Insights | 01.04.19
The Millennial Conundrum Pt. 2
*Republished from the 2018 Portfolio Print Publication
Millennials. Few subjects have caused as much consternation in the finance industry as the nature of today’s young adults. Odds are you’ve spent a lot of time wondering about them, what drives them and particularly about how to hire them. According to Cherrie Wilkerson, a professor of the practice of management at Vanderbilt University, who specializes in research on millennials in the workforce, the key is to understand the effects that growing up in this era has had on young people and to see just how graciously that generation has weathered the storm.
The Smartphone Problem
Those ubiquitous phones are at the center of another negative stereotype — the easily distracted millennial. However, the generational divide over phones is largely the result of misunderstanding. Phones reflect how millennials work as much as they reflect how they live.
The millennials you see on the phone all the time — on the train, waiting in line for coffee or sitting at a restaurant with friends — aren’t necessarily always on so- cial media or fluff sites; it’s far more likely they’re doing work. “It may look like I’m lazily texting, but I’m actually working,” Vogel said. “I’m texting my account managers because that is what is easy for them. The fact that we have laptops and cell phones, I’m always plugged in and always thinking about work.”
The data supports Vogel’s position. Ac-cording to a 2016 report by Manpower, 73 percent of millennials surveyed said they work over 40 hours a week, and almost a quarter of them said they work over 50 hours. And that’s a key point in understanding how millennials function. There are no clear lines between work and leisure, between home and the office, and oftentimes, current working environments are not set up to accommodate how millennials would like to work.
“It’s understandable that our work time will impact our personal time, but also that our personal time will impact our work time,” said Lana Dauterive, an operations specialist at Iberia Financial Services LLC and another member of the “Next-Gen” panel.
This desire for flexibility is central to millennials. That can be a big problem in an industry that often still gauges performance based on metrics from the 1960s. “Instead of measuring [young employees] based on accomplishing targets and goals, they’re measured on how many hours they’re actually in the office, which is a huge problem,” Dauterive said.
Flexible working schedules are often seen as something to be gained through seniority, but that argument doesn’t really make sense for millennials today, who can access all of their work needs as long as they have a connection to the internet, making a rigid schedule start to feel like a lack of trust. Additionally, that same audience is very likely to answer their work emails after-hours or on the weekend. Being tethered to specific hours in the office is seen as a relic of another era and not relevant to today’s working needs.
Traditionally, the unspoken agreement in financial services has been that high levels of compensation are the price you pay for putting up with an inflexible culture. But millennials aren’t buying into that deal.
At least part of the reason for that is, simply, that a buck doesn’t go as far as it used to. A 2017 report from the Federal Reserve showed that although wages have risen dramatically in recent decades, the buying power of a dollar has not. As a result, millennials are earning 20 percent less than their boomer parents did at the same age.
Wilkerson tells the story of how she met recently with an executive from an insurance company who had been tasked with creating a recruiting pitch. The major selling point of that pitch was how much money can be made in financial services.
“That’s the pitch you make to clients — safety and securing your financial future,” she said, noting that millennials aren’t content just to chase a bigger paycheck. “They want their work to be meaningful.”
The panel of millennials agreed; although money is a perk, it isn’t necessarily the primary motivator for any of their positions. “We’re not showing up every day for work to position mutual funds; we’re working every day to help clients and serve the community,” Zuno said. “If you can show, this is the impact we’re having on our clients’ lives and the impact we’re having on the community that will change their perception of who we are and what we stand for.”
If meaningfulness is millennials’ top criteria for a job, then development opportunities are a close second, but “opportunity” means different things to boomers than to Gen Y. The long, slow trek to the top — marked by formal reviews by your immediate supervisor on an annual basis — seems absurd to millennials.
Companies that want to find and keep millennial workers need to offer constant assessments — whether positive or negative. Social media, with its “likes,” retweets and shares, has taught millennials to expect measurements in real-time. “The feedback loop has narrowed,” Wilkerson said. “[Millennial workers] don’t want to wait for a year down the road to know how they’re doing.”
Such a desire for near-constant feedback can be misinterpreted as neediness and entitlement, but that’s a dangerous mistake to make. Young workers want honest feedback, not endlessly positive hand-holding, according to Dauterive.
“We are the most educated generation thus far, but there should be scheduled feedback and guidance,” she said during the panel. “[Millennials] have been on a grading scale for so long that they don’t know where they stand with employers. They may see success in six months and think they’re ready, but they need more training and development. Be direct and honest with your employees and keep reminding them of that.”
Another point to remember when recruiting or supervising millennials is that young adults tend not to be fans of the hierarchical systems that permeate American life. Boomers may feel that seniority should be rewarded, but Gen Y is suspicious of cultural norms that feel ageist. Boomers may see neckties and sensible heels as symbols of respect for the company, but Gen Y sees gender-based uniforms as oppressive and unnecessary in a work environment where they don’t see clients every day. Boomers may believe that common decency requires showing deference based on age and title, but Gen Y sees an office culture where people reflexively defer to older white males as sexist
“The power dynamic has changed,” said Wilkerson, who is herself a baby boomer. “When I started my career, my boss knew more about everything than I did.” But that’s not true for today’s young adults who often find themselves working for people who struggle with technology and diversity. “Millennials think we are neanderthals,” joked Wilkerson.
The key to navigating the generational divide, according to Wilkerson, is for young and old alike to see each other as equals, albeit with different skill sets. She describes the ideal worker-supervisor dynamic today as something akin to a “co-coaching relationship where the older person has a lot to offer, but everyone understands that the younger person has a lot to teach too.”
Millennials see educational opportunities as a two-way street; of course, they understand there is still a lot to learn, but they also have a lot to offer in a conversation. “One thing that I love about my position is that I’m afforded creativity,” Vogel said. “I can throw crazy ideas out there — they may get shot down, which is fine — but maybe 10 percent of them stick. It shows that my ideas matter, and I’m affecting how the company grows.”
And employers should prize these conversations and ideas. A more diverse, well-rounded workforce with people of all different ages, genders and experience (both personal and professional) is what will produce lively discussions and brainstorms. “We all need to consider the value of age diversity,” said Jacinda Norvell, senior vice president, national sales manager at SunTrust Private Wealth Management and chair of the BISA Diversity Committee. “Millennials can bring new ideas, fresh eyes and technology expertise; these are all valued qualities.”
In short, millennials want to learn from their superiors, but they want their ideas and solutions included in the conversation.
Millennials are different, and there is no changing them. They are growing in power and influence and will change the working world.
The question is: How can a financial services company find the new talent, bring them on board and then keep them? This is a top question among financial institutions today. “There is a lack of visibility and knowledge about the different roles in the financial services industry, and there is no single college degree program that directly prepares students for a career in our field,” Norvell said.
A large part of that communication initiative should be focused on community — both in terms of what community the recruit is walking into at the company and what the company is doing for the larger community outside of the office walls.
“Community involvement is super important to our age group,” said Vogel. “We always want to feel like we’re making a change and a real difference.”
One way this plays out is that millennials are more likely to join and stay with a company that is committed as much to place as it is to profit. “Millennials are looking for thriving job markets,” Dauterive said. “Take a look at your communities. Are they revitalizing the downtown? What is attractive about where your business is?”
Zuno agrees. “Being able to showcase that space where these individuals are going to live and work in is crucial.” That, in the end, is the secret to understanding millennials. They are a generation that has come to believe the world is broken, so they’re looking for small places they can fix.
And there too is the secret to bringing them into the finance industry. “To make anything good happen in the world, you have to have some leverage and some money,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a good sell for the finance industry to say, ‘Come here and understand the levers of the world.’”
Find Part One of the "Millennial Conundrum" here.
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Paul Conley decided to enter journalism at the age of six. Too young to be hired as a paperboy, he convinced a neighborhood teenager to subcontract his route. Since then, Conley has continued to rewrite the rules of the communications world as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, producer, consultant and executive at companies such as CNN, Primedia Business, Bloomberg, CFO Publishing and Knight-Ridder Financial.