When I started writing this blog post I discovered that there were many moving parts to it and since I needed to write on several of them, I decided to develop these into a series of posts. This is Part I in the series. Any comments are welcome. The overall focus of these posts is on the careers and workplace challenges faced by the millennials.

So, what do you do when you hit a brick wall in your career?  In the last few months I have had the opportunity to speak to many people in my age bracket about their careers for diverse reasons. Many of them told me about the various shifts that are affecting their careers right now. Most such conversations were related to something or someone trying to pull them down and blocking them from having a rewarding career either at their current or past workplace.

Why does that happen? Before we get into that discussion, let us first think about what people search for in a career nowadays.  We all must have seen articles speaking about the distinct characteristics of the millennials at work. It is said that they differ from earlier generations on characteristics like stability, taking of risk, seeking change, in their purpose and balance at work and in life in general.

So what do the millennials want to achieve in their careers before they hit 40? To me, it seems that no one in the whole job spectrum, from start-ups to large multinational corporations (MNCs) truly invests in individualised development plans for their team members. They therefore lose a great opportunity to understand how investment in personal and professional development for millennials can help to build your culture, promote your brand and drive effective results. Obviously this is not an easy undertaking. Clear understanding and acting on investment in order to develop a professional requires a lot of planning and monies. The immediate problem is not the lack of interventions but the lack of allocation of resources in the business planning and management. Many start-ups will not invest in executive development until and unless they receive required funding. Often, people will talk about fresh processes and perspectives that are disruptive as relates to enterprise and project management but there is not enough talk about fresh perspectives over the recruitment process, onboarding, etc.

So, in my view, here are five things that the millennials want at their workplace before they hit 40:

  1. Learning and training– It is easy to dismiss this subject by saying that learning is available everywhere; i.e. on the job, through peers or in the company of highly successful CEOs but a lot more than that is necessary. Learning is a long-term requirement that the individual aspires for now and in future. Unfortunately for some millennials, the introduction of post graduate programs has created a sense of insignificance and inadequacy.  This has resulted in low self-esteem and over-reliability on others when it comes to taking initiative or responsibility.  Learning and training should be progressive. This will make it possible for millennials to create their brand when they hit 40 and can lead them to be experts eventually. Further, they will be encouraged to mentor the young in future. So how does this take place? It is not an easy route. It obviously requires self-exploration, exposure and a basic idea of the purpose in one’s life.  This therefore, is exactly the point of creating assets in your organisation. The best gift that you can give to your organisation and to your professional team is to invest in their career development.
  2. Change – This is not to be misconstrued as change of organisation, after all people just change people and not the buildings where they work. More and more young people are seeking change in their job roles or departments or teams. This is not because they have mastered it all but it boils down to them searching for something that brings them closer to what they want to do eventually. Change sometimes also represents the need for growth in the level and shape of challenges they want to take. I cannot emphasis enough caution for the start-ups to understand that the team members will outgrow their roles faster than they can anticipate and hence the need to have a clear plan of growth and change in the organisation.
  3. The Boss – This is a critical area that is generally not discussed since many bosses tend to (consciously or otherwise) use their powers to instil fear among team members. If you are a boss reading this you will know what I mean. Deep down you are aware of the power game that you play while ignoring the disturbing fact that your pride often takes a more active role than you want to acknowledge. I have discovered that the challenge of finding a good boss across the industry from small start-ups to incubators to investors is a very acute one. The pride affecting many bosses has destroyed more young people’s confidence than their own perceived inferiority in education. The problem is quite severe and it is not just based on a lack of knowledge on how to build and manage a team but also due to misguided notions about the process coupled with one’s pride. Bosses are slowly squeezing the life out of the teams and end up creating a coterie of ‘yes boss’ executives around him, further fuelling the pervasive and all present pride.
  4. Freedom – Whereas micro managing was considered okay or something to adjust to in the past, those days are gone. Just tell them what to do as clearly as possible and then get out of the way. If you give the staff due freedom at the workplace, this is the first step towards building a trusting relationship. Freedom also means to appreciate lessons learned through trial and error. Freedom to fail is a necessary condition for innovation and initiative. A lot of founders / bosses look outside the organisations for solutions to make their employees more innovative and proactive whereas the problems are internal, so are the solutions.  Freedom is so important that it is the cornerstone of building a strong culture of mutual respect and admiration in any enterprise.
  5. Money – Firstly in my view, free internships ought to be banned and there needs to  be a debate on setting the ground rules on engaging free labour. Obviously if the intern is not skilled enough he/she should not be taken on. It is best to test their qualities before confirming their place, but I believe that free internships are not good for either party. Further, the opaqueness around the salaries brings in a lot of unwanted stress and negatively affects the building of the right team. There are countless examples of false promises made by the founders especially in the start-ups where they themselves had no idea of the financial situations of their organizations despite them promising growth and other perks. On the other hand, there is a serious lack of education around employee stock options and the onus is on the founders to learn about it and how to make use of it. You may be the best in your class but if you do not understand about inflation while paying salaries then you might as well advocate a barter system.

So, to revisit our earlier point, there are things and people that will throw a spanner in the works and deprive the life of a professional of a rewarding career. This could be due to a mixture of different things but occasionally, it is just petty power politics. It high time that the founders and bosses realized that one of the worst things you can do to the millennials is to stand in the way of their careers. Understand and invest in building a team, a great culture and an enterprise will follow.

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