What are Millennials Really “Entitled” To?

The topic of Millennials in the workforce, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area and the tech world, has been on my mind for a few weeks. It started when a friend sent me a LinkedIn blog piece entitled, “How Do Organizations Address the Challenge of Job Hopping Millennials?” Unemployed at the time, and with short stints at a number of startups peppering my recent work history, I worried about being perceived as a job hopper– as if my short tenures implied something negative about my character, work ethic, or performance.

At the time, I thought about how unfair it was that job hopping is often blamed on the employees themselves, rather than the companies– namely startups– which often appeal to Millennials but also provide a comparatively less stable situation. What ultimately spurred this piece, though, was the open letter to the Yelp CEOposted on Medium last week by an employee (who was later terminated) as well as a response piece that I read on LinkedIn. The Medium post has been pegged by many as demonstration of the unrealistic expectations of Millennials and confirmation that they are a whiny and entitled lot.

Before continuing, I should note that I am a member of Generation X– at least 6 months shy of even the most liberal definition of the Millennial generation (those born in the early 1980s to early 2000s). I came of age during the grunge era, owned my first cellphone post-college and learned to drive before Google Maps ever existed (so I’ve navigated using paper maps). So despite being near in age to the oldest of Millennials, I don’t believe that I think or live in the same way as the majority of this group and truthfully, some Millennial beliefs and habits baffle me. But having a lot of people in my network who are Millennials, I’ve heard their stories firsthand and I can agree that it’s a generation that’s had it tougher in some ways than the rest of us. So in putting together this piece, I am assessing this generation critically but also with a generous level of sympathy and benefit of the doubt.

So, what are Millennials really “entitled” to?

1) The truth about living and working in the land of tech

While I’m generally critical of the open letter, I do applaud the author (“Talia Jane”) for being honest about the financial struggles impacting not only Millennials but a large segment of tech workers in the San Francisco Bay Area. There is the unfair and inaccurate assumption that everyone who works in tech is somehow a tech millionaire– that we all make six-figure incomes or were made instantly wealthy by the IPO or acquisition of the small company at which we have worked. As we know from recent events at Zenefits as well as LinkedIn’sstock plummet earlier this month, riches are not that easy to come by in Silicon Valley. Wild riches, in fact, are much more the exception than the norm here in the epicenter of technological innovation.

There is the unfair and inaccurate assumption that everyone who works in tech is somehow a tech millionaire.

I think that we can all concede that starting out in one’s career is financially tough; however, I think it is very brave for the author of the Medium piece to admit that many new workers are struggling in unimaginable ways. Earlier in my career, I was a marketing assistant at a magazine and my annual salary was $35,000, which is pretty low. But this was back in the mid-2000s, before Google really took off and before things in the SF Bay Area became the zany place it is today. The first room that I rented in a Sunnyvale apartment (having previously lived with my parents in San Jose) cost $475 per month. My first studio apartment in Mountain View just a few years later was $975 per month. Today, it is not uncommon for housing in any number of cities throughout the SF Bay Area to cost triple the prices stated above, while starting salaries in many professions remain in the $30-60K range (non-tech roles). I think we can collectively agree and say out loud to Millennials: “That sucks” and “I’m sorry.”

Truthfully, these stories need to be communicated to any worker choosing to relocate to the SF Bay Area so that people understand the high cost of living and are making informed decisions– especially to Millennials who may be mesmerized and drawn to SF by the startup lifestyle.

While life is getting increasingly expensive, I would argue that Millennials are also entitled to…

2) Tough love and boundaries to ensure financial survival

The author of the open letter describes a near poverty-level existence, including going to bed hungry, which I will assume is true and unembellished. While it’s a heartbreaking situation, the solution is not a whiny public demand to the CEO of your company to arbitrarily raise salaries. It’s not clear why the author, after having tried to remedy her situation via direct channels, didn’t attempt to find a new job that offered a better salary. As the saying goes, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.

High cost of living aside, I have for some time been critical of the money habits of Millennials. I often hear the Millennials in my network complain about how hard it is to save money, all-the-while buying music festival tickets for hundreds of dollars a pop, having food delivered to their homes, and taking Uber/Lyft though public transportation in SF is reasonable. With pensions no longer offered and many companies offering 401Ks as an option (but not auto-enrolling employees into conservative funds), I suspect that many Millennials do not understand how to get started on retirement savings and are saving nothing towards this aim. I’ve heard younger members of my network say that if they were to lose their jobs, they only have enough saved up to survive unemployed for a month or two. I find this all vicariously terrifying.

A recent PWC report on Millennials presents two sides to the issue. On the one hand, the study reports that less than a quarter (24%) of Millennials demonstrates basic financial knowledge. So, there is in part an education problem. However, the report also shares that even with inadequate knowledge, only 27% of Millennials seek out professional financial advice on savings and investment. This seems like an attitude problem. Millennials are smart enough to acknowledge deficiencies; however, as if in denial that the real world is knocking on the door, they would rather not think about it and instead delay edification and necessary lifestyle changes.

Perhaps I’m a little less than sympathetic because my generation didn’t have the luxury of ranting about our financial situations on social media and then setting up a GoFundMe page. We probably complained as long as someone would listen and once we found that we no longer had an audience, we picked ourselves up and we sorted it all out. When I was in my early 20s and making $35K a year, I packed a lunch everyday and made eating out a rare occurrence.  I only allowed myself to buy coffee once a week– as a treat– and let me tell you: I savored that one coffee a week like it was manna from heaven. I even trekked up to SF many years back to get personal finance maven Suze Orman to sign my copy of “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke” and dutifully maxed out my Roth IRA every year per her instructions. My generation had to buckle down and make hard choices in order to edge closer to our financial targets; I don’t see why Millennials shouldn’t be expected to do the same.

To better their financial circumstances, Millennials are entitled to…

3) Opportunities for professional growth

I recently saw a LinkedIn post that I found really impressive. An employee at HackerRank, a recruiting tech company in Palo Alto, posted that the company is hiring new sales team members because they had recently promoted a couple of employees. I found this commitment to promoting from within really refreshing, especially since the results of a recent Deloitte survey indicate that the #1 reason that Millennials leave their jobs is lack of opportunities for leadership development.

The SDR role (which stands for Sales Development Representative) is an interesting example because it is an entry level role, usually filled with recent college graduates, and one that is often described as a “high churn position” where employees usually leave after about one year. It seems such a waste to have candidates who have proven themselves as hard workers and built up institutional knowledge walk out the door due to lack of advancement opportunities. Instead of painting Millennials as job hoppers who leave roles out of boredom or a dilettante attitude, I do think companies need to take a good look within and think about ways to better cultivate the talent that they have invited into their enterprise.

But that doesn’t mean a free pass to Millennials, who are entitled to…

4) A kick in the pants about what it takes to get ahead professionally

The part of the open letter to the Yelp CEO that I found the most difficult to stomach is this line: “…I was told I’d have to work in support for an entire yearbefore I would be able to move to a different department.” I’m not sure why the writer has such wild misconceptions about professional progress, as it is standard at most companies that an employee stay for at least a year in the role for which they were hired before they are able to transfer or apply for something else.

In the author’s case, the desire to move departments was directly related to salary. But salary aside, it’s not uncommon for an employee– both young and old, novice and established professional– to take a less-than-desirable job as a means of “getting their foot in the door.” Whether you make concessions to work at a dream company, to secure your first job, or perhaps to work at an early stage startup (which may not have the resources related to pay or hierarchy), it is common and often a good strategy to take what is offered to you in order to gain entry and be a part of something great.

And if you make that concession and accept the offer, then I think two things should happen. One, you need to deliver on your commitment. And two, you need to have the right attitude. Instead of seeing it as a one year prison sentence– again, ignoring the issue of salary/debt in the author’s story– see it as a one year deadline to be the best damn {fill in the role} that the company has ever hired. I’m not naturally a super positive, Pollyanna type person, but I do truly believe this. Whether you want to think of it as making lemonade from lemons, or challenging yourself under a trying circumstance, it is best if you can maximize your efforts and try your best. As a child of the 80s, I want to offer you this theme song as you push through it all.

And if you make that concession and accept the offer, then I think two things should happen. One, you need to deliver on your commitment. And two, you need to have the right attitude.

In this vein, it’s important for Millennials to understand that nothing is ever easy or handed to a person, even if it looks that way in a person’s LinkedIn profile. Call it what you want, but in my life and I think increasingly in the professional world, there is a need to be creative and proactive, sometimes from the sidelines and maybe apart from the actual job that you are doing. This image has shown up on my LinkedIn feed many times (I’m guessing maybe yours too) but it really is an effective metaphor that shows that in the working world, what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.

I bring this up because I recently had coffee with a young excoworker and he mentioned a desire to transition into a marketing or writing role. I asked him if he had any strong writing samples or bylines and he admitted that he didn’t (and did so in a defeated tone). I told him that with the availability of communications channels these days, including the LinkedIn blog feature, Medium and other blogging mechanisms as well as online publications that welcome new writers, there really isn’t an excuse for not having writing samples. When I was starting out in my career, I wrote for any publication that would accept my work, including school newspapers, magazines, and company newsletters. I am also a big proponent of volunteering to do extra work or angling your way into new projects even when you’re in a lackluster job; if you can use the experience to pitch yourself for a new job or responsibility (or even get the experience to eliminate something from your professional consideration set), then it’s worth the effort.

Bottom line: Millennials have no excuse not to go out and explore, investigate, and try. There’s simply too many options available these days to have any excuses for being professionally stagnant. And they shouldn’t expect these things to happen overnight. You aren’t defeated until you’ve actually lost the war. I’m not just saying that because it sounds incredibly catchy; I’m saying it because I have to remind myself of this all the time. Keep at it and don’t give up.

And more generally speaking, whereas I think life is tough and entering the working world is tough, I think Millennials are also tough, and with discipline, hard work and the right attitude, they’ll get through it fine. Hustle hard, young’uns.

 

Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Stephanie Kong is a product marketer who enjoys ruminating on the intersections between technology, user behavior and society. She wonders why “hustle hard” isn’t a tag option for blog pieces. Its absence is clearly a bug; LinkedIn, please get your smartest engineer on this immediately. The opinions expressed in this piece do not represent the views of her employer or any organizations with which Stephanie is affiliated. They are solely and wonderfully hers.

Originally posted on Linked IN by: 

Contact John Assunto for all of your Education Recruiting needs! Johna@worldbridgepartners.com or 860-387-0503

 

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Posted on March 1, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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