What makes millennials tick? You might be surprised.

Researchers note how a turbulent economy shaped the generation's values

Millennials are predicted to become the largest workforce in the nation's history—and new research from Bentley University examines how their preferences and preparedness will affect future offices.

The generation is expected to make up nearly 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Researchers from Bentley and KRC Research asked 3,149 respondents from nine stakeholder audiences 307 questions to determine not only how millennials think or feel about an issue or choice, but also why they take that point of view.

A 'group of survivors'

The survey revealed some surprising preferences among the generation, many of which researchers attribute to the turbulent macroeconomic and political events of the last two decades.

For example, 96% of respondents said that when choosing between two otherwise equal employers, health care benefits are the most important factor in their decision. This generation came of age in a chaotic economy during the Great Recession, researchers point out, when the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this climate is medical bills.

"This is a group of survivors and they are looking for security in this insecure world wherever they can, says Susan Adams, a management professor at Bentley, "in this respect, having great health benefits is appealing to them."

Additionally, the survey found that 68% of millennials expect to be in the current job for no more than five years. This too, says the report, can be explained by the events surrounding the 2008 recession.

"They were often exposed to family and friends being laid off as a result of cost-cutting. These experiences have helped form their views on loyalty," says Bentley President Gloria Larson, "both their loyalty to an organization and the reciprocal loyalty of the organization to them as employees."

A changed career landscape means that instead of working toward incentives and pensions as employees might have 20 or 30 years ago, millennials often benefit more from changing companies.

Related: Developing next-generation career services

However, 80% of the respondents say they expect to work for no more than four companies over the course of their career.

"Millennials were clearly impacted by key events like 9/11 and the 2008 recession, which framed their views and impacted their economic opportunities," says Larson.

Wait—they don't prefer texting?

Other findings revealed preferences for face-to-face interaction and a high degree of work flexibility that many commenters found surprising:

  • 51% of millennials say they would rather speak to a coworker in-person than via email, instant message, or other virtual forms of communication. That number jumps to 60% when combining in-person and over the phone.
  • 66% of millennials want to start their own company.
  • 77% indicate flexible work hours would make them more productive, and 89% regularly check their work email after hours (Bentley University, The Millennial Mind Goes to Work, Oct. 2014; Bentley University, Millennials at Work, accessed 11/13; Bentley University, PreparedUProject, 1/29; Singal, New York Magazine, 11/11).

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