What comes to mind when you think about the modern professional?

What about the modern decision-maker? Perhaps someone who’s a tech-savvy digital native? Or maybe someone entrepreneurial, constantly working on a side-hustle on top of their 9 to 5?

According to our global research, the modern business decision-maker is all of the above – and more. 

To understand this cohort, we partnered with LinkedIn’s B2B Institute in a first-of-its-kind study on the rising generation of B2B decision-makers – those between the ages of 21 and 40 or, affectionately coined, The BETAs.

As they mature in their careers and assume executive roles, this group will become increasingly crucial for B2B brands to reach.

Let’s meet the BETAs through 5 key attributes. 

1. They live in a world where the personal and professional are blurred.

More than any other cohort, BETAs live in a world where the line between their personal and professional selves is increasingly blurred. 

This manifests in how they use technology, spend their time, and even manage their physical space.  

BETAs’ relationship with the internet – and especially social media – might be the most obvious place of conflation. Among all professionals, BETAs are the most likely to be following business-relevant individuals or organizations on social media.

This is important, especially considering the sheer amount of time BETAs spend on social media on a daily basis – twice as much as other groups. 

The blur is also evident when it comes to tools they turn to for both personal and professional needs. 

Over half say there are many services they use in both personal and professional capacities – think Zoom and Microsoft Teams. 

For 51-64s, this figure drops to below 4 in 10. Additionally, a fifth of BETAs say that existing personal usage of a product or service influences them to consider bringing it into their workplace. 

A loose personal/professional boundary can affect BETAs in less positive ways, however.

For this group, the workday often bleeds into their personal day due to the amount of time spent working late, working overtime, checking their emails outside work, and using their personal devices for professional reasons – all behaviors BETAs engage in more than any other cohort. 

Exacerbating this issue is the loss of a clear, dedicated work space due to COVID-19 and the widespread shift to remote working.

BETAs are the most likely to report not working in a home office, despite working from home. Almost 1 in 5 are in this situation, compared to just over 1 in 10 among other business professionals. 

2. They crave flexible working, but can’t always fully embrace it.

The BETAs have come of age in a rapidly changing workplace – the era of startups, the internet, and an increasingly globalized world.

As such, it’s probably no surprise they value a flexible work environment, both in terms of their place and hours of work, more than older professionals.

While this was the case even pre-pandemic, their demand for flexibility in adapting to the post-COVID world is remarkably high. 

When asked what they most want their companies to do to support workers during the pandemic, the top answer among BETAs is more flexible working.

In contrast, the top answer for other professionals is ensuring the workplace is safe for employees to return. 

While businesses have been forced to enable remote working due to the pandemic, flexible working – especially in terms of hours and schedule – is a different situation to accommodate. And most employers, it appears, are not so willing to do this.

In 2020, just 3 out of 10 global professionals report that flexible working is broadly permitted in their workplace. 

What’s more, this went up by only 2 percentage points year-on-year. In the context of the pandemic, this lack of real, increased provision of flexibility is telling. In fact, it’s only among 41-50s and 51-64s that we’ve seen these minor year-on-year increases; among 21-30s there’s actually been a slight decline

For companies seeking to attract and retain BETA employees, this will be a challenge. Embracing a more flexible work model will be crucial in enabling this rising cohort of B2B leaders to do their best work – and at their best time. 

3. They’re constantly on a mission to improve, adapt, and evolve.

BETAs express very strong views about the importance of professional development.

They’re the most likely to describe themselves as career-oriented, as wanting to achieve more, and wanting to challenge themselves. They’re also the most likely to expect promotions, and place a higher-than-average premium on job satisfaction. 

In part, a natural age effect is at work here; these values have always been most important for younger cohorts before gradually receding as age increases.

What is unique to BETAs is the way some of these attitudes are being manifested. No business generation before them will have had so many online resources or tools available for personal and professional development.

Employees don’t have to wait for learning to be organized (or even funded) by their workplace; they now proactively seek it out, whether in conjunction with their company or not. And BETAs are taking full advantage. 

BETAs are highly engaged with online learning, seeing it as a way to self-improve and boost their work portfolio cheaply and with flexability.

A sizable 4 in 5 BETAs are participating in online learning to learn/improve skills, and the correlation with age here is strong: the younger the professional, the more engaged they’re with the learning for all of the reasons cited below.

The circumstances around the pandemic have heightened both this desire and opportunity for BETAs even further.

Chart showing BETAs seek online learning and development opportunities

Our research on coronavirus attitudes and behaviors reveals over 40% of 21-30s and almost a third of 31-40s were spending more time using online learning platforms during lockdown.

4. They champion an ethos of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, but feel a strong need for reassurance in decision-making. 

For BETAs in the workplace, a seemingly contradictory set of values exist: a dichotomy of innovation and experimentation that meets a need for reassurance, reliability, and safe decision-making. 

BETAs’ ethos of pushing the boundaries is evident both in how they see themselves and the companies they work for.

From an employer perspective, BETAs are much more likely to agree that their company has the tools and systems in place to adapt quickly to industry changes. 

From a personal view, they seek to innovate and stay cutting-edge when it comes to their own decision-making. This is evident in how they evaluate new products and services for their workplace.

Keeping up with the latest trends is a stronger driver for BETAs (30% of 21-30s vs 20% of 51-64s), as is trying a product because they know a competitor is using it (22% of 21-30s vs 10% of 51-64s). 

But digging further into the data we can see BETAs have a more complex perspective on innovation – one that’s best described as “safe” innovation. For example, while BETAs spend the most time researching vendors and consider the widest range of options, they’re ultimately the most likely to pick one they already know. 

Similarly, BETAs have the strongest levels of agreement for thinking that they’re quick decision-makers who make choices based on gut feeling. Yet simultaneously, they’re the most likely to seek expert opinions before making a purchase and to be swayed by other people’s opinions. 

This duality is crucial in understanding and communicating to BETAs;

This cohort wants to be (seen as) decisive, bold and innovative – reflecting that messaging back to them is key in appealing to their sense of self. 

But this must be balanced with providing tried-and-true, reputable solutions because, in reality,  BETAs will meticulously seek certainty before committing to a decision. 

5. They embrace activist values and expect the businesses they work for (and with) to do the same.

2020 has been a year of activism like no other, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement around the world seeing both citizens and companies taking a stand toward racial justice. 

And while our industry has largely focused on consumers’ views on activism, our research into the BETA mindset reveals how important these values are in a professional context.  

According to one of our global studies, 83% of business professionals want to see companies taking brand-actions in response to the BLM movement – covering anything from reviewing hiring policies and ensuring diversity in leadership to supporting local initiatives and making charitable donations. Among BETAS, this is higher – at 88%. Among BETAs under 30, it’s as high as 92%. 

Cultural nuances are especially important here, and emerge in how different groups of BETAs want to see businesses living their values. 

On a global scale, the youngest BETAs are more likely than other professionals to demand companies show support for key issues via social media. 

The story plays out differently in the U.S. and UK – two markets where this social display of solidarity is one of the lowest-scoring brand actions.

This likely reflects the concern about performative allyship that many people express both in personal and professional contexts – social media posting without true accountability is often a hollow promise. 

Instead, BETAs in these markets prioritize internal reflection and change – with reviewing hiring policies and ensuring diversity in leadership being the top responses.

Putting values front and center

While it’s difficult to gauge to what extent BETAs – or any group – will truly act on their values, the intent is there, especially in the workplace. 

BETAs are the most likely to say they want to feel more aligned with their company’s vision, values, and operating principles.

Two-thirds express this – compared to half among business professionals aged 41-64. 

For B2B brands wanting to nurture real, lasting relationships with BETA decision-makers, it’s important to demonstrate a commitment to issues or values that resonate with them. 

Click to access our Work in BETA report

Written by

Jason is Chief Research Officer at GWI. He's the main man who leads our global team of analysts, delivering world-renowned research. He's an in-demand data junkie who you might see popping up on your telly screens every so often to show you what's actually happening in the lives of consumers.

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