Debunking negative ideas about the next crop of workers

The Middle Ages

April 20, 2008|By SUSAN REIMER

My generation of parents considers this job to be open-ended, and the gainful employment of our children is no longer the finish line.

There are all sorts of horror stories of parents sitting in on their children's job interviews, calling an employer to say that the entry-level salary offered was not sufficient. I have even heard of parents calling to complain that junior's annual bonus was not high enough.

Those are extremes, but there is an honest concern among us that our children might not find jobs in this uncertain economy -- and if they do, we are worried that they might not make very good employees, that they might not demonstrate any more of a work ethic in the office than they do at home, when it comes to loading the dishwasher or cleaning the bathroom.

We should give them more credit, and a survey of 21- to 29-year-olds by advertising giant J. Walter Thompson proves that point. These young people -- often called Millennials -- are certainly very different workers from any previous generation, and they are changing the definition of work. But they aren't the spoiled, know-it-all slackers that we feared they might grow up to be. (No thanks to us, their parents.)

"The survey revealed that American Millennials ... may have a slightly looser attitude toward the workplace, but they also respect the way corporate America works," said the report.

This generation is loyal, committed and it doesn't expect to job-hop, the survey found. They respect their employers, but they are less likely than older workers to feel beholden to them. Competitive salaries and job status are very important to a generation that is used to the praise and rewards lavished on it by us, the parents.

But the perception that members of this age group haven't grown up, that they would rather play than work, is true only in the sense that they rate fun and stimulation among their top five ideal job requirements -- more so than the thirty-, forty- and fiftysomethings that were also surveyed. The result might be that they will like their jobs better than the rest of us like ours.

Work-life balance is more important to this generation than to any previous generation, the survey found. Perhaps they learned from us the value of a flexible schedule and ample time off.

But Ann Mack, who is JWT's director of trendspotting and who wrote the report, said that's because technology has melted the divisions between work and the rest of life.

"This generation is so technologically savvy, they are constantly connected," she said. "They check e-mails the way they brush their teeth -- first thing in the morning and the last thing at night."

Because their professional and personal lives are blurring, they expect their employers to respect their unorthodox workday -- working at home or during non-traditional hours.

Mack, who is 32 and supervises a number of Millennials at JWT, said there is a perception that Millennials are sloppy dressers -- likely to show up at work in jeans or in sports clothes.

Not true.

"A surprising 67 percent -- more than any other age group -- consider a formal appearance at work to be important. ... Because they are new, they want to dress in a certain way so that they will be treated in a certain way," Mack said in an interview.

What separates this generation from older workers, she said, is education. Because of day care and pre-school, they were veteran students before first grade, ramping up the curriculum requirements as they moved through school. But their thinking skills and verbal skills can make them hard to manage, she agreed.

The other difference?

Us.

This generation is likely to have grown up in a home where both parents worked, and one or both parents might have been on a serious career track.

"Both have opinions and both have great advice," said Mack. "And this generation isn't ashamed to acknowledge that, to actually quote Mom and Dad at the office."

One interesting finding: only 15 percent of those surveyed still live at home. That goes against the perception that twentysomethings are all back in their old bedrooms as they try to gain traction in life.

"That's not to say they aren't sponging off their parents," said Mack, with a laugh. "They are not against taking handouts, and Mom and Dad are much more apt to give them."

Now that's familiar.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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