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MBA Careers: Millennials Opt For Social Impact Over Success And Pay

Millennials are more concerned with social impact and work-life balance than climbing to the C-suite and earning a fat pay check.

Tue May 12 2015

The allegedly social-media-addicted generation of selfie collectors is more concerned with social impact and work-life balance than climbing to the C-suite and earning a fat pay check.

These are the key findings of a new study on the career goals of “millennials” – those born between the early 1980s and late 90s.

The St Gallen Symposium, a global conference for leaders, and market research group GfK Verein surveyed more than 1,000 students and professionals from 100 countries.

Nearly 50% of respondents said that work which has a positive impact on society is a top-three criterion for measuring success in their professional careers. Just 14% cited having a high level salary, and 3% cited having power over people.

The findings mirror the shifting attitudes of today’s business students – who are now more interested in using management skills to shape society. The millennial generation dominates today’s business school applicant pool, according to figures from the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

“We have observed over the years that for the current generation of MBA students, the focus is not first and foremost on making money for themselves, but rather on developing a strategy which sets companies and themselves up for long-term success,” said Poul Hedegaard, MBA director at Copenhagen Business School.

Only one-quarter of respondents aim to become a “top-level executive with extensive decision-making authority leading a large team”; a further 25% aim to become a successful project manager.

Instead, 44% of the survey takers would define success as becoming a well-known expert in their field.

“The leaders of tomorrow are no longer all aspiring to get into top management, but they certainly want to make a difference,” said Dr Johannes Berchtold, COO of the St Gallen Symposium.

This is underlined by the fact that two-thirds are planning to become entrepreneurs within the next five years. “This may be... because they see this as a better chance to make their ideas and innovations a reality,” added Johannes.

When choosing employers, ethical aspects are important – six out of ten respondents would not work for a company with values they don’t share.

Respondents also showed much less interest in previous industry experience or having graduated summa cum laude from a top university when picking members for their project team.

“Today’s managers are overestimating the value of their ‘analogue’ experience in a digital world that is increasingly functioning under a new set of rules,” said Andreas Neus, deputy managing director at GfK Verein and author of the study.

The findings echo a similar survey by INSEAD, the global business school, last year, which found that 73% of millennials chose work-life balance over a higher salary, and 82% value work-life balance over their position in a company.

This generation is placing more value in entrepreneurialism and fulfilment, which has implications for careers. Particularly at banks, some of the brightest graduates are turning to smaller, more innovative organizations.

A number of top academic institutions are catering to these changes. London School of Economics last month announced plans to open a £30 million centre in the UK capital dedicated to social entrepreneurship.

Across Britain, similar centres are set-up at Cass Business School and at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. In the US, Stanford GSB runs the Center for Social Innovation; Kelley School of Business has the Global Social Entrepreneurship Institute.

At Saïd Business School over half of the current MBA class is actively involved with social impact activities. Derek Walker, director of careers, said: “A career which includes creating positive social impact is definitely becoming a mainstream choice for MBA students internationally.”

He said that students take a variety of approaches towards careers in this sector – “some moving into a social impact role after a more traditional initial job, others head that direction immediately after graduation”.

The growth in interest in social impact is echoed in the wider business community. Despite pressure from shareholders, increasing numbers of corporations are realigning their business plans with social and environmental goals.

But MBAs often find the route to securing a role focused on social impact off-putting, preferring to find jobs at established MBA employers, such as financial services companies and consultancy firms.