Who’s Got the Entrepreneurial Spirit?

entrepreneur 1Monster.com and Millennial Branding put that question to nearly 3,000 Monster users in a recent survey, and got some surprising answers.

Among the 2,828 respondents, 41 percent of Generation X employees (roughly defined as those between the ages of 30 and 49) and 45 percent of baby boomers (50-to-69-years-old) said they consider themselves to be entrepreneurial. In comparison, 32 percent of Generation Y respondents (ages 18 to 29) said the same.

These findings rebut the survey authors’ original hypothesis that Gen Y possessed a stronger entrepreneurial spirit than their older counterparts, says Dan Schawbel, founder and managing partner of Boston-based Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself. He attributes these figures to a combination of factors working in older employees’ favor.

“I believe that older workers view themselves as being more entrepreneurial because they have work experience, strong Rolodexes and [more] wealth compared to Gen Y,” says Schawbel.

Gen Ys are just starting out, and have a lot to learn in order to be fully equipped to start a business. Gen Y isn’t in a good financial situation right now, has the highest unemployment rate, has student loans, and many are living with their parents. We hear a lot of success stories of Gen Ys making millions through entrepreneurship, but those are still rare cases.”

Differences aside, the survey authors note more employees across generations indicating an itch to pursue their own endeavors as opposed to “traditional jobs or careers.” As such, employers would be wise to harness employees’ entrepreneurial skills and put them to work within their organizations, or risk seeing them in action elsewhere.

“Companies and HR leaders should focus on creating intrapreneurship programs that satisfy these employees, so they don’t leave to start their own ventures,” says Schawbel, citing companies such as DreamWorks, Google, 3M and Microsoft as examples of organizations using such programs “as a marketing tool to attract the best talent and as a way to increase retention rates among current employees.”

And, it seems a fair number of employees are ready to stretch beyond their everyday duties and take on new tasks within the company. Nearly one-third of respondents feel they have the freedom, flexibility and resources to be an intrapreneur, and 42 percent of respondents feel they have opportunities to work on projects outside their direct responsibilities.

Only 23 percent, however, said they feel encouraged to work on such projects. HR leaders must train managers to be more open to intrapreneurship and “have formal programs that embrace it,” says Schawbel.

“The big accounting firms have contests where employees compete to get their ideas funded. Ernst & Young’s Power Pitch program is one example. And Dreamworks teaches [employees] to pitch ideas, and then lets [them] pitch their executives,” he says.

What it comes down to is fostering a culture of innovation and enabling everyone, regardless of age, to let their ideas be heard.”