What to do about us slow, messy Millennials.

Employee engagement

“Our millennial employees feel entitled… they want it all now” complained one business leader I spoke with some months ago.

As a millennial myself, my inner chimp railed against this – how dare you call me entitled?! – yet I continued thinking over his comment long past that meeting.

Are millennial employees really so different to other employees? Is it fair that millennials get such a hard time?

And then Simon Sinek’s millennial talk hit the world:

Apparently, millennials as a group of people are tough to manage. They are accused of being entitled and narcissistic, self interested, unfocused and lazy – but entitled is the big one​ – Simon Sinek

Sinek makes the case that millennials have been ‘told they can have anything they want in life, just because they want it’. Yet when that doesn’t happen in the real world, there can be significant damage to self-esteem and confidence.

Sinek argues that millennials suffer from impatience driven by the instant gratification that technology has made freely available (think Tinder vs. awkward introduction at a bar):

Everything you want [you can have instantaneously]… except job satisfaction and strength of relationships – their ain’t no out for that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes.​ – SS

If organisations want satisfied employees – which many, it seems, do – then they have the unenviable task of helping their future leaders navigate the ‘slow, uncomfortable, messy’ journey that is a career.

Increasingly this means recognising that dangling a ‘race-to-the-top’ carrot doesn’t work for everyone. Yet the stories of our time don’t convey the reality of this process.

At professional services firms, awed stories abound of the person who made it to Partner aged 28. What about the vast majority of Partners who took a more meandering route? Those who probably have more interesting stories to tell as a result.

Would-be entrepreneurs feel the sense of urgency perpetuated by the whizz-kid Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. Yet these stories are so extraordinary because they are so rare. Far more interesting are the stories of those whose winding career journeys led them to launch wildly successful businesses at 65:

So, what to do?

The career timeline can be a profound tool for instilling a sense of perspective, by simply sketching on a line indicating ‘where I am now’. Ogling the 40+ years ahead can be a sobering moment to remember that it’s not a race to the end and the importance of enjoying and investing in the journey.

Perhaps it’s time to use tools that help people, millennials or not, take a more strategic, long term view of their career – Career Rocket Fuel by Ogilvy One’s Brian Fetherstonhaugh offers one such model.

We are so influenced by the stories that we tell and the role models who tell them. Perhaps it’s time to share more widely the stories of people who have taken the winding road and the joys and pains of their journey.

As Pete Mosley, author of the Art of Shouting Quietly, puts it at a brilliant workshop of his I went to recently, there’s no map for the journey to a fulfilling career. Hopefully there are travel companions.

Image sources:

Header: Kari Shea via Unsplash karisheacreative.com

Simon Sinek: http://blog.stephengates.com/

Too Late to Start? by Anna Vital

No map for this journey by Pete Mosley: https://www.patreon.com/petemosley

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