’t managers want ambitious employees?)

Contrary to what some respondents of Bentley’s PreparedU study felt about lack of loyalty, it’s clear to me that millennials also expect, to find a “work home” where they can stay for a long time. They want to work with people who care enough about them and their careers to give them opportunities, and in an atmosphere where they are comfortable being themselves.

If they get what they want, companies are looking at retaining employees. In fact, 48 percent of respondents in a survey by Bentley’s Center for Women and Business (CWB) say that their ideal career path would be working at only one or two companies over the course of their careers. Leadership studies show that the reason most people leave their jobs is not because of the work or challenges; it’s because they don’t like their bosses. That dynamic is magnified here and certainly is reflected in PreparedU data regarding problematic relationships between millennials and older generations

When it comes to family, young men and women are looking for a strong work-life balance. They want more time for their spouse and children because many of them grew up with hands-on parents. Millennials — particularly those who graduated from college during the economic crisis of 2008 — also learned early on in their careers that a solid education and strong work ethic doesn’t necessarily translate into a secure job.

The importance of family and personal goals was eye opening, especially in contrast with the way generation X focused primarily on career success during the early years of their careers. However, by no means does it imply an ambition gap. Millennials report that being successful in a high-paying career or profession is either one of the most important things in their lives or very important. They have not rejected the corporate world. More than 72 percent of respondents in the CWB survey say they are interested in working in a big corporation someday. The reason they want to earn money, however, is to provide long-term financial security for their families. They have blended goals.

Millennials want it all, and is that too much to ask? Certainly sounds ambitious to me!

This is the first of a series on millennials and the workplace. Susan Adams is professor of management and senior director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley. 

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