What Makes Self-Employment So Attractive For Millennials?

Posted on June 13, 2017
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There are many stereotypes and generalizations about millennials, one of the most common being that they are lazy job-hoppers who don’t stay long enough at a job to develop a career. Reports such as this one by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, seems to support this view, showing that an average young adult has held 6.2 jobs by age 26. But could there be a misunderstanding of the motivations that drive millennials?

Like the generations before them, millennials want to live la dolce vita. While that means a six-figure salary and working your way up to the C-suite at a large corporation, millennials see things differently. For them, working for yourself is the good life. No pointy‑haired boss micromanaging every move, or a rigid nine‑to‑five schedule around which you build your life.

This desire for autonomy perhaps explains the penchant for job-hopping. According to this Harvard Business Report, 21% of millennial workers in a survey had left their job in the last year to do something else; a number that is more than three times higher than that of non-millennials, but the report does not say what those millennials do when they leave their jobs. Data suggests that many start their own businesses, preferring to live life as entrepreneurs.


What’s the draw of entrepreneurship?

Millennials’ preference for self-employment has implications for economies around the world, but there’s more to it than that. It also represents a shift in values, in what is considered important. According to Fortune, more money is not the major factor most millennials consider in a career. Money is not quite as valuable as time, which is considered a resource to be managed and spent in a prudent fashion. And so they place a higher premium on the ability to spend quality time at acquiring skills they find meaningful, and getting better at those skills. Other factors that make self-employment attractive include:

Flexibility

The lure of a flexible, open and limitless life that self-employment promises is something that millennials find very attractive and they are quite willing to adapt to the rollercoaster and rapid economic changes that comes with self-employment.

This flexibility is important because millennials prioritize a good work/life balance. According to this PWC survey, 95% of the millennials consider this to be one of the most important aspects of a career.

Decision making opportunities and recognition of efforts

Millennials enjoy calling the shots. Not being able to make decisions about important issues in the workplace is sickening to most millennials, as is having to deal with office politics and other shenanigans related to promotion and pay raise. Where better to call the shots than in your own business?

Similarly, millennials crave recognition. Needless to say, when they work for themselves, they can bask in the successes of their enterprise, which may not be the case in employment arrangements where the manager may take credit for your ideas. And so, tolerating sacrifice and sleepless nights in order to be in a position to run their own enterprises the way they want is far more fulfilling than having to do the same in a work environment where they do not feel valued.

Technology’s enabling role

The terms ‘millennials’ and ‘digital natives’ are almost synonymous as technology seems to be the fuel on which the average millennial runs. It is only natural then, that millennials give technology as much of a role in their careers as they do in their social lives. Because of the ease with which they can earn money online, the need for a regular job or regular employment is diminished. Hence self-employment using technology as a platform is preferred. This of course feeds into their desire for a convenient and flexible working arrangement. Add to that the excitement of connecting with potential clients and investors from all over the world, and you have the key ingredients for a sweet life from a millennial’s point of view.

But what about employed millennials?

As with anything in life, there are exceptions to every general rule. Not every millennial seeks to be self-employed, and not all can be self-employed, despite their desire to be. Which means there are many millennials to be found in workplaces around the world. How does one get the best out of them in their jobs? Much has been written about what organizations seeking to employ millennials need to do in order to attract them.

According to Shara Senderoff, companies can gain immensely by better engaging millennials, who are "very iconoclastic and very ambitious". Organizations just need to find ways to invite them in, in a manner that they find compelling and consistent with their distinct values.

Giving millennials leadership opportunities is important. This does not mean handing the reins of authority in the company over to them, but rather giving them a platform to showcase their ability. This opportunity to lead will ensure productivity and creativity.


The stereotype of the lazy millennial has no basis, in fact. Millennials expect to work hard, but they do not want to be in a bland cubicle all day. So organizations should offer an engaging, comfortable, and stimulating ambiance that creatively balances work and life. In addition to the convenient environment, millennials can enjoy their work better when they’re offered incentives and bonuses, not necessarily in cash, but in the form of time off, telecommute days and other non-traditional perks.

New challenges, ratings and feedbacks are ways in which millennials define their growth, and so should be offered frequently. They revel in a purposeful environment, surrounded by skills and challenges to fuel their passion. Millennials want mentors not just bosses, so it’s important that managers help to mentor them.

While companies can use this to keep more millennials in the work place, the fact remains that this generation are on track to become the most self-employed generation in history. It is important to remember that they also want the same things that previous generations want – which is a comfortable living free from financial worries. But they also want a comfortable, flexible and purposeful environment in which they can give their best, and it seems that for many, the preferred way to get it is to start their own businesses.
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