By Leah Smiley, CDE
I read an article on LinkedIn this morning by Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic entitled, “Indisputable Evidence Shows That Millennials Have it Worse Than Any Generation in 50 Years.” The article asserts that the job market is so horrible that Millennials in the 25-32 age range are “forced” to live at home.
I don’t know if I would necessarily agree that Millennials have it worse…Millennials have higher workplace expectations as a result of being cohorts in the “trophy generation”. This is where they replaced “trophy wives” and were pushed to achieve awesome things in school, sports and social activities. Nevertheless, many lack real world experience and are used to helicopter parents swooping in to save them (hence, life at home as an adult). Therefore, the issue may not necessarily reside with “no available employment”; it may be a whole host of things from choosiness, lack of effort/motivation, and parents who are comfortable with adult kids living at home.
Think about it: something is wrong with the “work” flow. In previous generations, adult children had few choices pertaining to their living arrangements. A famous Burger King commercial from the 1970’s summed it up like this, “Have it your way”—voluntarily leave home when you turn 18 or involuntarily get put out. Additionally, coming back home was never an option. If you did come “home”, parents would make it so unbearable that you would have to leave. Anything was better than living at home as an adult. This included working two minimum wage jobs until something better came along, or creating a product or service to sell.
The parents of today’s 25-32 year olds, are NOT the old-school Baby Boomer and Silent Generation parents. Employers are also not the companies of old. Organizations paid minimum wage for certain positions in prior years because a worker was not expected to make a “career” out of every job. This was a part of the business model for banks, retail, and food services– to create entry-level jobs that would provide experience for bigger and better opportunities. Yet, in recent years, this model is no longer working, as some folks misaligned this great concept called “retention”. Today, “retention” is not just for star workers in higher level positions; we want everyone to become so comfortable where they are, that they no longer seek opportunities elsewhere. However, now, you’re messing with the business model—because with retention, comes higher pay. If you want these folks to spend 10-15 years at your organization as a food services worker or a cashier—not only do you have to pay more but you are also eliminating opportunities for new talent to enter the workplace and gain the necessary skills to move up and out.
Do you see where this is going? The systemic flow from home to independence/self-sufficiency, and from entry-level work to higher paying jobs is interconnected. It’s not just helicopter parents, it’s also the workplace retention experts who didn’t take the time to connect their efforts to something greater, like the overall business strategy or the future.
So, how do we fix this dilemma?
1. If you want to retain everyone, you must pay a higher price. For parents, it’s adults living at home. For employers, it’s more money. For customers, it’s higher prices. If that is your choice, understand and accept the trickle-down effect. Everything is connected (e.g., higher cost of living expenses, Millennials living at home, employers being pressured to raise the minimum wage, etc.)
2. If your objective is to prepare individuals to transition and perform at optimum levels, you must have a cross-training and mentoring program that begins sooner, rather than later. Specifically target lower-level workers so that they can gain valuable experience performing different tasks, as well as work with different people who can challenge them, motivate them, and direct them.
Here’s where that pesky word “diversity” comes into play—lower level workers are much more likely to be diverse. According to 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75.3 million workers in the United States age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.0 percent of all wage and salary workers. Other characteristics of minimum wage workers include the fact that these earners are more likely to be younger, female, single (including single parents), lacking a college education, and White, Black or Latino.
And again, here is where we also see that diversity efforts alone, do not work. Your organization needs diversity (it’s a word that cannot be replaced with other terms), but you must also add stuff to it, like inclusion, cultural competence, equity, professional development, and performance management.
3. If you want to re-direct your retention efforts so that star performers, who have received a considerable corporate investment are retained, you must: (a) understand your organization’s business model; (b) align your diversity retention efforts with pipeline development efforts; and (c) channel employee expectations toward proficiency. You can strategically achieve this by communicating the rewards of being a skilled worker with online employee profiles, Lunch & Learn sessions with recently promoted workers, and inclusive practices (i.e., not excluding white guys).
While I definitely can’t say that Millennials have it better than previous generations, I can affirm that times have changed and not all of the changes that have been made over the years have been for the better. Yet, it’s never too late to correct course and help our organizations—and Millennials—to reach greater heights.
Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org.