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Underpaid and Unappreciated: Why More Millennials Have Less Loyalty To Their Employers

“I’m too fly for this s**t,” a voice declared in the back of my head about two years ago as I sat across from a team of middle-aged managers who were debating about a tea party invitation I created. “I just feel like ‘Keep Calm and Tea Party On’ might be a trigger for these women in recovery. Why don’t we just call it a ‘Mother’s Day Tea’?” one manager suggested as I felt the creativity being sucked from me one dry suggestion at a time.

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The non-profit I worked for was hosting a tea party for the women in drug and alcohol recovery we served, and while management debated over Times New Roman font and the temptation of too good of a time (You didn’t know? Tea party’s do one thing: Pop…like Chris Brown’s pelvis during a Michael Jackson tribute), other staff who worked directly with these women on a daily basis made failed attempts to remind everyone that we should focus on ways to highlight the progress these women had made rather than argue over whether a party invitation would send someone nosediving into a coke binge. Seriously, the way these women were debating the invitation, you would’ve thought a million dollar deal with Lipton was on the table, not a simple celebration honoring local women who were making steps to be better mothers.

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The next two years I was employed as a Communications and Outreach coordinator at a small parenting non-profit consisted of more of the same. I spent my days defending any creative idea I dared to present and was always told that my ideas were “too edgy”. Infographic? Too modern, let’s stick with that pie chart from Microsoft Word 2003. A funny parenting meme on to lighten the mood every Friday on social media?

Nope, parents don’t need to laugh. Let’s talk about the suicide epidemic instead. When crippling budget cuts hit this past year, staff went into a spiral of panic and management checked out of boosting morale and actually managing the organization because they were too busy battling anxiety about their own job security. Before long, it was common knowledge that management would die in their offices clinging to their Times New Roman while any remaining staff would be lucky to be employed there for longer than three years.

I never planned to stay at the organization for the rest of my career when I initially applied, but for the first few years there were opportunities to grow and I felt like I was in a position to be mentored by my superiors. But sometime before my last year I “peaked” and it seemed that although management wasn’t receptive to change, they also didn’t have fresh ideas of their own to offer. Once I learned that not only was I not growing, but that the organization as a whole was stagnant, what was once a three- year plan turned into a three-month plan. A recent study revealed that I am not alone in my lack of loyalty. In their fifth annual global millennial survey, Deloitte, a multi-national professional services firm found that that two in three young professionals expect to quit their current jobs by 2020. The survey also found that women were slightly more likely than men to leave their job in the next five years.

When it comes to the millennial workforce, these pros ain’t loyal (See what I did there?) but why exactly are they so quick to leave their entry-level opportunities behind? Turns out, many of them were once optimistic grads like me hoping that their education and passion would land them in a position to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately what many of us are learning is the cold, hard truth of the corporate ladder: As much as we want to make a difference, most people still just want to make money.

“This year’s survey results also show Millennials are steered by strong values at all stages of their careers; it’s apparent in the employers they choose, the assignments they’re willing to accept, and the decisions they make as they take on more senior-level roles,” writes David Croickshank, Deloitte Golbal Chairman, “They want to work for organizations that have a purpose beyond profit, and they want those organizations to provide opportunities to develop leadership skills.”

When I realized that my organization had reached a level of complacency where creating new leaders wasn’t as much of a priority as cutting management a paycheck, I knew it was time to make my exit. It was a sobering thought as I watched my mother retire after 30+ years working for the same company she had been at since I was born. As she picked out a 32” TV as a parting gift for her years of service, I thought about how my professional career would more than likely be littered with decades spent in different positions at different companies. And as terrifying as the lack of job stability can sometimes be, I must admit it’s a bit liberating to feel like if you hate your job you can leave it and not necessarily end up begging for change on the train. Admittedly after repeatedly being shut down by management and figuratively “sent into a corner” to keep busy and not be threatening, I checked out and started looking for other opportunities.

 

At happy hour, there was always a common theme among friends and colleagues of the same age:  We all were working more than one job at a time and no one had stayed at one job longer than five years. Many might say millennials are flighty or entitled and disregard “paying our dues” before landing our dream jobs, but I would argue that many of us are just frustrated from trying to bring new ideas to organizations and individuals who fear change. We all won’t be Mark Zuckerberg, but you can’t discount all of the thirty-somethings who are building blogs, designing apps and using their imagination to challenge tradition and find new ways of doing things that make the world better one “edgy” idea at a time. And the one thing I love about being a millennial is the mindset that you don’t have to choose between being employed and happy.

”You don’t have to choose between being employed and being happy.”

The survey also revealed key differences between men and women when it comes to job satisfaction. 48% of the women surveyed said they felt overlooked for potential leadership positions contributing to the idea that gender bias in the workplace is still a very real thing, even if it’s only perceived.  Women also were more likely to consider work/life balance and having a sense of meaning in their work while men solely focused on product and performance. While some might say women should get up out their feelings and focus on the work, I think there’s something to be said about wanting what you do to make a difference in some way.

I wasn’t the type of employee to stop being a team player every time management didn’t give me the green light on an idea I thought was great. I felt that I had played my part in the first few years grabbing coffee, working after hours (sometimes for free), and being accessible at any time via cell phone. I took it all as the grunt labor that comes with an entry-level position. Despite budget cuts that created what was often a very bitter working environment, I tried to find fulfillment in the parts of my job I still could and go above and beyond to make sure I was doing my part. Nonetheless, I saw my layoff coming a week before it happened.

I had packed up my desk secretly days before and made my peace with the whole idea of being unemployed before approaching my boss with a talk she was hesitating to have, “I can’t log into the company accounts, so is there something you want to discuss with me?” I asked, refusing to have my time wasted as she attempted to wait until the end of the work day to give me the news. Immediately she grabbed for tissues before grabbing my release papers before she uttered, “It’s just this money situation.”

There’s no love lost and I refused to take the lay off personally, but one crucial lesson I learned about job loyalty is that it’s not worth your time to invest into any company that isn’t investing in you.

True leaders don’t shut down or dismiss ideas, but find ways to make them better. And most importantly, the best leaders put the value and morale of their team before their own fragile egos. Maybe I do sound like an entitled millennial, but one thing I remain confident in is that no one should have to spend eight hours of their day somewhere they hate for the rest of their life. Building a stable career is as much about how a company can benefit you as much as it about what you bring to the table, and sometimes a paycheck isn’t always enough.

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