“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)

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.