Cut from a different cloth

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

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.”



Ryan Waite, 32

Agent/Account Executive
Neckerman Insurance Services

“There are plenty of negative perceptions about millennials; some are accurate, some are not,” says Ryan Waite. “What bothers me most is the perception that millennials assume they are owed something without working for it.”

Waite, who graduated from UW–Madison in 2006, and has been with Neckerman Insurance for six years, knows something about hard work. At Neckerman, he says, you aren’t handed a book of business (clients). You start from scratch, you hustle, and you grow your own book. While the owners are extremely supportive and have an open-door policy that he says has helped him tremendously, it’s been the relationships he’s built, the networking he’s done, and the personal brand he’s created that has propelled him from zero clients to where he is now.

“Millennials work harder and longer in a different way than older generations.” — Ryan Waite

Whereas past generations might have sacrificed time at home to reach those goals, Waite says that’s not something he’s willing to give up.

“I do believe it’s true that millennials strive to create a more harmonious work-life balance, but I think millennials work harder and longer in a different way than older generations. Just because I’m not plopped in my office chair at 10 p.m. doesn’t mean that I’m not sending and receiving emails or reading up on the latest insurance coverage on drone use by businesses when the kids go to sleep. Our clients are also able to contact us 24/7 via email and cell phone; there is no ‘off’ button like there was in the past when you could go home and not be reached until the next day.”

Waite also doesn’t believe in doing business “the way it’s always been done,” and notes the positive effect it’s had on his client relationships.

“In the past, cold calling was a large part of sales. That is something that I have never done and never intend to do for two reasons: one, I hate cold calls, they’re awkward for me; two, I prefer to build my relationships through other clients, connections, and networking. I think my relationships are stronger with my clients if we have a deeper connection and history rather than a cold call.”

Building that kind of relationship with his employer has also been key to keeping Waite satisfied at his job.

“Money is important to millennials but it’s definitely not the be-all and end-all. I know millennials who have job-hopped due to their high stress levels not being worth the happiness the work provides. If you have a flexible schedule with no micro-management, good benefits, an organization open to new ideas, and you feel fulfilled in your work, it’s going to take a lot more than money to get you to leave.”

Alicia Greer, 33

Berndt CPA LLC

Alicia Greer has a more circuitous route to her current position, one that’s familiar to a lot of her millennial peers. Greer started her accounting career at a car dealership, although at the time she didn’t realize she’d been hired to do accounting. However, she quickly realized she loved it and went back to school to get her degree in accounting. From there she had several stops before finding a home at Berndt CPA in Madison about a year ago.

“We need to prove that the cliché of ‘work smarter not harder’ is really the way to do it.” — Alicia Greer

“When I started my first job at a public accounting firm in Illinois I thought, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to own this firm and take on the world.’ And then I realized I didn’t want to work 120 hours a week or whatever, so I kind of reevaluated.”

Despite Greer’s reluctance to sacrifice sleep for work, she thinks a common perception about her generation — that millennials are lazy — is ridiculous. “I don’t see that at all in my peer group, and I hope maybe it’s more of an antiquated perception. I work with entrepreneurs and small business owners — some of the most ambitious people. They’re in the same age group as me, starting their own business, making money, really happy with what they’re doing, and making a difference in the world.”

However, Greer says she does believe Americans are generally overworked and it’s her hope that millennials will be the ones to change that. “We need to prove that the cliché of ‘work smarter not harder’ is really the way to do it. We try to instill that in our clients, as well as ourselves. We understand because you started your own business that you want to give it your all, but you also have to take time off for yourself or you’re going to burn out.”

Greer notes that her early career job-hopping probably set her back a few years, but she admits that those opportunities also allowed her to learn the skills she needed to get her to where she wants to be today. Being happy in her career has also given Greer new perspective about a millennials’ place in the workforce. “One thing I would never do now is come to work when I’m not happy. Having a position that you’ve worked at for many years and staying there just because you think it’s the right thing to do — I call it ‘the grind.’ Perhaps the older generations’ perception was to stay with same company and not go outside that comfort zone. But I also don’t think it was emphasized as much before our time to maintain a great résumé — certainly not to have a LinkedIn profile — and all these things that make you attractive to other companies. That’s one advantage I think millennials do have over older generations. We have options.”

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