GRADUATES, YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL
On May 27, 2010, Laura Vanderkam wrote an insightful article for USAToday (Section: News;Page:11A) entitled, “Graduates, you can have it all: As Millennials increasingly demand a work-life balance, they might just teach the other generations a thing or two.”
Here’s Vanderkam’s opening paragraph.
“Complaining about young people is an old tradition, but folks graduating from college these days inspire a particular incredulousness among middle-aged sorts. The Canadian news media have been howling lately over a study finding that most students expect to be promoted in 18 months (with a 63% rise in pay in five years, naturally). Here in the U.S., Fortune has floated the word “entitled” to describe the generation often called Millennials, marveling over a willingness to send e-mails to company presidents from Day One.”
I love that article because it sent me back to my early days in industry and caused me to wonder why people bother to complain about the next generations—we, probably just about all of us, did the same things those entering the workforce today are doing.
In the late 1960s I worked in a laboratory with people who could solve just about any problem and challenge the future with their thinking on any topic. I found similar groups in the 1980s and had lunch daily with similar people into the late 1990s. None of these people even discussed the ifs of their careers—everything was about when. They were talented people who evaluated the organization for what it was, recognized good execution when they saw it and spotted poor performance where it existed, often declaring we can do better than that. Each of these era groups observed the politics, appreciated the performance of those rising from the morass that was the corporate world, and determined to rise above the idiocy that prevented us from being great.
I think about those conversations and still don’t count the attitude as arrogance, nor do I classify it as naiveté; it was just clear thought expressed in clear speech evaluating neutral conditions using no filters. Later all of us learned to soften our language, but I don’t think any of us changed our perspective all that much. We matured. We modified the way we looked at things. We broadened our understanding of how business operated. But we retained our honest approach to the world as we saw it. I’m sure groups new to the corporation are still doing the same today.
How is that different from Laura Vanderkam’s new person entering business today and declaring that he or she is willing to work an honest 40-45 hours per week, but wants to do better with their families, wants to live a life outside the corporate walls? I think they’re doing the same things we did; they’ve just added a few more bells and whistles in a world that operates by some different rules than some of us lived under.
In time, I think they’ll modify their position, a little. Why? Business rewards results. Despite our brilliance (and some reading this are brilliant) we need to sort out what our employers need from us, what we’re willing to give, and come to an agreement that is beneficial to both of us. It’ll still boil down to time management and priorities, but in a world where the average person may have 12 jobs and three separate careers, there has to be room for flexibility.
I think Laura Vanderkam presented an excellent perspective on the next generation and I think her conclusions have value. But I think these idealistic people will grow to be a bit more pragmatic—they’ll adjust a little to meet those offering the paycheck a little closer to half way.
At least I hope they do.