Wanted: Proper Work Ethic And Why Younger Millennials Are Missing It
“Work ethic just isn’t what it used to be,” I expressed to my husband in a statement that officially declares that I’m an adult with a mortgage, a kid and responsibilities and possibly not as “young and fly” as I always claim to be. It was my way of reassuring him that he wasn’t doing anything wrong as far as managing his contracting business and hiring employees, but that we are unfortunately witnessing a younger generation that doesn’t necessarily think working a 9-5 every day is necessary.
I was specifically referring to a talented young man he had recently given an opportunity, but unfortunately between court dates, gambling and getting high didn’t make it a priority to come to work on time (or at all) and didn’t think it was necessary to inform his supervisor if he’d even be showing up for the day. Even at my office job I recently witnessed a recent college grad who was all too eager to work a few months ago, but seemed to have grown bored and listless a few weeks into her training. Two months into her probation she gave her colleagues a wave as she walked out for her hour lunch. She had secretly cleaned out her desk and later sent a text to the manager that she would not be returning to the position due to “stress”. What in the “poor communication skills” hell?
The other day I came across an article called “Don’t Call Me a Millennial –I’m An Old Millennial” that basically listed a bunch of different reasons why us 80’s and early 90’s babies that grew up on New Jack Swing try to distance ourselves from the snap-chatting Lil Uzi Kodak Wap loving millennials that we often are grouped with. In case you’re wondering about this M-word and what it means, it’s basically the label slapped on a generation of anyone born in between 1982-2000. Admittedly. as an older millennial, I still need to print out long text because I fail to comprehend anything over 300 words on a screen. I also still remember most folks’ numbers by heart since I grew up in a world before caller ID where payphones were plentiful.
Until recently I didn’t realize how drastically different us older millennials are when it comes to our career paths. In some ways, I agree with my younger counterparts that climbing the career ladder isn’t and probably shouldn’t be what it was for our parents. Sure, I’m probably not going to get a pension or get to be at a job for more than five years, but I also refuse to do ten different jobs for the salary of one, and happiness and passion may even be more important to me than my paycheck. But when it comes to work ethic, I’m just a little bit old-fashioned. I don’t believe in burning bridges or simply ghosting on positions that I’m tired of. I’ve worked three jobs at a time and almost everyone I know has a side hustle in addition to their full-time gig, if not just to maintain their living then to have an outlet for the passion they sacrifice at their day job just to be able to afford paper towels and Ziploc bags. Us older millennials are caught on the cusp of the example of tradition set by our parents of time clocks, performance reviews and promotions and a culture that encourages “being a boss” and entrepreneurship even if it means you start a business designing paperclips. Millennials are labeled as flighty and freedom loving do whatever they can to not have to answer to “the man”. As author Jesse Singal states:
“Millennials are way less likely to follow ‘traditional’ trajectories with regard to careers and marriage, both anecdotes and some data suggest. They often flit from job to job without staying in one place too long — they’re ‘The Job-Hopping Generation,’ says Gallup — and are much more likely, relative to previous generations when they were in their 20s, to live at home and to put off family formation for a long time.”
He also mentions that us older millennials are more like our parents than we think:
“Yes, some of us have been hit harder than others by bad career luck or missteps, or by the massive national catastrophe of student debt, but for the most part we’ve had very ‘traditional’ career paths. Now in our 30s, those of us who have had the most successful career trajectories are taking on many of the same young management roles that similarly privileged, middle-class boomers and Gen-Xers did when they reached those ages.”
I try not to be too quick to judge. Work ethic is something that comes with maturity for some people, and although I haven’t pulled a “no call, no show” since I was a seventeen-year-old serving DQ blizzards upside down, I wasn’t always worried about being able to list references and networking. I was once a 21-year-old just trying to afford a hotel room to hook up with my boyfriend and snag good seats to see J. Cole. At one point I didn’t care about climbing the career ladder or a corner office. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try to distinguish myself and my work ethic from my fellow younger millennials. I definitely don’t have as many phone conversations as I used to. I call out to work via text and my supervisor is usually cool with that, but there are certain situations that I don’t feel as comfortable texting my way through as younger twenty-somethings. Most days I prefer direct communication and I’m not so submerged in social media that I think it defines me. But an article in Forbes stated that the career disparities between millennials and older generations go way beyond a wi-fi connection:
“Older generations tend to glorify hard work as a virtue in and of itself, but millennials typically only value work insofar as it creates the results, or the acknowledgment or the growth they desire.”
Megan Abbott, a millennial life coach noted that millennials want “a direct impact and return for their efforts”—and for that reason, they’re more likely to leave jobs in a way that their ladder-climbing elders dismiss as “unrealistic.”
I worry that my fellow millennials ideas of success are just as unrealistic. I come from a generation where the leaders and modern technology were college drop outs. Every day another pop culture icon is created that gets about forty minutes of fame because of a viral video of something that is essentially mundane and ordinary, but seems special because we have access into people’s personal lives that we’ve never had before. By the time we realize how unimpressive someone like “Giraffe Mom” really is, we’re on to the next homegrown “celeb” that Buzzfeed tells us we should be obsessing over. Unfortunately this is the kind of culture that makes many of us falsely believe that success and happiness are just one click away and we don’t have to put in the work or answer to anyone along the way. The reality is most of us won’t be Mark Zuckerberg or some West Coast brown haired blue-eyed social media influencer, but not being that isn’t the same as not being successful. In short, many of my fellow millennials completely missed the lesson of, “It doesn’t matter how fast you get it, what but how long you keep it.” I believe a good work ethic is a direct result of actually working your way up, and not being praised just because you showed up and did what you were supposed to do.
I love my generation. The truth is whether you’re 32 or 22, there is a spirit and energy about millennials that allows them to look at the world in a new way and work smarter not harder. We’re hustle personified. We’ve turned make-up tutorials into money makers, we create brands like nobody’s business, we don’t take kindly to tradition and we get ish done. But somewhere along the way I must say we may have lost sight of the fact that the hustle requires actual work and not just posting about it. Anything that’s worth having won’t come easy and when it comes to work ethic and experience, you’re going to need more than “doing it for the culture” to list as one of your professional skills.
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.