Survey looks at how career expectations differ between current and future workforce

High school seniors have already formed opinions about working life

Posted September 2, 2015

Are you more ambitious than a 12th grader? They may not be in the workforce as adults just yet, but as the next generation of workers, high school seniors have already formed solid opinions around life in the working world. A new CareerBuilder survey looks at how the next generation of workers compares to America’s current workforce in terms of work life beliefs and expectations.

The national online survey, conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder by Harris Poll between May 14 and June 3, 2015, included a representative sample of more than 3,000 full-time, U.S. workers across industries and company sizes and more than 200 high school seniors.

“With the next generation of workers preparing to enter the workforce, now is the time for companies to adjust their recruitment and retention strategies to guarantee the success of all workers and strengthen the bottom line,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder. “While workplace expectations can vary widely among different generations, one thing they have in common is the want to be successful in their positions. Introducing programs that promote learning and collaboration — such as mentoring — can help workers of all generations achieve that together.”

Money Matters

When asked what salary they feel they need to earn to be successful, 1 in 4 current workers (25 percent) feel they would be successful making less than $50,000 a year, a sentiment shared by only 18 percent of high school students. In fact, high school students are nearly three times as likely as current workers to say they need to make $200,000 or more to feel successful (13 percent versus 5 percent).

What salary do you feel you need to earn to be successful?

  Current Workforce High School Students
More Time Off 25% 18%
$50, 000 - 69, 999 27% 18%
$70, 000 - 99, 999 24% 24%
$100,000 - 149, 999 15% 21%
$150,000 - 199,999 3% 5%
$200,000 or more 5% 13%

Defining Success

The majority of both current workers (76 percent) and high school students (81 percent) define success in a career as the ability to provide a comfortable life for themselves and their families. Both groups also agree that having a good balance between work and personal life is a defining factor in success (71 percent of current workers and 76 percent of high school students).

High school students, however, are more likely to associate success with a sense of accomplishment (78 percent, compared to 67 percent of current workers); the ability to make a positive impact on people’s lives (78 percent versus 47 percent of current workers); and making a lot of money (53 percent versus 33 percent of current workers).

The gap grows even wider when it comes to a loftier goal: High school students were more than twice as likely as current workers to define success as “making a mark on this world” (54 percent versus 22 percent).

The Ideal Work Environment

For the survey, CareerBuilder asked workers to give their attitudes toward eight commonly debated areas of workforce culture.

On office attire: High school students and current workers have similar views on workplace wear. The vast majority of both groups (74 percent of current workers and 70 percent of high school students) feel one should be able to dress casually at work. Looking at specific age groups, 45- to 54-year-old workers (79 percent) were more likely to agree with this statement than workers ages18-24 (67 percent) and 35-44 (72 percent).

On promotions: When it comes to earning promotions, high school students display more optimism than working professionals. Eighty-seven percent of high school students agree that one should be promoted every two to three years if one is doing a good job, compared to 73 percent of current workers. Workers ages 18-24 were closest to high school students’ level of agreement (81 percent), and 45- to 54- year-old workers were the farthest (65 percent).

On mobile usage: High school students (66 percent) are more likely than current workers (52 percent) to say it is okay to check one’s mobile device for work during a family activity. Workers ages 25-34 (61 percent) are more likely than workers ages 55 and older (43 percent) to agree with this statement.

On job hopping: Though employers may expect younger workers to job hop more frequently, only 16 percent of high school students believe one should only stay in a job for a year or two before moving on to better things (on par with 15 percent of current workers). Among individual age groups, however, responses were more varied, with 25- to 34-year-old workers (22 percent) more likely than their older counterparts to say a worker should move on after a year or two.

On career expectations: Workers across all generations seem to have similar perspectives on when it comes to switching companies. Nearly 1 in 3 high school students (32 percent) expect that they will work for 10 or more companies in their careers, similar to 28 percent of workers who say the same.

On emoticons and email: Surprisingly, high school students appear to have more conservative views on electronic communication than today’s professionals. More than 1 in 4 current workers (28 percent) believe it’s acceptable to use emoticons in emails and other electronic communication at work. Only 1 in 5 high school students (20 percent) say the same.

On meeting etiquette: It may seem as if they are constantly on their mobile devices, but only 13 percent of high school students agree that it is it is okay to check one’s mobile device during a work meeting, versus 21 percent of current workers. Workers ages 25-34 (28 percent) are more likely than those ages 45-54 (18 percent) and workers 55 and older (16 percent) to be okay with checking a mobile device during a meeting.

On flexible hours: It may come as a surprise that high school students (25 percent) were less likely than current workers (33 percent) to say it shouldn’t matter what time you arrive to work as long as you get your work done. Workers ages 55 and older were the least likely to say arrival time doesn’t matter (23 percent).

Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 3,039 employees ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) and 210 high school seniors (ages 17-18) between May 14 and June 3, 2015. With pure probability samples of 3,039 and 210, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have sampling errors of +/- 1.78 and +/- 6.76 percentage points, respectively.

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