- Millennials are said to be addicted to social media and reluctant to make long-term commitments
- Mobility has meant this generation has more information and more choices
OFTEN when I speak with older senior executives they lament the “problems” of dealing with Millennials at work. They cite two issues; addiction to social media and the reluctance to make a long-term commitment, as being the major difference between their generation and the new one.
Well, let me tell you that is nonsense. There is no difference in the generations - Let me explain. Anyone who is 20+ years of age will have seen the newspaper generation. When almost everyone would have bought or subscribed to papers and magazines, diligently consuming the news first thing in the morning. Then you didn’t hear comments like “come on put down the papers”, in fact at breakfast in many homes it was the norm for the father to read while having breakfast.
No kids said to their parents “you are addicted to the papers” or watching the daily news on television, which for many families was a nightly affair. That was because the content was limited, so it wasn’t possible to spend hours reading the news, or watching television. Not only was content limited, you had to pay for each paper or magazine.
Facebook, founded in 2004, changed the paradigm. Some would argue that Yahoo!, founded in 1995 created the concept of free digital news available anytime-anywhere. Either way, news suddenly became abundant and free. Unlike the newspaper, you could keep reading and reading and reading.
Unfortunately, the new sources of news did and do have a major handicap. With the papers, we all knew of the biases of the writers and editors, as they were limited in number and papers used to be public about their editorial position. Internet news portals, focused on speed and often lacking in resources tend to be less rigorous about “verify first, then publish”. All of us would have received pieces on news (URL, article, or video) often coming several times in the day from chat groups, only to find the news was “false”.
The scale at which internet platform companies have grown is staggering. Facebook recently celebrated two billion users. It took just 10 months to reach one million users, hit one billion in October 2012. Amazing right? They are adding daily more users than most newspapers circulation. So millennials are consuming news, just as their parents did. The only difference is that news today is free and abundant, hence they invest more time in this activity.
The other issue – job hopping and unwillingness to make a long-term commitment. Were people now in their 50s and 60s, more loyal? I honestly don’t think so. For the most part, I think they lacked market knowledge and this made them risk-averse. This meant that employers could get away with paying them below market rates with the expectation that with experience, their salaries would grow and they could look forward to a lifetime of employment. This was conditioning, only possible when there is lack of market information. Employers got away with this for years.
That is until the advent of the internet era and development of social media. This phenomenon created opportunities for motivated and ambitious entrepreneurs to work for themselves. And why not? Why would anyone work five days when they could work three days for the same money, or seven days for double the money? The new economy makes this possible.
Mobility has meant this generation has more information and more choices. The bright ones are taking advantage of the situation, in the same way, that employers of old got away with paying below market rates. This is especially true of many family owned (and managed) companies that I have interacted with. They often talk about the importance of their people, but this is seldom reflected in the salary distribution of employees. When I look at their company salary profiles there are no employees drawing the same salary as the owner and in fact, very few very senior executives even come close.
If the generation before had the information and opportunities of today would they have accepted lifetime employment? Definitely not. So before we cast stones at the Millennials, we should actually reflect on the very similar intentions of the generation before.
Anwar Jumabhoy is passionate about bringing entrepreneurship into large companies, and is co-author of the book Beyond Corporate Entrepreneurship.
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