“Millenials In PR” Debate Goes Both Ways

In recent days, several smart people (Bill Sledzik, Todd Defrenand again, Ryan Stephens) have written posts either addressed to or about millenials – loosely defined as people born between 1980 and 1995.

I’ve watched these posts with great interest, for several reasons:

  1. I’ve hired several to work on our social media team
  2. I work with several others more broadly within our agency
  3. Although my ever-deepening crow’s feet may not suggest it, I’m technically one of them (yep, I’m 29)

The posts generally revolve around three themes outlined within a presentation Bill Sledzik linked to in his original post:

  • “High expectations” – they want to be valued for ideas and abilities, rather than years of experience. They look for immediate gratification
  • “High risk” – millenials will jump ship if a better opportunity presents itself, and have little default loyalty to their employer
  • “High maintenance” – expect reward and recognition on a regular basis; define their workday differently and want flexibility in it

In general, the reaction to the posts tells me there’s a large grain of truth in there (although many people took exception to Todd Defren’s suggestion that people should always hang around for 3-5 years in one job).

On the flip side, I have immense respect for the young professionals I work with. They provide wonderful energy, enthusiasm, creative thinking and dedication to their work and their colleagues, among many other great qualities. Every day, they make an immensely valuable contribution to our company and to my own working life, and I love working with them.

Here’s my take on this topic:

On Expectations

There’s no doubt that millenials can make valuable essential contributions to a team. Many of our best ideas have come from entry-level folks on the team. With that said, those contributions do need to be balanced with experience. As a new entrant to the workforce, you need to know that you won’t always be right and that your idea won’t always be accepted. That’s ok – we don’t expect every contribution to be a winner… but they’re all appreciated.

You should also know that you don’t always have to be heard.You’ll get invited to two types of meetings:

  1. Meetings where you’re expected to contribute
  2. Meetings where you’re expected to learn

Make sure you know which one you’re in. If you’re not sure, then ask ahead of time. If you’re there to contribute, don’t pass the opportunity up. If you’re there to learn, don’t risk putting your foot in it by contributing inappropriately.

I don’t agree with Todd’s statement that,

“It is supposed to suck.  There are supposed to be crummy days when you feel under-appreciated…”

(I don’t think that any PR job is supposed to suck)

However, it’s a fact that from time to time the job will suck. Clients will want work that requires mundane activities, or set deadlines that require you to work until the wee hours of the morning. When it happens, know that it is part of learning the ropes and that we’ve all been there (I spent a couple of years producing reports on news release quality before I ever got my hands on one). Know, also, that you’re learning from it and that you’ll be thankful for the knowledge you’re gaining later in your career. Also, know that if you’re in a good team, your colleagues will be there with you.

Don’t expect to advance without paying your dues – it’s not just for the sake of it; it’s the way to learn.

On Risk

I don’t necessarily agree with Todd that everyone should stay in their job for 3-5 years expectation for everyone, but that really is what, as hiring managers, we’re shooting for when we bring someone on-board. Of course that doesn’t always work out, but it’s the goal – we want people to grow with us and, ideally, we want to promote from within our existing team. What’s more, while job hopping may help you in the short term, but it likely won’t in the long-term. I’ve certainly thought twice about hiring people with a history of jumping frequently between jobs.

On the flip side, I understand the idea of loyalty being driven by challenges and what’s interesting, rather than by institutional loyalty. I know that one of my own core values is constantly being challenged – without it I wouldn’t be interested for long.

To an extent, it’s down to the employer to try to keep working challenges into peoples’ roles. However, the responsibility for finding challenges also rests on millenials shoulders. For example, having done a fairly mundane job before doesn’t mean you can’t make it better. If you set your own standards high, you’ll find that you challenge yourself as much as other people challenge you.

On Maintenance

“High maintenance” can have multiple meanings. I have absolutely no problem rewarding and recognizing good work from colleagues; in fact, it’s one of my favourite parts of my job. Of all of the “challenging characteristics” (wording in the presentation, not my own) posed by millenials, this is the one that I have little problem with.

On the flip side, the CRT/tanaka presentation suggests that parental coddling has led many people to feel like they can do no wrong. I remember a news clipping pinned to a board in a past job, with a headline reading something like “note to parents: not all kids are created equal”  – a bit of a reality check for parents who thought that everyone was “above average.” It’s just not the case, and people of all ages need to be comfortable receiving feedback on their work.

Some people get defensive at even the smallest feedback; I’ve found that the opposite works well – Terry Fallis can testify that, even if a project goes extremely well, I’ll come to him asking what I can do better next time. As new professionals, millenials need to prepare to receive feedback frequently, and to take it constructively. If they don’t, they won’t get far. (Of course, it is again down to the manager to deliver it constructively too)

Bottom line

Employment is a two-way street. There are significant nuggets of truth in the various recent blog posts on the issue, and many young people have something to learn. However, employers also need to understand that people can’t undo twenty-plus years of cultural conditioning on the spot.

The employer needs to adjust to millenials’ expectations, but the millenials need to know it won’t always be as easy as they’d like. That’s life – there’s give and take.

What’s your take on this?

(Image: Shutterstock)

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  • Dave,

    I like your perspective on the topic. I posted a lot on @BillSledziks post with ideas and feelings similar to yours.

    I disagree that there are two types of meetings… I think every meeting is a chance to contribute, however I feel ALL generations, not just Millennials, should not believe the saying “there are no stupid questions.” The key for Millennials is to make sure their question or comment is honest and not just an attempt to get noticed.

    I agree with you that employment is a two way street… in my post on my site, which @BillSledzik linked to, and my new Millennial specific blog, which is the click through link under my name. I think this idea that it is a two way street will lead to the big culture clash I foresee. In large part blame the boomers for this impending clash because, 1) They didn’t prepare well enough for retirement, 2) They project a lot of those mistakes onto us, and 3) They are a big “silo” group. I compare them in a lot of ways to the geocentrics and flat-earthers of antiquity… despite the evidence they hold fast to their beliefs.

    More to the point, I completely agree with your point that it is the organizations responsibility to challenge Millennials. There are any number of sources that highlight the fact that a Millennial can be counted on if they feel challenged and engaged. In my previous career I took a salary that was very low in comparison to the level of the organization I operated at. However the job (which was my first), was a tremendous learning experience and a challenge EVERY DAY. My employment and my employer pre-dated a lot of this “Millennial” hot topic stuff, but my boss recognized all the highlights of having a Millennial in the organization and tossed countless challenges towards me. The net effect of this experience was unless someone was willing to triple my salary, I wasn’t going anywhere. I had a high degree of organizational loyalty and an even higher degree of loyalty to my boss.

    My HR Master’s courses taught me, organizations that actively challenge employees are hard to find. A lot of organizations claim to what to have that engagement with their employees and tap into their “discretionary effort”, but they simply don’t encourage it at all levels of the organization even though they should.

    As a side not I like your writing style.

    Great post, great topic. I will re-tweet and re-post on the tweet stream @MillennialNet and on the FB page I use for the blog as well!

    • Thanks for a great comment! I’d again challenge you on the “meeting types” question, though.

      I’ll often invite people to a call or meeting so they can learn by watching. When it comes to agency/client meetings, especially, it’s important to learn the dynamics and the norms before leaping in. At that stage, the person can still have valuable contributions but it can be safer to put them forward afterwards, away from immediate client reaction. Of course, over time, the person’s contributions to the meetings can rise.

      This approach removes an unnecessary “sink or swim” situation. It’s important to let people fail occasionally so they can learn from their mistakes, but those mistakes should be insulated from clients.

      Make sense?

  • Hi Dave –

    It seems to me that even where you disagree with me, we are actually in accord.

    I never suggested folks stay in a job for 3-5 years if it was a constant suckfest, only that they should not jump ship at the first sign of trouble (or at every somewhat-better opportunity).

    Also, the only difference between what I said: “It is supposed to suck. There are supposed to be crummy days when you feel under-appreciated…”

    And what you said: “(I don’t think that any PR job is supposed to suck.) However, it’s a fact that from time to time the job will suck”

    …is a matter of nuance. I didn’t mean to suggest that the “PR job” should suck, but that ANY entry-level job will, from time to time, suck. Just as you said.

    Again, just subtle differences, really. I ALSO highly value the Millennials… the ones I hire. 😉

    My post was speaking to a) those who didn’t make the cut or b) who jumped ship too early (imho) or c) who are about to embark on their career.

    • 100% agree – it’s all in the wording 🙂

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  • Dave –

    You do a great job here highlighting the both sides of the argument, and the balance that must exist for companies to invariably be successful. Millennials do have lofty expectations, and I think it’s important that talented managers are able to manage those expectations in a way that provides clarity for the the young employees. Something as simple as, “I realize this is rather mundane work, but your contribution matters because this report contributes to XX, which influences YY.” This makes it significantly easier for a young employee to put his head down and grind through the minutia knowing it matters. Should a manager HAVE to do this? Absolutely not, but you better believe it goes a long way.

    And one thing I’d add (to my own post as well): Young employees need to realize they don’t have to conquer the world overnight. While it’s certainly an admirable trait it’s easy to forget that most people are uber successful and don’t accumulate massive wealth before they’re 40. Slow down, be patient, enjoy life!

    And thanks for linking to my post. :p

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  • As a Gen X’er I really enjoyed this post. There’s definitely some generational differences out there – not just in PR, but in all professions.

    I think the Millenials attitude of going to the best job they can find (at any given time) is healthy. It probably has a lot to do with growing up in a world obsessed with business and understanding basic supply and demand ways of thinking – they’ve seen people tossed to the curb during recessions (most likely their parents, or their friends’ parents, or at minimum on the news) and they aren’t going to let opportunities pass them by only to get blind-sided down the road.

    On the flip side, I do find many Millenials are overly focused on rewards. My guess is that so many of them are university educated and graduate with a bit of a ‘ok, where’s my reward?’ attitude.

    I think at the end of the day though, within every generation, there are those who are ambitious and will strive to reach their goals, those who simply want to get by and those who are slackers.

    The cream always rises to the top is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago – those that really want success will work to achieve it and stand out.

    I’ve been in meetings with baby boomers, Gen-X’ers, and Millenials – and I’ve come across people who blew me away with their talent and passion in each generation. I’ve also come across people in each generation that I wouldn’t want to get stuck on a project with.

    Hard work, consistency and reliability are traits that shine no matter what generation you are in – those that exhibit those traits generally do well over time.

    Great post!

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  • I guess I’m “technically” one of these Millenials, though I hate being grouped like this because I don’t think my work habits are anything to some of the kids coming out of university today.

    I really hate that my age group is always being grouped together as a certain “type.” I don’t expect to be president of my company immediately. I didn’t expect a job in management as soon as I graduated university — I understood that work was a place where time and experience matter.

    I appreciate you pointing out that there are two sides to every story, and that not all young employees are high maintenance, just like not all older workers are grumpy geezers. It seems that nowadays with all the technology that surrounds us, it is easier and easier to beat up on the younger workers (really, the “kid’s today” argument has been around forever).

    As a Millenial, I am proud to say that yes, I use social networking, but it doesn’t control my life. I am not constantly texting or BBMing my BFFs. Contrary to what some may think, I do know how to spell, and understand grammar (given the line of work I am in — I better!), I respect my elders and know I have a lot to learn. I don’t believe I deserve a top spot somewhere, I believe I should earn it. And I would life to spend a lifetime with the same company, but I think it’s unlikely in the current economic climate to expect lifetime job security.

    I can’t speak for other Millenials, but maybe it’s time to stop grouping as as one thing!

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  • Dave,

    As you know I’m a big believer that most GenYers are actually the opposite of how they’re typically depicted in the media (lazy, entitled, etc). Now obviously there are some that likely embody this stereotype to the T, but I’d argue that there are lazy, entitled people in every generation.

    I’d like to think that GenYers like myself – ambitious, wired, and hard-working – are more common, and will be the ones who shape our legacy and change the negative perceptions about our generation.

    I’ve read Todd’s post on the topic, and I also disagree that someone should have to stay in a job for 3-5 years – I think it promotes stagnation and “settling”. After all, I was at a PR agency and really enjoyed it, but I was presented with an opportunity to work at a startup, where I knew I could pursue my interests (new media) and learn a heck of a lot more. Was it wrong of me to leave after a year? Maybe in the eyes of that employer – but to me it was the best decision I ever made.

    I’d also have to say that while experience does matter, and that every junior position will suck at times, junior positions at PR agencies are FULL of mundane tasks like data entry, setting up for meetings, etc. In fact I don’t think I put many of my PR and journalism skills to work at all in my first 6 months of work. So perhaps the fact that people change jobs quickly is more testament to the type of work agencies give their junior employees, not the employee. If someone is presented with an opportunity to do higher-level work – writing, strategy, etc – why wouldn’t they jump on it?

    Anyway just a couple thoughts – I obviously need to flesh them out into a blog post of my own 🙂

    Cheers,
    Erin

    • I would add one thing to the 3-5 years comment – you’re likely to move up once or even twice in that time period – it’s relatively unlikely that you’d be in the same job for the whole time.

      I spent five years with my last employer; I did several jobs during that time but remained with the organization for a decent period of time. To me, that makes more sense than hopping frequently or sitting in one position for a long period of time.

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  • I am of the belief that Gen Y-ers got a bad rap somewhere down the road and I am here to set it straight.

    On work ethic
    I think that as a group we are hard-working, connected and ambitious. I don’t know many people who just want a job and want nothing more then to stay there for as long as they can ride it out. Rather, the people I talk to are looking to persue their dreams. Needless to say we are more than happy to stay late, work hard, give ideas so long as we are appreciated for doing so.

    On “jumping ship”
    We don’t necessarily jump ship early but rather leave in order to fulfill our dreams (i.e. Erin Bury’s example above). In addition, we don’t stand around and fetch people’s coffee – we really want to get our hands dirty and learn from senior practitoners and sometimes that can be miscontrued as entitled I guess.

    On our role
    To further Dave’s idea I do think there are two kinds of meetings. I’ve been to some where you really are there to listen in and soak like a sponge. That’s not to say you can’t contribue but I think it’s on a smaller scale then a “regular” meeting let’s just say.

    Ditto with assignments – please remind people how their contributions affect the greater team. That is really important to them. They want to know they aren’t making Excel spreadsheets and updating databases for naught. But if that’s all their doing, maybe you need to take a second look at who you’re hiring and why. Data entry does not a PR professional make.

    On constructive criticism
    Our generation is just looking to work hard and help the company grow. We just want to feel valued (and yes we do like hearing it sometimes – I think all people do). We understand that not all our ideas will be accepted and I think as a generation I believe not all of us know how to accept constructive criticism.

    BUT I think there are exceptions to that:
    I was an early 80’s baby and in elementary school we had 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons for Play Day. Well flash forward 15 years to my baby cousins and low and behold everyone gets a ribbon for just showing up and participating. So yes there may be some disparity in how people take criticism because some children were raised to think that they are special and are rewarded for just showing up. And others (like myself) were taught that we are not all special and in fact you need to work hard to be rewarded.

    I know I’m rambling I’ll stop – I have a half-drafted post in response to these as well that perhaps I’ll finish up and add as a response.

    • Absolutely. I’ve worked with (and continue to work with) Gen Yers who work hard, hold themselves to high standards and are borderline obsessive about improving. It’s certainly not black-and-white, as you, Erin and others prove daily.

    • Alex

      Further to what Aleksandra said about not wanting to just fetch coffee, I think many Gen Y people have come to understand the nature of key roles and key skills in an organization.

      Just as living through the Depression coloured how people viewed money, perhaps witnessing so many economic booms and busts have coloured how Gen Y people view jobs?

      While one can argue that any position in a corporation is helpful to success, it seems to be that the people who get their hands dirty are the ones who frequently land on their feet in any kind of economy. Wouldn’t it make sense that those skills are the ones people seek to learn as fast as possible?

      I think feelings of entitlement are a problem with any and every generation. However, we do live in a bit of a split-personality society where we applaud the “prodigies” who succeed at levels higher than we could expect for their age, while at the same time looking down on some people who want to jump right into their chosen careers. It’s a confusing message to be sending.

  • Dave, another great post.

    I guess that I’m also in that category of “millenials” and while I sometimes do feel the way older generations make us out to seem (I mean who doesn’t want everything the easy way?), I know that that’s not how it works.

    I quit my job 2 years ago and went back to school because I wanted to get in to the PR game. That was a hard thing to do, but I don’t regret it in the slightest. While it hasn’t yet helped me to land that much sought after “perfect job” I know that the effort I’m putting in now will have the payoff I’m looking for somewhere in the future.

    While I am really excited to get my big break so I can get in there and use my creativity and ideas, I also know that it may be a while before I get more than just my toes wet. That’s why I like hearing perspectives from people around my age (such as yourself) who are already where I would like to be. I mean you must be doing something right to have gotten where you are. I’m not one of those people who’s going to jump into a job and say things like “I’m young, I know what I’m doing. You’re old and outdated.” Learning as you go is the best way to do it.

    One of the other points that I wanted to touch on though, was that of ideas and ability over experience. As a current job seeker who really hasn’t done too much in the way of PR, it can be very frustrating to have a bunch of ideas and confidence in your own ability only to be shot down time and time again due to a lack of actual experience. Sometimes you know deep down in your heart that everything will be amazing if someone will just take that chance on me.

    In the mean time though, I’m just going to keep learning and hope that it pays off one day.

  • Melissa

    just a heads up – i have a friend who jumped from job to job for the past 5 years and it’s had a very negative impact on her current job search.

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  • Appreciate the shout-out, Dave. Hot topic, huh? My post has piled up 174 comments and more than 10,000 visits.

    Wish I had time this week to settle in for another discussion, but I’ll be spending the next 7-8 days evaluating the work of about 50 Millennials who make up my three spring-semester classes. Most of them are energetic and engaged people, and I feed off that energy. But I’ll offer this one observation that has nothing to do with sociology or psychology: Millennials don’t write as well as the Boomers or the GenXers. I wonder why.

    I don’t want to sidetrack your thread today, but it’s a topic for discussion on another day.

    • Interesting food for thought Bill. Penelope Trunk presented research from Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, indicating that this generation may be the best writers yet. Is it two different kinds of writing, perhaps?

      I know the way I wrote for my Communications and English classes differed significantly from the way I wrote in my Marketing classes in grade school. Maybe the younger generation excels at a type of writing for X audience where as Gen X and Boomers are better a different type. I don’t have the experience necessary to take a side in this argument, but wanted to add to the discussion. IF you write something on this topic please be sure and direct me to it.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

      • Don’t think so, Ryan. Good writing, at least for the communication professions we work in, must be clear, concise, and correct. If you write for a niche audience, sure, you may move into the vernacular and anything goes.

        But in the business environment, certain conventions are expected — including proper grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. Without it, you appear unprofessional.

        Clear writing requires discipline and a willingness to rewrite repeatedly. I don’t see that discipline in many GenYers, and eventually those weaknesses will hurt them.

        I read the Trunk post. But from one who’s in the trenches daily, well — let’s just say that Professor Lunsford and I live in very different worlds.

  • Jennifer Mach

    Great post Dave!

    I think you touched on a lot of relevant points here. Employment is definitely a two-way street – if either employee or employer don’t understand each other, it makes for a tenuous partnership. I’ve met many enthusiastic millenials who are hardworking and paying their dues everyday because they want to learn and advance. I’m one of them and it’s frustrating when all of us are generally considered high maintenance or have no loyalty. And I’ve also encountered new grads who just care about what the company can give them. I’ve seen a friend turn down a job because it didn’t incorporate flex days! Like you said “don’t expect to advance without paying your dues” – maybe they don’t teach this enough at school or parents don’t tell their kids this, but I think people need to re-evaluate how “I deserve this” is defined.

    I agree with you in disagreeing with Todd about staying in a job for 3-5 years (although he did clarify that he didn’t mean people should stay if it really is a terrible position). Jumping ship at the first sign of trouble isn’t necessarily appropriate, but if an amazing opportunity comes along, it shouldn’t be written off simply because someone doesn’t want to look flightly on their CV.

    Thanks!

  • Alex

    Hi Dave,

    I think you hit the nail on the head at the end with “employment is a two way street”. The system is evolving based on employee expectations and employer willingness to meet them. Wherever we end up, it should be interesting!

    Great article!

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  • I’ve commented on most of these posts so I don’t want to add the same points, but you laid it out very well here Dave.

    My one comment is on the “job-hopping” debate. Really, it’s not about intentions. For the most part, I don’t think anyone takes a FT job knowing exactly how long they want to spend there or how long they’ll end up staying there. They take the job until any number of possible factors causes them to leave.

    I will agree that it seems as if our generation tends to hop around a bit more than previous generations. Is it because millenials are different? Is it because the job environment has changed? Not sure. Something has changes but to assume that it’s because millenials aren’t loyal isn’t really fair. You have to look at the big picture to really understand why millenials tend to switch jobs faster.

    David

    Community Manager, Scribnia

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