The Current Situation
The forces of globalization, M + A activity, technology adoption, and the increased speed of change have transformed the workplace. Millennials, arguably, have to bear the brunt of these changes for better or worse.
In the “On Millennials in the Workplace” interview that blew up the internet last year, Simon Sinek spoke eloquently about specific challenges millennials and their employers face. Obviously, Sinek struck a chord.
Sinek noted a “dearth of good leadership” in creating “corporate environments … that teach the joys and impact and the fulfillment you get from working hard on something that can’t be done in a month or a year!”
Moreover, Sinek understands leadership. He has written several best-selling books on the topic.
But wait, since when is it the job of businesses to teach joy and fulfillment?
I thought businesses were supposed to work to sustain themselves while making money for their shareholders/owners. “Kumbaya benefits,” like joy and fulfillment, sweet to have for sure, are nearly impossible to engineer into an Employee Value Proposition (EVP). How would you even measure them?
Would focus on a more tangible benefit, like telecommuting (working from home all or some time and not having to spend X hours a week in traffic), do more for joy and fulfillment than almost anything?
Plus, when offered as part of the broader EVP, the flexibility to work from home can drive recruitment, retention, and even productivity. That is real Kumbaya!
My Experience with Millennials
The past four years I have had the pleasure of working with dozens of Millennials. I have been impressed by their motivation, eagerness to learn, and technical aplomb. Granted, these are all graduates of world-class universities. I have just personally found that most of the wholesale generalizations and mostly negative stereotypes are not true.
One of the most refreshing experiences was being asked by Millennials for advice in navigating the workplace and their careers. While today’s workplace is complicated and in flux, I feel super qualified to help as I have made tons of career mistakes. Doubly refreshing is I have seen the advice followed and put into practice.
This “open to, asking for, and implementing coaching” trait is a real differentiator Millennials have to their Gen X peer, who, at least in my experience, often never asked for any help.
BTW – it is a deft move by Millennials to ask for advice, as it makes those being asked for direction feel valued.
Advice for Millennials
What, then, is my advice for the millennials?
Three words, “responsibility” “courage” and “network.”
When it comes to your career (and your levels of joy, impact, and happiness), you have to take full responsibility for them. Don’t count on companies or others to be looking out for you. Also, don’t rely on luck, karma, or any other type of “magical thinking.” That is where a vibrant and current network can help out.
So, focus on knowing yourself, what you need to succeed, what gives you mojo, and what you are not willing to do. Then, hypothesize what you are willing to give in exchange for a workplace that supports all that. I would suggest stretching a bit here. Giving more than you get is a great “brand” to spread early in your career.
Then, work like heck towards achieving your goals. Always pay attention to:
- Responsibility – If you need more education or training to get you where you are going, get it. If you need to live somewhere else to improve your future, go there. If you need to change jobs, change. It is all up to you. Remember the world is always hyper-competitive, unfair at times, yet almost always rewards hard work when delivered with a great attitude.
- Network – Being a “digital native” you already have a web. You are also more adept at platforms besides Facebook. You can multi-task without breaking a sweat. Seek coaching to improve face-to-face meetings. Then, leverage all those skills to expand and deepen those connections to form a thriving professional network. Your network will be your most valuable asset.
- Courage – All this will require courage. Don’t be afraid. You are good enough. Take the first step, and keep going. You will get there. The safe, well-traveled, middle-of-the-road is boring. A series of dull days yields a boring life. Create a future you want to live in. You have one life. One chance. Make it great. It is only through courage will you be able to look back and have no regrets.
Bonus! By doing this, you will backfill the leadership dearth by becoming your own leader.
Can You Clean up the Boomer Mess?
If Sinek is right, the boomers in some ways have made a mess of things for you. Foolish decisions have been made, serious decisions avoided, and the results of those actions are coming in daily, for your generation to deal with.
Boomers gave you awards as kids when you did not deserve them to avoid hurting your feelings. Boomers created the smartphones they now decry you are “addicted” to. In some cases, boomer parents insisted on college attendance only to have you graduate saddled with debt and not have the skills you need to get a great job.
Meanwhile, boomers oversaw the unwinding of traditional retirement plans in favor of grossly underfunded 401Ks. Watch out as your boomer parents might look to you for help fund their retirement. This is because you are already financially more mature then the boomers and Gen Xers were at your age.
Moreover, now your moment is here. You are now the most substantial part of the workforce. The next election we could see the first Millennial president.
What will you do? Will you prove to be smarter with greater forethought than your boomer parents? Will you show greater leadership?
I hope so because my Gen Z son will be joining you soon.