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Cut from a different cloth

In spite of many stereotypes, one size does not fit all for millennials in the workplace.

(page 1 of 2)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Millennials, perhaps unlike any generation before them, are poorly defined and misunderstood. That’s made for some serious headaches in human resources departments and managerial ranks, as companies try to get a grip on how to deal with “the millennial issue.”

A big part of the problem is with that statement itself. Millennials, defined loosely — depending on who’s doing the defining — are the generation born between 1980 (or ‘81) and 1996 (or 2000). They tend to despise labels and the assertion that they’re an “issue” is particularly grating. What, for example, is so bad about being the generation that’s been integral in creating the idea of a work-life balance, something that would have gotten previous generations laughed out of a job?

For all the existing misperceptions about millennials — they’re entitled, self-absorbed, lazy, disloyal, and disrespectful — there are just as many examples to the contrary, many of them on full display in Madison’s workplaces and entrepreneurial ranks.

IB recently spoke with three millennial professionals from some very traditional fields, ranging in age from 28 to 33, to see what really makes these unique members of a truly varied generation tick — and to get a few tips HR directors can use to recruit and retain their peers.

Jess Parker, 28

Agency Development Manager
Farmers Insurance

Jess Parker chaffs at the notion that millennials aren’t loyal employees, just hopping from job to job.

Armed with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Spanish and English literature from Northern Michigan University and a master’s degree in Spanish literature from UW–Madison, which she completed in 2012, Parker has been with Farmers Insurance in Verona for all four years of her post-graduate career.

“I personally do not want to feel like the next 30 years of my career are written in stone.” — Jess Parker

“Older generations may have a tendency to be more risk-averse due to the things that they experienced in their upbringing,” she says. “I think that a general risk-aversion among previous generations is perceived as loyalty because it results in employees sticking with a position for many years in favor of stability. In my experience, millennials tend to be more willing to take a risk in order to achieve a desired result or change. This often leads to a job change when the employee is unable to achieve the desired result within their current organization.”

Like anyone else, millennials want a great work environment that they can stick with, provided that the organization allows them to reach their goals, she notes. “Providing a flexible work schedule that is more focused on results and performance metrics rather than hours worked is a huge plus. This provides an incentive for efficient, high-performing workers to be out of the office more without foregoing the results required of the position.”

Parker also says it’s imperative for an organization to provide flexible career paths internally. “Not only upward mobility but lateral mobility can provide a feeling of possibility that inspires better job satisfaction and improved performance. I personally do not want to feel like the next 30 years of my career are written in stone. Nor do I want to spend 30 years vying for a single opportunity that may never come available to me due to a restrictive hierarchy.”

Parker also notes that, in general, millennials are seeking more work-life balance than previous generations, which she finds exciting.

“My grandparents, who experienced the effects of the Great Depression, passed on to my parents a desire for stability and conservation. This led them to the ‘work-long-and-hard’ approach. At the same time, many employers were focusing on seniority-based incentives like pensions, which reinforced the ‘work-long-and-hard’ mentality. Meanwhile, tons of millennials grew up with at least one parent relatively absent and exhausted due to the demands of their job — hence the Good Charlotte lyrics, ‘I don’t want your 9 to 5 or anyone to tell me how to live my life.’

“I think it is a natural human tendency to want to correct the flaws of our parents. A better work-life balance is not only healthier but can be more productive. Some employers are starting to take notice of this trend and are using it to their advantage.”


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