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Ethics of Millennials More Aligned with Boomers than Gen X, Research Shows

Millennials are flooding the workforce and are expected to influence corporate and philanthropic life, as well as the consumer marketplace.

Businesses hiring workers, advertisers seeking sales and nonprofits cultivating donors and volunteers have keen interest in millennials-the 80 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000, a group that outnumbers the baby boomers, said Dr. James Weber, professor of business ethics and management in Duquesne University's Palumbo-Donahue School of Business.

Results of a survey of more than 550 millennials about work values and ethics, Weber said, show "The world is out there for them. They are not organizationally or socially focused. They are self-centered individuals looking for immediate gratification and have no organizational loyalty."

This technology-infused generation, he said, also has great concern for sustainability and a favorable work-life balance.

Armed with this information and a grant from the A.J. and Sigismunda Palumbo Charitable Trust, Weber is delving deeper to create an ethical profile of millennials. He is curious as to how the next life stages will shape this group and its relationships.

Weber's findings show:

  • By an overwhelming 3 to 1 margin, millennials place greater importance on values associated with themselves rather than with societal goals. They emphasize such things as happiness and a comfortable life, as opposed to focusing on others through world peace, equality and national security.
  • Millennials follow a competence value orientation, focusing on personal inadequacy or capabilities, such as being independent, intellectual, logical, capable-rather than an interpersonal moral value orientation that arouses conscience or guilt.
  • About 46 percent of the millennials Weber surveyed exhibited personal and competence value orientations. The preference for these values grew with a higher grade point average and with more than six months of work experience.

Weber questioned whether millennial values will change over time, mitigated by professional and personal life experiences. Millennials now stand as individuals, trying to land jobs, but the more time they spend in the workplace, the more they may be socialized into the organization. Similarly, Weber suggested, marrying and raising families may temper their strong personal orientation-as it has with baby boomers.

The millennial stance aligns more closely with baby boomer senior managers (born 1946-1964) than with Gen X managers (born 1965-1980). Millennials place less importance on social values than their Gen X bosses, though their social values are comparable with baby boomers'.

"Values are not isolated; they occur in groups and clusters," said Weber. "This grant gives me the chance to look at millennial values both within their age group and among groups."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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