Practice Management

How Millennial Employees View Themselves–and How Employers Do

By Gui Albieri, Ph.D.,
and Quy H. Nguyen, OD

March 28, 2018

Your Millennial employees have expectations and needs that you may not be aware of. In some cases, the way Millennials perceive themselves, and the way practice owners do, differ.

We wanted to learn more about the youngest members of the workforce, especially those entering optometry, so we conducted our own study at SUNY College of Optometry.

Fifty-three students in the classes of 2017 and 2018, and 50 doctors who employ Millennial graduates, were surveyed. We sent out two sets of surveys with similar questions, one customized to employers, and the other customized to optometry graduates. The surveys measured attitudes and expectations toward the use of social media during work, work motivation, feedback, purpose in the workplace and work hours (results are discussed on part I of this article, available HERE). In this article, we discuss the second part of the survey. We asked students to describe themselves using a set list of adjectives, and asked employers to rate students based on the same list. Finally, the survey asked both groups to rate a list of skills desired in the workplace.

On average, graduating students gave themselves highest scores for being customer-oriented (friendly and caring) and self-aware. Employers also gave Millennials the highest rating for being customer and teamwork-oriented.

Not Necessarily Self-Aware
In sharp contrast to the Millennial responses, employers rated Millennials the lowest for self-awareness. Employers rated young Millennial ODs significantly lower for every characteristic. This finding could be interpreted in two ways. First, it could be interpreted as a generational phenomenon. In other words, Millennials think higher of themselves compared to older generations. Second, that people in general, regardless of generation, think of themselves as above average.

Research has suggested that in fact people, regardless of generation, have a tendency of perceiving themselves as above average in a number of items, ranging from being funny to how good a driver they are. This finding could go both ways – Millennials thinking that they are above average and employers thinking that they are above average.

Most Important Workplace Skills: Millennials & Non-Millennials Mostly Agree
We asked students and employers to rate how important certain skills were for success. The top three ranked skills for employers were verbal communications, clinical reasoning and time management. Students meanwhile rated clinical reasoning, verbal communications and decision-making as the top three most important skills for success. Although the differences in opinion between students and managers differed slightly, they were not statistically significant, other than for supervisory skills. Students rated supervisory skills significantly higher than managers’.

Salary: Value of Residencies Should Be Factored Into Compensation
Our study also looked into the salary expectations of soon-to-be graduates. Salary expectations for students who are planning to join the workforce immediately after graduation (non-residency track) ranged from $70,000 to $130,000 with a mean of $103,000. The average for those planning on pursing a residency was statistically significantly higher at $113,000 (ranging from $80,000 to $200,000).

This is an indication that students pursuing a residency expect to be compensated for the additional competencies and expertise acquired through a residency program. That is not to say, however, that the types of jobs that require residency training pay at the level expected by students.

Views Can Change When Millennials Become Managers
Preferences, outlooks and values are all contextual. The present study was conducted with OD students who will soon enter the workforce. As they enter and are faced with the realities of the workforce, it is possible, and likely, that their perspectives will change as they encounter new challenges, priorities, and experiences. For instance, as students embrace leadership, or managerial roles, and gain a deeper appreciation of the impact of work hours on the daily management of a practice, they realize that providing flexibility, although desirable, is a challenge. Or, when the first payment of a student loan kicks in, making personal sacrifices to advance earning potential may suddenly become a priority.

To test this hypothesis, we compared the answers from managers who are Millennials themselves to those who are Generation X or Baby Boomers. The only difference between Millennial managers and their preceding generational counterparts was when asked if they should be annoyed when employees were web surfing during work hours. Millennial managers thought it was more acceptable for students to surf the web during work hours than older doctors. This may be due to differences in the meaning of web-surfing. For instance, while web-surfing may represent a way of looking up work-related information for one group, it could be perceived as a leisure activity by another.

Because this is the only item that differed between Millennial managers and older managers, it could be inferred that the work place, supervisory responsibility in particular, indeed changes perspective. As Millennials assimilate into professional life, generational expectations are re-framed. This finding requires further investigation.

Think of  Every Employee as an Individual
This study confirmed some of the stereotypical views about Millennials, but we appreciate that human beings are complex, and carry unique experiences, preferences and values that should not be overshadowed by generational stereotypes. Each individual should be treated as a universe of one.

What have you noticed about Millennial employees, and how does what you’ve noticed compared to what Millennial employees have expressed to you?


Gui Albieri, Ph.D., is vice-president of student affairs at SUNY College of Optometry. To contact him:

Quy H. Nguyen, OD, is director of Career Development and Minority Enrichment at SUNY College of Optometry. To contact him:

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