May 4th, 2016 by Angela Huser

Millennials, who are we and what do we want? Or not.

Reading into the subject of 'millennials' and 'workforce 2020', I was disappointed about the lack of originality in my findings. Not that I disagree with the trend analysis of digitalization, increased flexibility and the global workforce, but had I been a senior HR or business leader looking to shape my organization for the future, I doubt I would have gotten the right insights.

Coining terms and framing employee groups seems a logical processes when confronted with changed circumstances, but I believe it completely misses the point. It stigmatizeses employee groups (millennials, baby boomers, women, people of color, etc.) and creates differences at the individual level where in fact it is the business environment and the way we do business that has dramatically changed. Yes, I do enjoy a healthy work-life- balance, a flexible work schedule and the option to live and work in different countries, but so do employees of my parents’ generation. Conversely, some of my friends want nothing but a daily work routine with no ambitions to travel for work or go on international assignments.

One point that I think is fair to admit for my generation is that we confront employers with high and often unrealistic expectations to provide us with challenging jobs, good pay and fast career progression. On the other hand as graduates we are confronted with job adds that expect us to be fluent in three languages, digitally savvy and with a strong business acumen. We should have lived and studied in other countries and ideally have the work experience of a middle manager. This creates pressure and implies that we have known since high school what we wanted to become. Well, we haven’t. I think we are too far down the road the correct these expectations, but we can increase awareness on both ends and secure that young professionals get a high quality onboarding experience. Next to managing our expectations this should include not locking us too quickly in a particular function or career path. Let us try different fields, roles and approaches. This will not only help us find out what we are really good at doing, but hopefully also where our passion lies. For the organization it will create highly flexibel and engaged employees that mirror the agility needed to keep up with the challenges of globalization.

What we also need are strong leaders who can teach us how to navigate the corporate world, who encourage us to step forward and who do not shy away from providing us with the critical feedback that helps us improve. Leaders who balance out our expectations, but at the same time pass on the message that we need to take ownership for our careers. We believe that if we work hard enough, we will naturally be spotted as talents and have great careers. Little do we know about the dedication to networking, making ourselves visible and being proactive towards the direction in which we would like to develop. All of which are the efforts that need to come from us.

Presumably, most companies already have a talent management approach and material readily available on the intranet. However, from my experience those slides are neither easily found nor understood. Equipped with the right coaching and tools, individual- and company efforts will synergize and create a boost that can take employees and the organization beyond what we think is possible.

What I am trying to say is, let’s embrace the differences the digitalized world has imposed on the work environment more generally, rather than to start looking for clues in individual groups such as millennials. Organizations with open and inclusive cultures as well as customized onboarding programs, will naturally become employers of choice and accelerators for career growth. We may surprise everyone and stay on for years...

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