With millennials generally getting a bad rap and preconceptions abounding on how the “entitled generation” views both the workplace and the world at large, it would be easy to dismiss them offhand as serious prospects for employment. Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey tells us that 44% of millennials already have one foot out of the door and are planning on leaving their organisation in the next two years: a statistic that will surely have most employers close to tears with frustration. But what does being a millennial in the workplace actually mean? What is it that we are doing so very differently than our parents before us that is making us the topic of the decade?
“God forbid we actually like what we do. On the contrary, I’ve found that choosing a career that I absolutely love is the key to hard work, because I’m that much more motivated each day. And you know what? I worked really damn hard to get that job, and even though I lived and breathed it, I was all too aware that it still might not be enough to seal the deal.” Victoria Dawson Hoff
Millennials are the generation born roughly between 1980 and the late 1990’s. There are a lot of us (yes, I confess) and according to PwC we will represent 50% of the global workforce by 2020. Most articles on my generation will tell you that we’re lazy, in need of constant feedback, that we have trouble concentrating, take everything for granted and that we make a point of enjoying our work at all costs or we’ll be out the door before you can say ‘millennial’. On the upside we’re also considered to be optimistic, tolerant, confident and flexible, so at least there’s that. So what’s the millennial take on these, often rather damning, reports?
Don’t Call Me a Millennial
Although especially the younger millennials are struggling to find their way into a greatly changed marketplace, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to work. Yes, it’s easy to live with your parents and depend on welfare, but that’s certainly not true for all of us, says journalist Victoria Dawson Hoff in her Elle-article ‘Please do not call me a millennial’. She notes that strewing labels such as ‘lazy’ around just doesn’t seem fair when balancing on the tightrope between new and old media, resulting in a remarkable mix of opportunities and challenges.
Regarding the pursuit of job satisfaction she says: “God forbid we actually like what we do. On the contrary, I’ve found that choosing a career that I absolutely love is the key to hard work, because I’m that much more motivated each day. And you know what? I worked really damn hard to get that job, and even though I lived and breathed it, I was all too aware that it still might not be enough to seal the deal.”
Opportunity to Progress
Millennial Filipe Fraga was born in Portugal in 1981, now lives in Antwerp, Belgium and works (mainly) in the Netherlands. He’s familiar with the name his generation has but can’t say he encountered any problems related to his age when he decided to relocate in 2007.
“I decided to look for a job outside of Portugal because, one, I wanted to work in and around innovation with impact. I have a technical background and a strong interest in business, economics and society, while genuinely multi-disciplinary innovation wasn’t something you could find in Portugal back then,” Filipe tells us. “The second reason is that I wanted to experience a truly international, multilingual context. Lisbon wasn’t really an international working environment back then, whilst this was something I was curious about. So I had to look elsewhere for more diversity in my professional and personal development. Somewhat ironically, nowadays Lisbon leads on both fronts!”
Any difficulties Filipe faced after first setting foot on Dutch soil, such as inquisitive – even pushy – housing companies, he attributes to the uncertainty of his professional future more than his age per se.
Career wise he does have some experiences that fit into the millennial profile: “My employer was surprised by two things back then. The first was my drive to achieve business results, something they hadn’t expected considering my age and cultural background. Thinking of ‘stereotypes’, I have to admit they were partly right. The other thing came at a later stage, namely my desire to change position and move up after only one year with the company. They understood and recognised my potential, but decided a year was too soon. Six months later we were going through the options and another six months later I made the transfer to a field and function I had no previous experience in. In hindsight I realise it went pretty fast and that I was taken seriously despite being a twenty-something. At the time it felt like slow progress, but I don’t think that was fair of me. Today I’m grateful the opportunities came so quickly.”
“That being said, I have now found myself in situations where I feel ready to grow into a director or board level executive, but I often observe that everyone ‘above me’ is at least five to ten years older, so right now it feels like it may never happen,” Filipe laughs. “The expectation that your life has to be diverse and dynamic in every aspect does fit the millennial description, but then again, it might just be my character.”
With 63% of millennials believing their leadership skills are not being fully developed it would seem Filipe lucked out with his employer. The same Deloitte report states that the ability to progress and take on a leadership role is one of the most important drivers when evaluating job opportunities. Lisa Johnson, Consulting Services Global Practice Leader of Crown World Mobility, agrees to some extent: “The new assumption is that a career might need to progress laterally, not vertically, and moving around the company might be one solution.”
As a senior manager Filipe does recognise some of the typical millennial traits, especially with employees born in or after the late 80’s. “They all have the open-mindness and drive to try out a variety of fields and roles, but sometimes lack the perseverance to push through when encountering resistance. The question you have to ask yourself is will they consistently deliver on their responsibilities, or blame their manager/job/employer for losing (their) interest? This can vary hugely from person to person I find.”
The Values Generation
So it seems there is some truth to be found in the stereotypes, but this applies to all generations that are defined by periods of societal, economical and technological change. Plus: weren’t those changes fostered by our parents and their peers? Was it not they who told us the pursuit of happiness and work-life balance are paramount? Instilled us with strong values and told us to adhere to these?
It seems that millennials’ personal values have the greatest influence on decision making with 44% turning down a job because of an organisation’s values, 49% choosing not to undertake a work task because it goes against their personal values and 56% ruling out ever working for a particular organisation because of its values.
Success to this generation is about more than the bottom line. According to Deloitte they will measure organisations against longevity (24%), reputation (27%), turnover (29%), customer satisfaction (55%), employee satisfaction (62%), product and service quality (63%) and believe that business needs to have a positive impact on wider society. These values do not change as the millennial progresses professionally, so it is worth ensuring your organisation has strong values that your employees can align themselves with.
Bridging the Gap
Every generation tends to complain about those before and after them. So the question becomes how to bridge this generational gap within the workplace. When asked for his opinion, Filipe replies: “I’ve learned to assemble teams with both younger and older employees. Millennials are said to be especially good at idea generation, lacking the patience for painstaking execution. Yet all generations have individuals who are good at either ideas or execution, so it’s important to offer each individual the possibility to develop along the lines best suited to them personally. Myself, I do have a tendency to do several things at the same time and the urge to change often. With younger people that’s even stronger. While this has risks and needs to be balanced out, I believe it has a positive influence on interactions with colleagues, clients, technology, ideas. This diversity breeds strong innovation ecosystems.”
As for a future proof solution, Filipe doesn’t have the answer. “It might be symptomatic for the future of the job market, you can’t plan it in a ‘rigid’ way any more. The ‘problem’ has many nuances, many dimensions, it’s not just a question of generation. You have to combine insights to reach meaningful and flexible/resilient courses of action.”
Or as Victoria Dawson Hoff puts it: “I love knowing that so many people my age are making waves and doing what they want – the world is our oyster! – I personally think it’s just a sign of the times, not a sign of the people.”
With thanks to Filipe Fraga