Millennials are generally defined as people who were born between 1981 and 1996. They represent the largest, most scrutinized share of the labor force.
As a millennial myself, I’ve often found reporting of millennial work patterns to be quite negative and accusatory. The coverage mostly surrounds the idea that millennials are non-committal, entitled, averse to long hours of hard work, and generally more spontaneous than other generations when it comes to career choices.
It’s not just the daily grind anymore; it’s about cultivating a work-life balance.
The research, however, suggests that millennials are not, in fact, lazy or unproductive.
We just view the world differently and have had to adjust to the fast-paced changes around us in an adaptive and flexible way.
Millennials are also more likely to follow a career matrix path. The matrix or ‘web’ career path describes moving both vertically and horizontally in positions of work rather than the traditional ladder career path most commonly associated with baby boomers.
But why are millennials, in particular, more likely to take this type of career path?
The first thing to note is the ever-changing, fast-paced evolution of the workplace. As jobs and industries adapt to technological advances, the type of work and skillsets required change constantly. For millennials, this means it isn’t enough to be good at just one thing.
We have to be good at many things, at the same time, all the time.
It has placed much more value on learning as a tool and measure of progression, compared to experience or time spent in a particular place. However, the latter is still required and expected for career progression in a particular place of work.
What we’re seeing is a tug of war between the desire for longevity and stability versus freedom and the opportunity to chase your dreams.
What we’re seeing, then, is a tug of war between the desire for longevity and stability versus freedom and the opportunity to chase your dreams. Not to mention an erosion of the ‘one-size fits all’ model for career progression or ‘conveyor belt’ career path in which the progression can be linearly projected.
It also stems from what millennials may actually desire from work.
Millennials are driven by passion and fulfillment in the workplace. They are highly educated and digitally skilled. They take pride in their work and want positive associations with their working environment and organization. We’ve been told from an early age that we can be anything we aspire, and work hard enough, to be. If you combine that with the lack of straightforward linear progression to positions of higher responsibility and seniority, then it’s no wonder that millennials have a reputation for job-hopping.
It’s not just the daily grind anymore, it’s about cultivating a work-life balance, a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of belonging from the work we do.
Civic engagement and social responsibility are also two big factors in determining how millennials choose where and how they want to work. We’re interested in problem-solving for society as a whole, and see ourselves as much more connected – thanks to the internet – to the world around us. We are motivated and engaged by teamwork and team-orientated work.
Managers across all industries are having to adapt their policies and practices to attract and retain millennials. This is a workforce that wants to see their work making changes in real-time. They want feedback, not just on how they are doing but how to improve and get better, and ultimately to progress.
Millennials want feedback, not just on how they are doing but how to improve and get better, and ultimately to progress.
Furthermore, social media and personal branding have had a huge role in encouraging millennials to constantly seek out new opportunities. Building one’s personal brand as a career objective is a relatively new concept. Many millennials take part in slash careers – generating income simultaneously from more than one career – thereby building a professional profile that is both versatile and extensible.
The majority of millennial writers, for example, have part or full-time careers in other areas of work, and have successfully turned side hobbies and interests into sources of income. This is also particularly common for bloggers and small business owners who use social media and e-commerce to transform their passion into revenue.
In a competitive job market, slash careering makes millennials much more attractive to employers. It demonstrates their capacity for varied work, discipline, creativity, time management, and the ability to take initiative and lead projects to completion.
I myself wear multiple hats. I work for an agritech start-up, I freelance write, and I work part-time on campaigns and causes I’m passionate about. This has given me a sense of fulfillment and work-life balance that I don’t think I would have been able to find in a single position or career.
I believe it’s a sign of the times that we are moving more towards varied and less predictable career paths and journeys, and that makes it all the more exciting.
So, instead of labeling millennials as unreliable with a lack of direction, shouldn’t we instead be celebrated for our fortitude and flexibility, and for paving the way to a more fulfilling and balanced approach to work?