What High-Potential Young Managers Want

Today’s talented young professionals have a different approach to their careers — and a very different attitude toward organizational loyalty — than earlier generations. Here’s what you need to know to retain and develop this generation of young managers.

The generation that started to enter the workforce a decade ago (often called Generation Y) will account for the majority of workers over the next 40 years.1 These employees have been said to differ remarkably from previous generations in work-related expectations: They attach greater importance to extrinsic values such as money or image, and also to leisure.2 They consider “additional compensation” and “additional bonuses and financial incentives” the two most effective retention strategies for employers.3 Intrinsic values such as attachment to a community appear to be less important to them. They are reported to show less concern for others,4 lower need for social approval, and higher self-esteem and even narcissism than earlier generations of employees.5

Are these early-career employees putting their values into practice in the workplace? While previous studies give a thorough picture of the values they hold, they say little about the work-related behaviors that result from these values. In an effort to cover this gap, we analyzed the work behaviors and experiences of young professionals. We first surveyed 892 young professionals, about 25% of whom represent the top 10% of their academic cohort in Germany, while the rest represent a random distribution of German professionals. Second, we surveyed 312 early-career individuals working in more than 60 countries, all alumni of a top European business school. Finally, we conducted in-depth interviews with 18 young professionals in a variety of industries such as consulting, IT, energy, publishing, and telecommunications, to see whether their experiences confirm the survey results. (See “About the Research.”)

Our surveys and interviews capture a highly skilled segment of the labor force. In one of the samples, all respondents are graduates of MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs. In the other sample, 96% have at least a master’s degree, and 88% of this group came to their first full-time job after having about three internships. Seventy-four percent of our respondents have had international exposure — either studies or an internship abroad — and one-third have had both work and educational experience abroad. On average, they had five years of work experience since completing their degrees.


1. T.J. Erickson, “Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work” (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2008).

2. J.M. Twenge, S.M. Campbell, B.J. Hoffman, and C.E. Lance, “Generational Differences in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing,” Journal of Management 36, no. 5 (September 2010): 1117-1142.

3. Deloitte, “Has the Great Recession Changed the Talent Game? Six Guideposts to Managing Talent Out of a Turbulent Economy,” report, April 2010.

4. J.M. Twenge, W.K. Campbell, and E.C. Freeman, “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009,” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 102, no. 5 (May 2012): 1045-1062.

5. J.M. Twenge and S.M. Campbell, “Generational Differences in Psychological Traits and Their Impact on the Workplace,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 23, no. 8 (2008): 862-877.

6. D.F. Larcker, A. McCall, and B. Tayan, “Equity on Demand: The Netflix Approach to Compensation,” Stanford Graduate School of Business case no. CG19 (2010).

7. J.M. Citrin and R.A. Smith, “The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction” (New York: Crown Business, 2003).

8. K.S. Lyness and C.A. Schrader, “Moving Ahead or Just Moving? An Examination of Gender Differences in Senior Corporate Management Appointments,” Group & Organization Management 31, no. 6 (December 2006): 651-676.

9. H.-Y. Mao, “Voluntary Employer Changes and Salary Attainment of Managers,” International Journal of Human Resource Management 15, no. 1 (February 2004): 180-195.

10. W.H. Mobley, “Intermediate Linkages in the Relationship Between Job Satisfaction and Employee Turnover,” Journal of Applied Psychology 62, no. 2 (April 1977): 237-240.

11. R. Eisenberger, R. Huntington, S. Hutchison, and D. Sowa, “Perceived Organizational Support,” Journal of Applied Psychology 71, no. 3 (August 1986): 500-507.

12. C.D. McCauley, M.N. Ruderman, P.J. Ohlott, and J.E. Morrow, “Assessing the Developmental Components of Managerial Jobs,” Journal of Applied Psychology 79, no. 4 (August 1994): 544-560. Authorized approval granted for the Job Challenge Profile by the Center for Creative Leadership for research purposes (copyright© Pfeiffer/a Wiley Imprint).

13. D. Weiss and V. Molinaro, “Integrated Leadership Development,” Industrial and Commercial Training 38, no. 1 (2006): 3-11.

14. G. Plimmer, “We Need to Persuade Our Graduate Recruits to Stay,” Financial Times, Nov. 6, 2013.