So, who says Generation Z and millennials are anti-leadership job-hoppers?

By Yasmeen Qahwash

Jan. 26, 2020

There are several stereotypes that have been placed on millennials and Generation Z that are just not true, according to new research.

Bellevue University’s Human Capital Lab partnered with Human Capital Media’s research and advisory group to conduct a study of more than 2,000 employees over a range of five generations to observe how their views vary regarding leadership in the workplace.

Generation Z millennials

“With five generations in the workforce and a diverse range of perceived wisdom about what each generation expects from leaders and how they view their own prospects for leadership, this research set out to put some solid data behind how generational behavior and expectations related to leadership vary,” said Michelle Eppler, director of Human Capital Lab and dean of the College of Continuing and Professional Studies at Bellevue University, located in Bellevue, Nebraska.

When it comes to why companies are so obsessed with generational behavior variances, there are many potential contributing factors.

“One may be that it appears to be a convenient way to sort populations — and there is some evidence that experience, although not the same thing, does have a slight impact in how one views leadership,” Eppler said in an email statement. “In the current climate of nearly full employment, retention has become even more vital and companies are constantly searching for ways to enhance employee engagement, reduce costs and increase efficiencies by lowering their attrition rates.”

The leadership preferences survey was delivered online to 2,009 respondents through Survata, a brand intelligence research company. The sample was balanced by age, gender and educational attainment.

“We made sure that we had equal numbers of respondents from different age groups, and also that we had representation from respondents without a college degree, with a college degree and in addition, 20 percent of respondents had a master’s degree or higher,” said Sarah Kimmel, vice president of research at Human Capital Media. Some 60 percent of the respondents were women and 40 percent were men. All of the respondents were from North America, ranging in between 18 and 65 in age, Kimmel said.

Organizations have heavily focused on benefits and different generations with the assumption that generations have different requirements when it comes to benefits. The common stereotypical traits that millennials and Generation Z have been labeled with have been driving policy for some to prepare for future workforce needs. “The two big key takeaways were that, in terms of generational preferences, age is not actually as determining as you might think,” Kimmel said.

According to the study, the majority of employees — regardless of which generation — are actually driven by compensation, have leadership ambitions and want to stay and build or retain their careers with one organization. Eppler said that the study’s findings may serve as exciting consequences for employers.

“If millennials and Generation Z want to stay, but also want a career path that transitions to a leadership role, then adequate compensation, coupled with learning and development in the skills and behaviors they associate with good leaders should improve retention,” Eppler said. “Companies that invest in these areas are more likely to be more confident in the long-term benefits of adequate compensation and leadership development.

Every age group within the study all preferred the same top three qualities in a leader; they must be a good communicator, honest and respectful. “Communication is integral, according to the study,” said Kimmel.

It is often thought that younger generations aren’t as interested in leadership positions, but the study suggests the opposite. 45- to 54-year-olds are twice as likely (36 percent) to say that they are not interested in leadership positions than 25- to 34-year-olds are (13 percent). A total of 85 percent say that they would prefer to stay with their current organization for their entire career, and half of those say they are willing to stay under the right conditions. The only group that showed the most interest in leaving were those between the ages of 18-24 years old. “If you think about it, those are the people just out of school or just starting out in their career, so of course they might be leaving their organization — they’re kind of in their starter job,” Kimmel said. “Over the age of 24, its almost identical across every single age group. People want to stay.”

One thing that stuck out to Eppler about this study’s results was how women are less likely to currently be in a leadership position or ready for leadership (47 percent) than are men (60 percent). Eppler said that this could possibly be due to women being more likely to wait until they have the required skill sets for leadership positions or due to the amount of non-work responsibilities that function as career obstacles. Women were also 10 percent less likely to say that they expect a promotion at their current employer.

According to the study, 42 percent of men say that their employer provides on the job development times for them compared to women (35 percent). Women are more likely to say they are given stretch assignments (23 percent) than men (19 percent). However, they are equally likely to be given leadership training, coaching and mentoring and tuition reimbursement.

“That’s great news, as it points to there not being a lot of structural bias in leadership development programs,” Kimmel said.

Said Eppler, “The one thing the study tells us, is we need to do more to understand what is behind this lack of trust data point women have and examine what are effective approaches within the workplace that successfully address it.”

Yasmeen Qahwash is an editorial associate for Workforce.

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