Millennials, the Friendly Cutthroat Generation

Sixty-eight percent of millennials would sacrifice a work friendship in order to get a promotion, according to a new survey by LinkedIn.

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By Laura Entis

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As a generation, millennials are often portrayed as redefining career success, valuing company culture, workplace friendships and a sense of purpose over traditional markers such as money and rank.

It's an image that suggests a more collaborative, less cut-throat approach to building a career. Not so fast.

According to a new LinkedIn study, sixty-eight percent of millennials, which the survey defined as workers between the ages of 18 and 24, said they would sacrifice a friendship with a colleague for a promotion. That's in stark contrast to the 62 percent of workers between the ages 55 and 65 who said they wouldn't even consider the proposition.

This, of course, doesn't mean millennials are lying when they claim to value workplace friendships. Out of all the age groups surveyed, millennials were the most positively impacted by friendships with colleagues. Fifty-seven percent reported that work friends make them happy compared to 45 percent of baby boomers -- workers between the ages 55 and 65 -- who said that friendships with colleagues have no impact, either positive or negative, on their work performance.

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The survey results do mean, however, that portraying millennials as an idealistic generation that eschews traditional markers of success in favor of buzzwords such as workplace culture, work-life balance and, yes, friendship may be overly simplistic. Turns out, millennials value all of the above and want to get ahead in their careers in a traditional sense, LinkedIn career expert Nicole Williams told

While Williams was initially surprised by the percentage of millennials willing to trade in a work friend for a promotion, she doesn't see it as a sign of heartlessness or selfishness. Rather, it's an indication that millennials define friendship differently than older generations, particularly baby-boomers.

"Historically there was more of a separation between one's personal life and professional life. Friendships existed outside of work. For younger workers, those lines are blurred," Williams says, pointing to the fact that 53 percent of millennials surveyed said they're open to sharing relationship advice with co-workers in the office, compared to 23 percent of baby boomers.

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Millennials, she finds, are better at advancing their careers through personal bonds. One-third of Gen Y workers said they "think socializing with colleagues helps them move up the career ladder," compared with only 5 percent of baby boomers.

The job market is a tough and competitive place for young people, and millennials realize that a person can be both a friend and a resource for career advancement. The two roles aren't mutually exclusive. "It's not malicious, it's strategic," says Williams.

The fact that millennials are willing to swap a work friend for a promotion isn't a negative, says Williams. Instead, it's a sign that a generation so often accused of having its collective head in the clouds has its feet firmly on the ground.

Related: What Young People Want From Work

Laura Entis
Laura Entis is a reporter for's Venture section.

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