Capability Building

The Workplace Millennial 1.1

Posted on in Capability Building · Millennials · Zeitgeist

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Episode 1: Working Hard

The Workplace Millennial feature aims to debunk myths about so-called ‘millennials’ in the workplace and capture how we – yes, the writers are ‘millennials’– actually think, feel, act, respond, work, plan, dream, worry and all the rest.

“Plenty of my colleagues think that millennial members of the firm don’t want to work as hard as they did when they were younger. That they are more interested in getting more leisure time.”

This insight is real. It is exactly the kind of lazy nonsense that does the rounds among people, usually in more senior positions, in companies and usually over the age of 45 – a lot. Some of them even think they have data that justifies their view.

Bad assumptions, bad data…but they’re not bad people. They can learn.

The quote came from a very well respected, female partner at a very well respected global law firm. In fairness, she also added:

“But I’m not sure they’re right. All the millennials in my team work really hard. And, sure, they’d like more leisure time – but who wouldn’t?”

Let’s assume her colleagues aren’t misremembering their appetite for work, aged 25. Still, it seems pretty likely they want more leisure time now, let alone back then.

For the moment I’m going to assume (as she did) just that because it seems likely. However, we’re in the middle of getting some (good!) data to see if that is true.

Here is why my assumption, in favour of millennials, is better than her colleagues’: the two things aren’t incompatible. Think about it. I can say to you

“I love working here, I’m happy to work hard, do what it takes to get shit done, and I’d also like more leisure time”

and not sound crazy. I might, for example, really be saying something like

“Hey, wouldn’t it be great if there were 27 hours in a day and I could use the extra 3 for leisure”

or

“Let’s find a way to get shit done more efficiently and then relax a bit more.”

Just because I’m more willing to say things like that doesn’t mean I think any differently than older colleagues do. In fact, that willingness might indicate that I’m more entrepreneurial. That I’d like to seek ways to make the team I work in and the company I work for more efficient at reaching its goals. That’s presumably good for the team and company? And also itself would constitute working hard for the good of said company?

Let’s make this real, from my personal experience. I used to be a lawyer, a solicitor in the UK to be precise. Solicitors still, for the most part, make money by charging a set amount of money for each 6-minute unit they work. Most clients seem to hate being billed this way and ask for change, but change is slow.

I worked really hard. In fact, I got a reputation for getting shit done really well, really fast. The problem is, getting things done fast can lose a solicitors’ firm money. So, you need to fill the time saved with more work. (Or deliberately cheat by pretending it took you longer than it did, which is not cool because (a) I have too much personal integrity and (b) you’re basically defrauding your clients.)

So, my reward for being good was not rest, but more shit to do. I found this soul-destroying. Beyond that, I found it stupid – I suggested a way to satisfy clients’ desires for more efficiency and to reward solicitors who work hard while providing cost control and potentially improved margins to the firm.

The only response I received:

“You’re too entrepreneurial for a lawyer.”

At one point I was told I wasn’t putting in enough effort. This despite getting paid a bonus based on the number of hours I had billed to clients. A perception problem, perhaps? The data certainly didn’t back it up.

This puzzles me to this day. One thing I know for sure: don’t say this kind of thing to a ‘millennial’ who has gone beyond the call of duty to try to improve your business.

Another thing, forgetting people’s feelings for a moment – challenge your assumptions based on actual facts. It’s definitely probably better for your business.

Adam Papaphilippopoulos

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