I'm a Millenial trapped in a Gen-X company

July 8, 2008

Interning with an HR consultancy this summer, I have been inundated with articles, white papers and presentations trumpeting the rise of the “Millenial" in today’s workforce. No, we (yes, I’m a Millenial) are not some offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In the U.S., Millenials are teens and twenty-somes who have been shaped by the dynamic forces of reality over the past two to three decades: the digital revolution, the rise of India and China, 9/11, global warming, AIDS, Enron, Iraq, globalization and an overall decline of the U.S. stature in the worldview. Living in a world of death, destruction and increased competition, Millenials, as it goes, are all about enjoying life to the max. We’re socially and environmentally conscious, and very pragmatic, especially when it comes to our work responsibilities. We don’t stay around in one company for 35 years, climbing that corporate ladder, waiting for that glorious pension in the sky as a reward for a lifetime of hard work and loyalty. For starters, our job and benefits prospects are not so certain anymore. Many of us instead place family, friends and our community ahead of our jobs as a way to define our life. Moreover, we’re the ADD generation. We need constant stimulation, challenge and change in our day-to-day work life as well as our overall careers. When we get bored or dissatisfied with one employer, we know we can just pick up and leave without being stigmatized for our job-hopping. Call us irreverent, but we’ve had enough of the old corporate 9-5 paradigms. We view our jobs as transactional, and we’re all about the Results Only Workplace Environment. Why be forced to sit in an office at 33% productivity (seriously, how often does the average office worker spend on e-mail per day)? Our Crackberries and laptops keep us connected and productive wherever we are, and we can deliver impressive results on time while being given the freedom to structure our schedules as we like. Being raised in the digital era, we know that physical presence does not equate with work productivity or efficiency. Why is this a big deal? The talent war rages as the U.S. economy slowly—but surely—shifts to more service-based industries that require more human capital. And with a whole generation of Baby Boomers on the verge of retirement (well, maybe, if they can afford it), there are going to be lots of gaps to fill. Millenials, though, won’t be satisfied with waiting their turn to take on greater roles within their companies. Younger generations these days come through the door more restless than ever. We want to be valued, rewarded, put to (meaningful) work and affirmed all along the way. Blame our parents, the Baby Boomers (did I also mention Millenials supposedly have a naturally close connection with Boomer bosses, who view their relationships with the youngins on par with their own children...). All these factors put tremendous pressure on employers to create the type of work environments that will attract and keep today’s rising stars. Jobs, careers and benefits must feel “designer” and “custom-tailored.” Fixed-benefits plans will be unable to withstand the demands of a generation used to picking and choosing their song mixes via iTunes rather than having to buy the whole darn album to listen to one or two songs. It’s no longer just about health, wealth and paid time off. Millenials want credits for buying a hybrid car, mini-sabbaticals every six months, or paid time-off for community service twice a month. Likewise, work should be more project-based to fit with Millenial restlessness. We want to be able to choose who we work with, across geographies, functions and companies (clients). Millenials want employers to break jobs up into pieces that can easily be arranged into and accomplished within a non-traditional work schedule. And of course, we want to be recognized for the good work that we do! We want to be told how we’re performing at any given point in time, not just at annual review time. Markers of achievement—attainable short-term goals and milestones as well as small but frequent promotions—also help keep Millenials engaged over the longer-term horizon (anything over a year for me is considered long-term). Obviously, being mentored and coached is invaluable to setting us on the right path to success, but we want the freedom to decide how to do our work and to own our projects, without directives from above. Call me spoiled, lazy, ungrateful, even mollycoddled (love that word), but the Millenial argument does have merit. In order to stay innovative and entrepreneurial in this competitive global landscape, people must be free to operate “outside the box,” to have more freedom in their work and careers. We work very hard (and have worked hard since pre-school) to fulfill our ambitions and life goals and dreams. We’re not slackers, obviously. We’re the Internet generation, and we know that if we’re kept back with too many rules and limitations, someone else will beat us to that next new product or service. There is a cyber galaxy of information floating out there these days, and if we aren’t quick enough to process it into a new idea, someone else will. Or maybe I’m just mollycoddled after all.

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Art Janik