Over the last several months I’ve stumbled across a number of articles that look at how to manage Millennials in the workplace. They might as well be titled “how to manage pandas in the work place”, because some of them depict Millennials as an unusual, unfathomable breed that go against every shred of conventional wisdom. And in some respects they are. But their outlook on the world – which older generations often view as unconventional – has actually been shaped by their first-hand experience of how convention can be quite the beast of betrayal. Here’s why.
For many Millennials the promise of the American dream was a fairly simple concept to grasp. Study hard, go to college, get a degree and then move into a well paying, secure job that rewards you generously for your hard work and talent. But this notion has started to sound more like a movie script than an achievable reality.
Let’s start with college. A huge number of Millennials either left, or are about to leave college with enormous debts. Debts that are unparalleled in America’s history. A $75,000 student loan here. A $20,000 credit card bill there. Carrying such a huge debt burden is slightly more tolerable if there’s a guarantee of a job at the end of it all, but the Great Recession has put paid to that. Law school graduates are entering the job market to find there simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone. Yet still colleges continue to pump expensive law degrees with ever spiraling tuition costs. A critical part of the conventional American dream is already beginning to splutter for many.
Millennials are also a generation that place particular importance in family and – as some have observed – they’ve earned the label of being a molly-coddled, pampered generation that have been heavily dependent on their parents. While this is true to some extent, the recession hasn’t been too kind to the families that Millennials cherish so much. They’ve witnessed parents and relatives be laid-off from supposedly **respectable**, safe, long-standing corporate jobs during the Great Recession. While the idea of a “job for life” disappeared many years ago, Millennials have witnessed first-hand that working in corporate America is no guarantee of stability anymore.
This has paved the way for a generation of Millennials that by nature are more entrepreneurial. While big corporations have been making big cut-backs to payrolls, individuals like Mark Zuckerberg and Kevin Rose have demonstrated that success doesn’t have to be about 9-5 office life. They’re more inclined to pursue niche ideas in which they have a genuine interest and passion, and not simply walk into something because it’s the “expected” thing to do. America has already reneged on part of its agreement with Millennials, but rather than moping about it they’re using their ambition and creativity in new ways with – once again – technology being a key driver.
For the Millennials that do enter the corporate workforce, their outlook is different too. They’ll work hard and be passionate about what they do, but rigid schedules and behavior will not resonate. Millennials live in a world where they’re constantly connected, so the concept of a 9-5 day is no longer as relevant. They’re driven and ambitious but at the same time crave a work-life balance, especially after witnessing that dedicating long hours to a single company is no longer a guarantee of success or stability.
And finally they respect ability and achievement far more than titles and positions. In a corporate world which is dominated by a hierachy of job titles, Millennials will often struggle. Meritocracy is the name of the game, not simply advancing by jumping through the right political hoops.
There’s no question that Millennials have incredible ambition, but after witnessing the unraveling of the US economy and the boom in new technology they’re realizing there’s a different path they can take to achieve it. Helping them along that path rather than trying to force them to change course can actually be an effective strategy in managing them in the workplace.