Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Millennials: Deluded, Betrayed by Society, or Too Young to Know Better?

with 3 comments


A recent study reveals that the generation currently entering the workforce—the Millennials—values time away from work as well as salary. Nothing particularly unusual there: the coming generation wants it all, and is determined to get it. More surprising is that the survey, conducted by the Conference Board on an ongoing basis for over 30 years, found that high school seniors polled since the recession began still “want more vacation and time for themselves away from the job than young people did 30 years ago, and they also value compensation more.”

All of which raises the question in the headline. Personally, I’m of the opinion that all three points have at least some merit—and there are undoubtedly others too. Before the protests begin, though, let me say this: I’m talking with specific regard to the issue of expectations on entering the workforce, rather than attempting to define every aspect of the entire generation. And, just to head off another objection: yes I’m generalizing. But I’m doing so from a poll that actually reflects genuine generational change. With all of that in mind, here’s my reasoning:

They are deluded…

…at least to an extent. As stated in the MSNBC article quoted above, “[t]he 2008 report, from after the recession began, showed that 17- and 18-year-olds valued time away from work even more than they had two years before.”

In other words: despite the economic meltdown then in full flow—events that were reshaping their likely career paths before their eyes—that group of students still expected to graduate into a world where they’d be able to dictate terms to an employer based on how much they’d like to work. One suspects, however, that such attitudes will change as the generation ages and actually enters the workforce (see point 3 below).

They have been betrayed by society

Again…to an extent. Anyone who’s spent any time whatsoever reading about Millennials will have encountered the line of thought that they’re essentially the product of how they’ve been reared: with lives that are structured and scheduled; with constant praise; with a focus on teamwork; with the expectation that they can all go on to do great things, provided they’ve got the proper balance of grades vs extra-curricular activities on their college application forms.

Each of those things was handed down to members of the millennial generation from their parents, who in turn absorbed their perceived importance—and the promise of a sparkling future—from the society around the. And now, as that generation is coming of age, the economic rug has been pulled out from under them, and the opportunities that had seemed to be there for the taking have mostly vanished. How else can you characterize that except as a betrayal?

And they are too young to know better

Remember what you knew about the real world when you were 18 or 19? Chances are it could be summed up with one word: “nothing.” Or, as it likely was in your teenage mind (and certainly in mine): “everything.” Every generation grows up believing they’re going to change the world, and have it better than the generations before them. And, for the most part, that’s been the case for each of the succeeding post-war generations. In that sense, the Millennial generation may be the first in a long time to fare significantly worse than their parents, and from the moment they enter the workforce. The learning curve on “the real world,” then, is likely to be extremely steep. As the MSNBC piece notes, it’s already happening: “High expectations are colliding with reality and leading to a lot of disappointment and dissatisfaction.”

As noted above, there are likely many more arguments that can be made (and I’d love to hear about them: either in the comments field or on Twitter). Whatever your age or opinion on the Millennial generation, however, it’s difficult to argue with the premise of one final—and particularly wry—observation from the MSNBC piece: that the beliefs Millennials hold about their future careers at this point “may be setting them up for intense disappointment in today’s labor market.” And that, I’m sure we can agree, is a shame.

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3 Responses

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  1. It is very bizarre to think that I am grouped in the same generation as the 18-19 year old set, despite having joined the workforce when these whippersnappers were just 11 years old!

    Missa

    March 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm

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