Don’t Blame Millennials Because You Hated 20 Years of Your Career

I was never in a fraternity. It was never something that really appealed to me. For one, I went to a small enough school that they weren’t vital for your social life. But more importantly, the idea of initiation and hazing just wasn’t up my alley. A number of my friends decided to join, and I distinctly remember them trying to explain it all to me.

‘Yea I know you get hazed and it can be rough. But it’s only for a semester, and then you’re done! And remember, when you’re a senior, you get to return the favor to the freshman.’ This, in my opinion, was a pretty weak argument to make. I think most people can agree hazing is a terrible thing and would agree doing away with it in colleges would probably be for the better.

Why do I bring this up? Because hazing is still happening all the time right in front of us: in the companies we work for.

Now I don’t mean true hazing in the college sense. People aren’t getting paddle boarded at their company orientation. They don’t have to buy the CEO’s groceries and clean his house in their first year. But in a sense, the idea behind hazing finds itself ingrained in many companies. Let me explain.

I was recently working with a CEO who was working to rebuild his company’s culture to connect with their younger employees, and he was having a tough time with what he was being asked to do. We had just spent the previous month working to uncover some of the culture issues within the organization, and the biggest changes that his worker’s wanted were more transparency, more voice in decisions or explanation of why things are done, and to feel more purpose and vision in their work.

As we discussed these he said, ‘I just don’t understand why they need to know this. When I was starting my career, no one asked what I thought. My boss never explained any decision. He just told me what to do, and I had to do it. I didn’t like my job for a long time and probably hated it for large parts of my first 20 years. But I grinded it out, and it made me who I am today. I’m just worried about these Millennials who expect so much. I don’t know if they will be tough enough when they get promoted.’

I get it. I really do. I know where he is coming from. But it reminded me too much of college and the justification for hazing: the idea of ‘I had to go through it, so they should have to as well.’ His bosses treated him terribly and in his mind he turned out just fine, so why do his employees expect something different? It’s the idea of wanting things to be fair and equal. One can’t help but get frustrated when someone decides to take a different road than the one they chose to take.

After I listened to him, I had one simple question.

‘No doubt that your journey, as tough as it was, made you who you are today, but does that mean what your bosses and leaders did when you were starting was right?’

I think of a child who grew up in a divorced household that was toxic. It was probably incredibly difficult. It also probably also molded him or her in to the person he or she is today. Does that mean that in order for their kids to turn out like them, for them to properly grow and develop, that they should also get a divorce so their kids go through the same journey? I think most would say no. So why then do we apply the same logic to our work environments? Why do we feel the need to say ‘well I had to do this when I was young, so you do too’?

It’s time to change the story. To change the rhetoric. Many baby boomers spent a majority of their careers not liking their job. My Dad would tell me that he didn’t like a lot of his jobs, but quitting and changing jobs just wasn’t really an option because too many moves looked bad on your resume.

We live in a world now where things have changed. Loyalty means something different now. People want to not hate the thing they have to do most of their waking hours. And instead of just accepting it, people are putting their money where their mouth is. It’s not a negative that Millennial’s are choosing not to follow the same path you did. And that’s okay.

Millennials see success in a different way than Boomers. For many Boomers, I think success was always an end goal, something you were working towards. That’s why they put up with a terrible job, because while it was terrible now, someday it will be better, and you will be closer to success. For Millennials, success is more in the journey than in the destination. The idea of hating 20 years of your career for a job you don’t care about is about as appealing as trading in your smart phone for a home phone line: not going to happen. Instead, success is something that can be accomplished daily or weekly.

It’s the journey that is the true reward. It’s why people care so much about company culture, transparency, having a voice, and feeling passionate about what they do. The journey is long, and no one really knows how it will end. So can you really fault them for wanting to enjoy it along the way?

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