Millennials have taken a lot of flak in the media. We’ve been told we’re delusional and narcissistic. We’ve been encouraged to lower expectations and face reality. We’ve been told that our helicopter parents raised us to be perpetually dependent and incapable of growing up. We’ve been called cocky, unappreciative, careless, and entitled. These arguments are supposed to explain why so many of us are un- or under-employed, and why the lucky few with full-time jobs are unhappy at work. It’s time we stop accepting this.
Millennials aren’t the problem.
Millennials aren’t lazy; we’re efficient. We don’t want to spend ten hours copying and pasting data from Word to Excel when we can write a Python script that will do it in under a minute.
We don’t believe we are “above the rules”; we just believe the current rules are stupid. We want to work when and where we’re most productive: not sit at a desk from 8am-6pm each day. We think better in jeans and t-shirts than suits and ties.
We aren’t immature and incapable of growing up. Many of us live with our parents because our full-time jobs don’t pay us enough to afford rent, never mind begin saving for a down payment on our own home. Many of us are buried in student-loan debt (with absurdly high interest rates) and making a practical decision to save money, rather than take on the ever-increasing debt that has defined the American dream for the last 50 years.
We aren’t disloyal; we’re smart. We’ve grown up witnessing massive layoffs and the elimination of pensions. We know that our employers feel no loyalty to us, and, in return, we feel no obligation to them. We work in our own self-interest, and that includes changing jobs and careers when a better opportunity arises.
We aren’t delusional; we are a casualty of an increasingly inside-out economy. We know that no matter how hard or long we work, we’re very unlikely to achieve the financial prosperity our parents did, even if we were willing to engage in dishonest practices with our employees and competitors to get there.
So what is the problem?
Millennials are inheriting a completely twisted economy. The Great Recession hurt Americans from all income groups, but the subsequent recovery has benefited only the extremely wealthy, leaving working Americans, especially Millennials, in the dust. The Dow has hit record highs, corporations are making soaring profits, and yet wages remain stagnant. High unemployment rates have allowed corporations to get away with freezing wages and eliminating benefits, despite increased productivity and profit. The resulting inequality is destroying our economy.
Millennials in the workforce
Millennials don’t want to be babied, they don’t expect to become CEO overnight, and they don’t job-hop out of pure boredom. So what do Millennials value?
- We want to have a full life. We want to dedicate time to creative and intellectual pursuits both during and outside of work. We want to build loving, connected families.
- We want to have a fulfilling career. We want to take on new and increasing responsibilities, and we want our accomplishments to be recognized. We want to be compensated fairly for our skills and ideas. We value ability over years of experience.*
- We want to add value to the world. We care about the social impact of our work. We want to know that our hard work will lead to a better world, not just a new Porsche for the CEO.
- We don’t believe any of one of these values are in contention with the others. We believe it is possible to have a well-rounded life, a fulfilling career, and a positive impact on the world.
These values are not unique to Millennials. Workers of every generation benefit from work/life balance, career advancement, and meaningful work. Millennials require it. And that’s why corporations need us in the workplace.
The country needs Millennials to redefine what is acceptable in the workplace. Millennials need to stand up and speak out against long hours and low wages. We need to push for flexible workplaces that make room for families and hobbies. We need to push for honesty, transparency, and benevolence from the corporations who employ us. And when we don’t get it, we need to take over and start our own companies.
The moral obligations of Millennials
Millennials will make up approximately 36% of the workforce in 2014 and 50% by 2020. We have an opportunity, and a moral obligation, to reform the American workplace. Obviously, fixing the economy will take more than one well-intentioned generation; it will require regulation and policy changes at the highest levels of government. But as 36% of the workforce, we do have significant power if we are willing to stand together.
As a Millennial, you have a moral obligation to:
- Refuse to accept less pay than you are worth. Let’s be honest—it’s tough enough to find any job, never mind a well-paying one. If you turn down a job offer because the salary is too low, there is another unemployed Millennial at your heels ready to accept it. This environment has allowed wages to remain stagnant (or even decrease), and we can’t let it continue. Millennials needs to stop underselling ourselves and working for unlivable wages. (Hint: if you are borrowing money from your parents or depleting your savings every month, you’re not earning a livable wage.) It takes all of us working together here. If there is a cheaper labor source (i.e. Millennials not willing to stand up for themselves), the market will find it.
- Work with your peers, not against them. Corporations are able to keep wages low and perpetuate pay discrimination for one simple reason: employees don’t feel comfortable discussing salaries with each other. It’s time for this to end. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, it’s shocking that the stigma against asking your colleague their salary has managed to stick. A big reason for this is that corporate management has kept the taboo alive, often by declaring offer letters or salary information “company confidential.” Unfortunately for them, employees have a legal right to discuss salaries with one another, and can’t be retaliated against for doing so. Talk to your peers about your salary. Advocate for one another. Only by openly discussing salaries, demanding adequate compensation, and holding strong together can we hope to have any impact.
- Refuse to accept unethical business practices. One common characteristic of our generation is our desire for meaningful work that has a positive impact on society. It’s time that we demand this from our employers. The age of endless profit for profit’s sake is over. We need to demand transparency from our employers; to know how much revenue goes directly into the executives’ pockets, how much funds workers’ salaries, and how much is given back to the community through philanthropic efforts. When we don’t receive this transparency, or don’t like what we see when we do, it’s on us to change things—either by rising to leadership ranks in existing companies, or starting fresh with our own companies.
- Push for regulations and reforms that protect workers, not corporations. The Citizen’s United decision granted corporations unprecedented influence over our political system. Millennials need to band together and fight back. Get out and vote for candidates who want to protect the middle class. Publicly support initiatives that regulate student loans, raise the minimum wage, and promote salary transparency.
Intrical: A Millennial-centric business
The government contracting industry is no exception to current economic trends, a fact made even less tolerable because excess corporate profits are built not only on the backs of underpaid employees, but of all American taxpayers. Procurement decisions are often made on questionable technical grounds and subject to unapologetic cronyism, sometimes resulting in very public mishaps.
Intrical is (maybe, possibly) the first government consulting firm founded by Millennials. We bring a different approach to government contracting, based on core Millennial values: transparency, efficiency, and benevolence. We are motivated to improve government, education, and public health; not to fill our bank accounts. We are dedicated to creating a Millennial-friendly workplace: we avoid outdated policies, dress codes, and strict working hours. We value financial transparency with our employees, clients, and the public, so that we can be held accountable to the values we espouse.
*A previous version of this post stated “We value meritocracy of beaurocracy.” Reworded to avoid the philosophical ambiguity.