Job satisfaction comes down to three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Does this explain why millennials are dominating in the tech industry?
Numerous industries have been accused of many different types of hiring bias and flawed hiring policy.
The service industry, for example, has long been subject to questions about its lack of affirmative action in this area based on the demographic of candidates that tend to be allocated these roles. The same applies even within typically diverse workforces.
Hiring bias at its worst
Few sectors have faced the intense scrutiny aimed at the tech world in recent years, owing to its pervasive reputation for hiring vastly disproportionate percentages of younger males.
A quick Google search of “industry hiring bias” results in almost an entire first page of links to think pieces about Silicon Valley.
There are countless arguments to be made on the subject, many of which rightly focus on the urgency of addressing this gender imbalance. One popular proposal for tapping into the vast, and shamefully underused, female talent pool suggests funding schools to better promote careers for women in computer science.
But if the tech industry is also heavily skewed towards youth, how long would those careers remain satisfying for?
Job satisfaction at the biggest tech firms
This latter question prompted a recent research project by online compensation and benefits analyst Payscale. By gathering data from almost 35,000 workers across 17 of the biggest tech firms in the world – including eBay, Google, Cisco, Facebook, Samsung, Intel, Apple and Microsoft – researchers attempted to gain an overview of how employees’ job satisfaction levels mapped on to various metrics such as median age, early and mid-career pay levels, and total years of industry experience.
When transposed as a series of infographics, the data seems to highlight some marked trends across the board: in particular, workforces with higher average ages in the study group (notably IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Samsung) were among the lowest-scoring in terms of overall job satisfaction.
Moreover, many of the same names also placed highly in terms of their employees’ length of tenure with the company and total years of industry experience, while coming in amongst the lower rankings for both early- and mid-career median pay levels. Taken at face value, this immediately presents various possible scenarios.
One natural observation would be that the ‘more satisfied’ workers were often among those being paid the most relative to their experience, which, let’s face it, doesn’t seem much of a hot take.
What appears to be a fairly direct inverse correlation between median age and reported job satisfaction is potentially more interesting, but the question remains as to whether this phenomenon is in any way unique to the tech industry. After all, there’s every chance that the methodology of the study simply benefits companies who have a high turnover of younger, less experienced workers, whose expectations and needs are typically less complex at such an early career stage.
Are millennials best-suited to tech jobs?
When it comes specifically to tech roles, and the fact that they’re so commonly filled by younger-than-average staff (the national median age for a US worker is 42; at Facebook, it’s just 29), many people don’t think it’s quite that simple.
The much-quoted author, speaker and ‘business guru’ Daniel Pink, responsible for such widely read titles as Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, might be chief among them. Pink’s theories around what ultimately leads to lasting job satisfaction focus on the triumvirate of ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’. In other words, a sense of independence, a feeling of capability, and a genuine motivation to keep plugging away.
Millennials entering the tech industry may be particularly well-placed to tick all three of those key boxes because of, not in spite of, their age. Pink notes that, having grown up in an environment of always-on connectivity that didn’t fully exist 20 years ago, millennials are finding it much easier to adapt as the internet rapidly erodes the decades-old concept of a standard office-based work week.
He also points out that today’s all-pervasive digital culture means new graduates no longer seek to separate their work and social lives to nearly the same extent as previous generations did. As a result, the boundary between professional performance and success in other areas of millennials’ lives is arguably less clearly defined; this in turn becomes an obvious source of general motivation that perfectly suits the thrust and structure of many cutting-edge tech firms.
Combatting age discrimination
The extent to which these sorts of theories hold water is very much up for debate. What we do know is that the debate is heating up: last year, Bloomberg reported that in just eight short years, 226 complaints pertaining to age discrimination had been registered against the top 150 Silicon Valley firms.
While tech employers continue to perform well in global Best Employer lists, the conversation will certainly benefit from some longer-term data as we start to develop a clearer picture of career movement across the wider industry in the coming years.