This post was first published as a LinkedIn Article by myself on 27th March 2020.
For me, transitioning into the world of work as a young person hasn’t been the smoothest journey. There’s been application after application, interview after interview and in some ways, job after job. That’s in just two and a half years since graduating.
Indeed, many highly educated young adults find themselves struggling for work. Often serving in a supermarket or retail shop when they have a 1st class degree in engineering. It can be demoralising, hopeless and a big strain on your mental health.
During the past week, I attended a fully virtual conference run by The Alternative Board (UK), a franchise network of business advisory services and the company I now work for. There was of course, a lot of discussion about our response to the unprecedented times our country, and the world now finds itself in. The support and the encouragement that carried the conference really got me thinking.
Over the past few years, I’ve gone through many lessons; about myself, about my spiritual beliefs, and about where I fit in within the so-called ‘9 til 5.’ I was at my first job for 18 months and I did enjoy it, and in some ways, I was well looked after. But after some time, I got impatient waiting for that pay-rise or that promotion. Fundamentally, as I was mundanely putting marketing materials on a website or throwing information into a spreadsheet, I couldn’t see where I was making any impact.
I’ve recently listened to Simon Sinek’s talk about Millennials in the Workplace, and this is where his thoughts really resonated with me. He discusses why many millennials are unhappy at work, and he breaks it down with four reasons: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment. I’m not commenting on everything he says, you can listen for yourselves. What I want to talk about is the transition he mentions between schooling and working life. He talks about ‘failed parenting strategies’ – that millennials have been cuddled through their schooling life and that parents and teachers are a key part to their ‘success.’ He always mentions that kids are made to feel special. I see this in my own life. Through GCSEs, A-Levels and University, ‘success’ was all about me. All about my results and my achievements. That’s what the entire structure of my life was based on. And then, I’m thrown into the working world, as Sinek says, ‘in an instant’ not everything is about me. It’s about bigger numbers than I can’t control. Then, when you don’t see the impact you’re making on those numbers, ‘your entire self-image is shattered.’ Soon, after 8 months on the job, Sinek denotes, young people want to leave because of their lack of impact. When you think about it, this young person has been so used to the progress they can make in that time. In their world, you could sit 10 exams, get straight A’s and get accepted into university on that timeline. So, when you’re working a job and you can’t see the difference you yourself have made, you get impatient and downhearted. What I’ve learnt is, that’s just not how the working world works.
After that time where I wasn’t making the impact I wanted to, I got a new job, at a start-up in the UK where the head office was in Hong Kong. The company was doing well in the States and it was a corporate opportunity where I was the first in the UK marketing team. I was going to be the ‘it’ girl. I wouldn’t have admitted that attitude back then but that’s a little how it felt. Then, they dropped the UK side of the business. I got made redundant after a month. I was upset of course, but also excited to what was next. But what impact had I made there? None. I worried about how people from my old job would see as there was a lot of disappointment when I left. Some of them might have thought me ambitious, others completely stupid. Regardless, I felt worthless at times.
I believe God taught me another lesson: my purpose wasn’t necessarily just in my work. I spent that time off building up my personal relationships. I met friends for coffee. I spent more time with my parents. I even started writing a young adult fiction (still in progress). Whilst having a career plan is important and often healthy, I learnt that I wasn’t defined by that and it set me free. A little. Until I had an interview and got another job. Yay. Now I’ll make impact.
Then, two weeks before starting the job, I was knocked off my bike by a taxi. I was battered, bruised and broke my collar bone. Badly. It’s still not healed after 9 months. So, I had to start a new job, completely and utterly vulnerable. On the first day, I was in a sling and had to ask the Managing Director to cut up my potatoes for me at lunch. It wasn’t that big a deal, he found it quite amusing. But the point was I couldn’t march in there as this accomplished person who had arrived to solve all their marketing problems. I physically couldn’t present myself as someone powerful and who was going to make that immediate ‘impact.’ I was visibly vulnerable. However, it taught me, both in my work and personal life, to be humble. I’m not saying I’m a perfect person now, not by any stretch. What I have learnt is that in the workplace, there is no ‘it’ girl. You’re part of a team.
What young people are lacking, as Sinek says, is the patience to develop deep meaningful relationships that take time to build up. To add to that, they also don’t know humility; they don’t want to appear vulnerable, they often can’t ask for help without worrying if their bosses think them useless. That’s why the TAB Conference this week provoked me to think. In those 40-50 people, who are all over 30, I saw more humility, vulnerability and support than I’ve seen in a long time. That was over a video conference call. Imagine what it’s like when I’m in a room with those people. It’s a real community. A business community built on a foundation of building people up. We exist so business owners can work with one another so each of them can achieve their individual ambitions or whatever it is they want from life. Which has reminded me all week about the bible verse in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5 and verse 11: “Encourage one another and build each other up.” I now don’t worry about making an ‘impact’ to the world every working day. I’m now okay with being challenged with the way I do things. Over the past seven months, my bosses at TAB have helped me to build and foster healthy working relationships. This means I have fulfilment in just being part of the team.
That’s also what many leaders in the corporate world are failing to do with their young people. Sinek talks about the corporations caring ‘more about the numbers than they do about the kids.’ That we as a generation aren’t being taught that not all gratification is instant. About the ‘fulfilment you get on working hard on something for a long time.’ It’s also worth noting that those things that are built over time aren’t often built by one person alone. It’s about getting through things together.
This is a crazy, confused and uncertain time. Right now, there are thousands upon thousands of ambitious, talented young people working from home. They might have been waiting on promotion before Coronavirus hit. They might have been questioning if their job is for them. They are less likely to see their ‘impact’ now than ever before. I’m not saying it’s all the company’s responsibility, the young people also must be prepared to shift their attitudes, but that often can start with good leadership. So, I challenge business leaders: are you looking after your young people? Do you know what they want out of life? Are you making their working relationships a priority? Do you give them an occasional call, just to see how they are? Please see them as a person, with hopes and dreams, not just another asset for building the numbers. You might find they stick around. They might be inspired by the relationships they carry and will look for their bigger plan that can’t be attained overnight. Millennials, Generation Y or Z or whatever you want to call us, are the future of the working world and we’re already seeing our job satisfaction and true-life fulfilment becoming increasingly redundant.
I’ll leave you with a thought-provoking idea. Whilst it’s awful and concerning that kids have just had exams cancelled, they are now at home spending more time with family. They are witnessing a great example of people uniting and working with one another. They will see that the results aren’t instant. It’s going to be a long, difficult road. But perhaps, the positive for them is that rather than spending these coming months focussing on just being the ‘it’; they will learn that what really matters in life is about being ‘us.’