I have a confession to make. I was once a millennial. Although when I was, we weren’t called millennials. We were called long-haired layabouts. And nobody could care less what we thought about anything or what we wanted from the workplace. In common with other friends of mine I wanted to be treated with respect and given the chance to learn and develop, and I didn’t want to hang around in a business I didn’t like. But we were told to just put up and shut up.
Which we did. We did because we needed the job. A secure job, and employers reference, was instrumental to getting a decent bank account and a credit card. Plus access to finance – for a car loan (driving around in your mother’s car wasn’t a great look) and to begin saving towards a mortgage deposit.
Today’s millennials/long-haired layabouts do not have such concerns – they get bank accounts when they’re born, credit cards on turning 16, most have little interest in (or need for) buying a car and as for saving for a mortgage….
I sat on a conference panel talking about employee engagement earlier last year. The organisers had arranged for two senior HR professionals, an industry spokesperson, and one of their millennial employees to join me. We had been treated to a keynote session full of millennial myths and future of work warnings. We started the panel by introducing ourselves. The millennial employee said “If I join your company and I don’t like the way you treat me then I’ll leave. I won’t be leaving because I’m a millennial employee who’s hardwired to change jobs every 6 months – I’ll be leaving because you’re a shit company to work for”. Cue much laughter and applause from the audience.
There are two immediate things to draw from this. Firstly one of self-awareness, that whilst shit isn’t the most offensive word in the English language, its not one that I would use from the conference stage. And secondly that the way younger employees are treated in the workplace drives whether they stay with a business, not the need for longer term financial stability and a stable career.
Whilst the conversations around generations aren’t new, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently of events featuring sessions where they are discussed. With the usual lame observations leading to weak analysis and faulty conclusions. At a time when every business conference is embracing Diversity and Inclusion as a key driver of commercial success, the juxtaposition of this message with sessions on generational stereotyping are particularly jarring and unwelcome.
Let us not forget that times are uncertain for under 35s. Geopolitical trends are going against them – the majority of them did not vote for Brexit, nor the current Government in the UK or president in the US.
Meanwhile they are constantly reminded that they’ll be the first generation to be poorer than their parents. And regularly told that they’ll be fighting an army of robots, chatbots and algorithms all hellbent on taking their jobs. They need to be in a constant mode of learning and skill development, whilst this transience and lack of job security becomes glamourised by the language of artistry and aspiration – gigs, portfolios, flexibility and freedom.
If that’s not enough today’s millennials have to cope with an army of consultants, bloggers, analysts and armchair psychologists analysing them, telling them what they are supposed to think and do, and then earning a living telling everyone in HR and business leadership roles how special millennials are and why all business practices have to be redesigned to keep them happy.
Of course, times were uncertain when I was a millennial too – its just there was no army of consultants, bloggers, analysts and armchair psychologists trying to earn money from analysing us…just bosses to tell us to put up, shut up and be thankful we had a job…
On second thoughts…
(Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need. You can hear me talking about it on this podcast)