Illustration by Victoria Borges
Reams of think pieces on millennials — roughly defined as people born between 1981 and 2001 — paint a picture of a generation defined by its laziness, sense of entitlement, and yes, those oft-mentioned participation trophies.
Employers will wrestle with these stereotypes more and more, as a rising tide of 20-somethings and 30-somethings enter the workforce. In fact, millennials will comprise about half of the country’s workers by 2025, says Matt Thornhill, founder of GenerationsMatter, an offshoot of the Richmond-based Southeastern Institute of Research that’s focused on “generational dynamics” in the workplace.
“ ‘What’s wrong with these millennials?’ is what companies hire us to come help them figure out,” Thornhill says. “There’s nothing wrong with them. They just have a different mindset about this stuff.”
That differing outlook is rooted in their upbringing and goals, he says. It affects how they choose occupations and employers, as well as how they operate in the workplace and what they expect from managers.
To start, millennials look at jobs in a fundamentally different way than previous generations. Baby boomers lived to work and valued the spoils a stable career could fetch. The much-maligned Generation Xers worked to live, but did not define themselves by their occupation. Still buoyed by youthful idealism, millennials want to make a difference and gravitate to organizations and positions they believe have a purpose, Thornhill says.
At Snagajob, two out of three of the company’s employees are millennials, says Candace Nicolls, whose official title is “head snagger,” putting her in charge of human resources functions for the company’s Richmond office. Snagajob’s mission to connect people to jobs, and their track record — last year 5 million people found work through its site — are “fantastic selling points” for young applicants, she says.
“Being able to come in and just make a paycheck or work on something isn’t enough for them,” Nicolls says. “They want [a job] that can enable them to give to the greater good.”
Millennials enter the workplace expecting to have input in the decision-making process, Thornhill says. This egalitarian attitude is anathema to the pay-your-dues mentality of baby boomers, but they have themselves to blame. From a young age, parents gave millennials a vote, Thornhill says: Do you want to go to timeout? What do you want to do this weekend?
Is there room for improvement? Of course.
Some millennials lack interpersonal skills, a symptom of a life spent with screens. Others are clueless about basic professional etiquette, which you can blame on a dearth of work experience. And yes, their sense of entitlement can display itself in the form of expectations for a quick raise or promotion.
Such shortcomings aren’t unique to millenials, but are common in 20-somethings through the ages, Thornhill says. “They can be unrealistic, but that’s how young people are about some things.”
Kelsey Leavey, The Hodges Partnership
Leavey turned an internship with the communications firm into a full-time gig. “What sold me the most about working at Hodges was seeing that you sort of had an opportunity to create your own path with the work you were doing,” the 26-year-old says. “Good work is rewarded with more responsibility, which I think is a key motivator for me.”
Alexsis Rodgers, Office of Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam
Rodgers, 25, joined the lieutenant governor’s office as a policy director in November 2015. The position offered an opportunity to influence state policy decisions. Working with Northam, whom she admired, was a plus, too. “There aren’t a lot of good bosses, in this business particularly, but also in general,” she says. “Who you work for is sometimes more important than what you do.”
T. Preston Lloyd Jr., Williams Mullen
The firm recruited Lloyd fresh out of University of Virginia’s Law School in 2008. The 35-year-old has stayed put, and recently earned a promotion to partner. “My practice area involves working with folks in the real estate development industry, and so one of the most rewarding aspects of that is being able to be a part of a project that is going to change the community for the better.”