Young Millennials find place in the work force

November 27, 2005 | By Angela Fail 

For the first time in history, four generations are roaming the work force together.

Traditionalists, Baby-Boomers and Generation-Xers are making way for the newest office cohorts.

Meet the Millennials.

They’re educated. They’re optimistic. They’re community-minded.

They might frown on wearing ties or panty hose. They might demand flexible hours.

But the 70 million-strong generation is entering the work force with higher expectations than any other.

Unlike the Gen-Xers that came before them, Millennials, most born after 1980, can’t remember a time when they didn’t feel nurtured and needed. And the sense of self-worth instilled in them in childhood is spilling over into their careers. Big time.

Facilitators of change, millennials often will march into a new position with fresh ideas and the skills needed to back them up.

Older generations might view their can-do attitude as cockiness.

Steven Russell, 22, a law clerk at Beggs and Lane in Pensacola, calls it something else.

“If you want to move up, you’ve got to have merited confidence,” he said. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing and take ownership for what you’re doing. If you have it, superiors in the organization will recognize it.”

Neil Howe and William Strauss, gurus of generational studies, described “merited confidence” as a conservative form of rebellion.

“They will rebel against the culture by cleaning it up; rebel against political cynicism by touting trust; rebel against individualism by stressing teamwork; rebel against adult pessimism by going positive; and rebel against societal ennui by actually getting a few things done,” they wrote in their 2000 book, “Millennials Rising.”

However, the millennials are defined by much more than rebellion. According to those who study generations, Millennials are confident, goal-oriented, civic-minded and expect a fair workplace.

Forget the clock

With their firm groundings in place, Millennials know what they want out of a career and are set on getting it.

“Life and work is reintegrated by this generation,” said Ken Ford, director of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola. “They want to work a little, then live a little.”

Ford, who supervises employees of all ages, said the Millennials in particular are fighting to get away from the 9-to-5 work norm.

“They’re not focused on the clock,” he said. “They want to work by the pound.”

Ford said the key to attracting and retaining young talent is to encourage flexibility.

“You have to change how you evaluate effectiveness,” he said. “You have to stop paying for time. Pay for performance.”

And Millennials, Russell said, will perform as well as they’re paid.

“If you get paid $25,000 a year, you do $25,000 worth of work,” Russell said. “If you get paid well, you’ll work a little harder at it.”

And along with fair pay, they demand fair play.

Tyler Porter, 22, a salesman at Sandy Sansing Nissan in Pensacola, said a respectful atmosphere is one of his top job priorities.

“Any time a new guy comes in, there’s going to be resentment,” he said. “But if you show older generations common courtesy, you’ll get the same from them. To get respect, you have to earn it.”

High-maintenance, maybe. Highly motivated, definitely. The Millennials are an essential commodity, Ford said.

“Give them freedom and hold them responsible for it,” he said. “This generation works like Trojans.”

Molded by their times

Russell said he gathered his outlook on the work force at a young age.

“Growing up, my friends’ parents hated their jobs,” he said. “So we acknowledged that and are looking for jobs that will keep us financially stable and that we will enjoy.”

During the years right before and after the new millennium, the American focus returned to family. “Just as all generations are programmed from the moment of birth, the Millennials began a series of programming experiences when they were infants.

These experiences created the filters through which they see the world—especially the world of work,” author Claire Raines wrote in “Connecting Generation: The Sourcebook.” Raines lists several key trends of the millennial childhood that had a profound effect on their personalities.

  • Scheduled, structured lives. The Millennials were the busiest generation of children in the United States growing up facing time pressures traditionally reserved for adults. Parents and teachers micromanaged their schedules, planning things out for them and leaving very little unstructured free time. They were signed up for soccer camp, karate club and ballet lessons. Some started carrying day planners when they were in elementary school.
  • Multiculturalism. As children, Millennials grew up with more daily interaction with other cultures than ever. The most recent data from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles shows that interracial interaction among college freshmen has reached a record high.
  • Terrorism. During their most formative years, Millennials witnessed the devastation of the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City. They watched in horror as two Columbine High School students killed and wounded their classmates, and as school shootings became a three-year trend. And their catalyzing generational event—the one that binds them as a generation, the catastrophic moment they all witnessed during their first, most formative years—is, of course, the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Heroism. Emerging out of those acts of violence, Millennials watched the re-emergence of the American hero. Police officers, firefighters and mayors were pictured on the front page of the newspaper, featured on TV specials and portrayed in art and memorabilia. In the 10 months following 9-11, the word “hero” was heard more than it had been in the entire 10 years before.
  • Patriotism. Sept. 11 changed the nation’s perspective on patriotism. Stores that carried flags sold out within 24 hours, ordered more and sold out again. Every other home and car seemed to fly Old Glory. Business people sported the stars and stripes on their lapels. Youngsters wore T-shirts with flags on the front, on the back and on the shoulder. It seemed that national pride had been tested, and the overwhelming verdict was that patriotism was alive and well.
  • Parent advocacy. The Millennials were raised, for the most part, by active, involved parents who often interceded on their behalf. Protective Boomer and Gen-Xer parents tried to ensure their children would grow up safely and be treated well. Parents challenged poor grades, negotiated with the soccer coach, visited college campuses. Some even went along to Army recruiting centers.