My Response to Recent Gen Y Criticism

Dear Fellow Millennials,

We’ve been called out lately, by some pretty intelligent people no less. My initial reaction, particularly with Todd Defren’s post, which I read first, was to call bullshit and to write a rallying cry for my peers. Often my initial reaction is to feel backed into a corner and come out swinging, but then cooler heads prevailed and I re-read all of their posts. And you know what?

They’re right. Maybe not about everything, but it’s hard to account for the infinite amount of scenarios young employees inevitably find themselves in. You see, I just quit my job after only 16.5 months so I felt as though they were speaking directly to me. Am I just some entitled brat? In retrospect could I have toughed it out a while longer? In re-reading their posts I’m as confident as ever I made the right decision.

Here’s my evaluation of some of their key messages:

PR Prof Bill Sledzik — “Dear Millennials: Your parents lied to you.”

“Millennials were raised by parents who showered them with praise and awarded them athletic trophies for just showing up. Their lives were over-programmed, their parents hovering.”

Of course this isn’t applicable to EVERY Millennial, but it’s true, there’s no refuting that. Especially the kids from privileged backgrounds, the ones who think $60K and a corner office after 2 years is reality.

“All their lives they’ve been rewarded for effort more so than results.”

Working hard and having passion about what you’re doing should be a prerequisite for getting a job. It should be like having a high school diploma. Impact matters more than output, and doing your best doesn’t matter if you can’t execute.

I genuinely think Bill’s message was spot on.

Todd Defren — “Open Letter to Millennials (PR Industry Edition).”

“My advice then — and you may see it as biased — is to stay put for a while. I am talking 3 – 5 years, at least. There is no such thing as a perfect fit. You must create the perfect fit. This is your apprenticeship period. It is supposed to suck. There are supposed to be crummy days when you feel under-appreciated. Such days will occur no matter who signs your paycheck.”

This is the passage I initially took issue with. In my mind life is entirely too short to feel handcuffed in a position that ‘sucks,’ as Todd puts it. But read it carefully and you see that he says there’s supposed to be ‘crummy days,’ not consecutive crummy months. You DO have to create the perfect fit, and there will always be days where you have to find the silver lining.

I like that Todd explains further a few days later:

First, the clarification: it is up to the employer to offer competitive compensation and a satisfying work environment. Period. However, no employer will be able to offer competitive compensation and a satisfying work environment every single day, for every single employee.

So my point in last week’s post was to suggest that employees who encounter a rut or rough spot try to see it through, rather than throw in the towel.

That doesn’t mean “shackle yourself to the desk,” it means, “make sure you calmly alert the agency to your issues — and be a little patient as they suss out the solutions.” It won’t always work out. But it may be worth the attempt. That is Loyalty.

And just like that we’re back on the same page. There’s always going to be another company willing to lure you away for more money; however, if your present company is offering competitive compensation and you’re learning, growing and working on stuff you’re passionate about then enduring the bad days is just part of it. Sucking it up when you get yelled out every once in a while (though probably not necessary) is part of it.

And again, being honest about the things you have issues with and trying to come to a resolution IS being loyal. If you hang on for four months with no resolution in sight, and you don’t feel that you’re being challenged/learning/growing, then by all means you tried to accommodate the company and you can leave. Just try not to fall into a similar situation with your next position. Keep reading.

Jason Calcanis – “Red, Jackson, Gen Y & Loyalty.”

First, the scenario Jason describes is probably an accurate scenario that happens more than we care to admit.

Second, his advice for how to resign is solid, and there are some important caveats:

“If you’re not learning, enjoying yourself or developing, you probably shouldn’t stay in a company. On that, I think we all agree.”

“Tell your boss everything truthfully. Tell them why you’re leaving, where you’re going and what you’ve loved about working at the company. If they ask, tell them what you think could be improved.”

“If you would rather stay at your company, but need to make more money, be straight with your boss and let them know you would like them to match, or come closer to a competing offer.”

See a theme yet? They’re not telling us to stay no matter what. They’re essentially asking us to be rationale in our approach, to be respectful, to learn from the experience, and to try and avoid it again in the future. Speaking of which…

Mark Suster – “Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Bad Employees.”

First of all, I like that Mark lumps all job hoppers and doesn’t single out Millennials as I’m hesitant to lump people together based on how many birthdays they’ve had.

“Quitting 1-2 jobs early when you’re young is acceptable. I get that when people are young they’re exploring life and work. But 6 times is a pattern.”

“ You’re in it more for yourself than your company. OR … you make bad decisions about which companies you join.”

Ding. Ding. Ding. Mark is right too.

So what would I say to these guys?

1.) Thanks. They’re obviously all smart, talented professional that have infinitely more world and work experience than I do and I actually appreciate their insights (for free) where I can consume them, digest them, and apply them to my own life.

2.) And they know this, but loyalty is definitely a two way street. Millennials are significantly less loyal than their parents were, but part of that is because companies are less loyal as well. If a company isn’t giving you a chance to learn, grow, and compensate you fairly then you need to be upfront and honest with them about your intentions. If they can’t resolve it, at that point you probably have every right to do what’s best for you. *Learn and grow doesn’t necessarily have to mean work on awe-inspiring projects. There’s lots of ways to learn.

3.) Most of us aren’t trying to make mistakes. And a situation that works out probably isn’t a mistake if we learn a lot from the experience. My Dad likes to say, “I’m 57 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” I can assure you that graduate school didn’t teach me how to know enough about myself OR how to interview in a way that enabled me to learn enough about the company to ensure a good fit. That’s something I’m still learning.

It’s easy to glamorize a ‘big name’ company or a cool industry like sports or music, but if those institutions don’t mirror your values you might end up in a precarious situation. Sometimes the best way to learn is through trial and error.

4.) My grandpa likes to say, “they call it a job for a reason,” but one of thing I admire about some of my peers is that they are out there in search of that something that will inspire them to do great work every day. YES, they should try to make what they’re doing a perfect fit, but life is short and being happy is important. It takes a long time to realize that being happy comes from within instead from the external forces that surround our lives.

What do you think? Are Millennials taking their criticism out of context and getting bent out of shape over nothing? What is your stance on job hopping and company loyalty?


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  • My Dad likes to say, “I’m 57 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

    Thanks for the shout-out, Ryan. Your dad and I have a lot in common — including our age!

    But I’m glad to see GenY getting back to the values that the Boomers fostered in the late 60s — the idea of pursuing a satisfying life vs. a material one.(Peace, man!) I never let that value go, and I’m fairly certain it’s what led me to higher ed. Lord knows, it wasn’t the money.

    As for loyalty, it’s one of the greatest attributes anyone can exhibit. But it has to go both ways. So many employers today say that competitive market forces preclude loyalty. I’m not sure that isn’t just a convenient way to justify greed and bad management.
    .-= Bill Sledzik´s last blog ..My interview at the Daily Dog =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    It’s funny. My English teacher my senior year of high school was absolutely brilliant. I always wondered why he was teaching high school kids. People older than you always tell you it’s not about how much money you’re making if you’re not happy, but most of us have to see for ourselves anyway I guess.

    I’m glad that you and the others acknowledge that loyalty goes both ways. Too often I hear about employees getting poor performance reviews for no reason (or without an explanation) so the company can justify laying off someone with 15 years experience because outsourcing the job is significantly cheaper. And then those same companies wonder why our generation lacks loyalty?


  • Age is irrelevant.

    Really all I have to say on the matter.
    .-= Stuart Foster´s last blog ..I Believe in Advertising. Now it Has to Believe in Me. =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    For the most part I whole-heartily agree, though one could argue that the older someone is the more opportunity they’ve had to experience and learn certain things. Chances are someone who’s 40 has had the opportunity to have more jobs than someone who’s 25, yes?

    But I did commend Mark on the fact that he called out job-hoppers as a whole, rather than making a blanket statement about our generation being job hoppers without mentioning other demographics.


  • Hey Ryan! Great post. It’s really interesting because I’ve been a job-hopper my whole life (I’m 25, 26 on Wednesday!). But then, when I got out of college, I became really strapped down by my student loans & I’ve been with my current company for 3 years!

    Granted, this is my first “professional” job outside of university, but still, I don’t think I would have every stayed HALF as long if it weren’t for my student loans. In retrospect, however, I’m really glad I did. I’ve learned an invaluable lot which I never could have done had I given up after 6 or 12 months (like I wanted to at the time).

    Not too sure where I’m headed next.. staying… becoming an entrepreneur… moving to another company…?

    But no matter what, I’m really grateful for the experience. I’ve also got a feeling that more & more gen y-ers will find themselves in my shoes as the economy continues to plunge and the tuition rates keep going up.

    Thanks for the food for thought man. Have a great weekend!

    .-= Dena´s last blog ..Carousel — 04.30.10 =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:


    The fact that you’re 25, attended college, and have held the same position for the last three years doesn’t indicate to me that you’re a job-hopper. I think in general, prospective employers are looking primarily at jobs held once you’ve graduated.

    Glad you’ve learned and benefited from the experience at your current position. You bring up a good point about the rising costs of tuition, a genuine problem in the model = student loans, and our current economic climate.


  • Nice article. I’m a Gen-Xer and extremely glad not to be where Millennials find themselves today. It’s rough out there, and I have to agree with you–Why should anyone have company loyalty with such a poor example corporate America is setting? I know your generation is being picked on a lot lately, but I’m glad to hear a voice that’s actually listening to the criticism with an open mind. We all would be wise to listen to our elders on occasion. (I can’t believe I just said that.)
    .-= Ilene Haddad´s last blog ..Behind Every Weenie Stands a Mr. Weenie =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:


    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It’s always awesome to encounter new voices here. Without question it’s a tough position to be in, and listening to people who’ve had more experiences is a great way to learn. There’s definitely ways to hedge your bets, and make yourself more risk averse, but you’re always going to have to take chances (even if that means not taking one sometimes).


  • hmmm, need to think this one over.

    On one hand, I agree with much of what you said, but on the other, my experience tells me that having to live through the suck taught me to appreciate what I have and learn what a good risk looks like.

    Your job at a company is to contribute to the bottom line…unless you’re a partner. Loyalty is a 2 way street. Many people don’t even have a job these days, so in a sense, people should fee lucky for the chance to learn on the fly.

    You have to create your own opportunities, and it’s not really up to the employer to challenge you…it’s up to you to negotiate risk and teach your employer that you can be challenged.

    The same is true of inspiration…you have to find it on your own. Making mistakes is important…in fact, I’d say it’s critical. I was lucky I got to make them on someone else’s dime.

    Now that I’m free from the job trap and running my own business, I really appreciate all the crap I had to go through to get here. Hardened me and taught me well.

    Thanks for a post that made me think…not much of that anymore.
    .-= Nathan Hangen – Digital Emperor´s last blog ..Take the Red Pill =-.


  • I’ve also always been a job hopper. I can understand the fear a company has in hiring a job hopper and the lack of loyalty that is associated with that background, but I think it gets a bad rep in terms of Gen Y. I don’t see my job hopping tendencies as a problem in my personality or the way I was raised, and it’s a lucky thing I saw them before I attempted to step into the corporate realm.

    They don’t mean that I feel entitled or that I was handed everything and rewarded for effort over results (I certainly wasn’t in any way). I have no fear of hard work or long hours, but I learned that I am much more excited to jump a project or get excited about a client than a career.

    Personally, I can’t defend all job hoppers out there, I really enjoy the challenges that come with stepping into whatever shoes it takes to take charge and get a project up and running. If I hadn’t noticed how bored I got doing the same thing everyday early on, I would probably be beating myself up trying to make working for someone else full time satisfying. Is it reasonable to say that it would be my responsibility to make that job fulfilling and challenging and engaging? Absolutely. Would I shy away from doing it? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. Do I think I will work longer, harder, more passionately and intensely and ultimately produce better work more efficiently working for myself? Most definitely.

    I don’t think all the job hoppers in our generation are looking for a way out of working, we’re looking a way to work in a lot of different areas to achieve satisfying results faster with fewer roadblocks.
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..ollie vs andi: the final showdown? =-.


  • Dropped back to catch the discussion. Wanted to say that I agree 100% with Stuart: Age is irrelevant. However, experience is highly relevant, and the only way to get it is to keep working — and to grow older. Double-edge sword!
    .-= Bill Sledzik´s last blog ..My interview at the Daily Dog =-.


  • Pingback: "Millenials In PR" Debate Goes Both Ways |

  • Let’s all agree on this: nobody likes the privileged college boys and girls who expect top tier jobs without any merit. The ones who graduate, with no passion, have no identifiable skills, and can’t understand why no one wants to pay them 100K for something anybody could do. Those people have been around for years, well before Gen Y.

    The problem the older generation has, however, runs deeper. They get angry when they see young, sharp, hardworking individuals reject the idea that its their duty to make money for somebody else on top (with the chance that they may one day be on top). They complain, “whatever happened to working hard for your company, and company loyalty.” The world is different now. Ask any 50 year old who got laid off from IBM after 20 years of 50 hour weeks.

    Company loyalty is not the same on either end, and one thing has become abundantly clear to this generation: more often than not, you are born into positions on the top, you don’t work your way up to C level positions. Why do baby boomers have mid-life crises after 20 years on the job? They come to the same realization 20 yr olds are simply having now: “I don’t want to be some nobody stuck in the middle. I want to contribute something real”

    To me, Gen Y has two options: find a job they love, or create their own.

    They may fail. They may come to realize that their skills and their knowledge are not as unique or valuable as they thought, but why get so angry at them trying? Why try to extinguish that fire to make their lives better, and to improve? If they aren’t as special as they think, they’ll find out soon enough, and they’ll be right back where they started.
    .-= Patrick Ambron´s last blog ..What I’ve learned =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    Something we both agree on: The old model is broken, and the faster both companies and employees realize this the better off we’ll all be.

    As for letting them figure it out on their own. I hadn’t necessarily thought about it from this perspective, but I think I like this approach. Maybe they’re just wasting their breath? We’re a stubborn bunch.

    Just like generations before us, some will learn and out grown some of the negative stigmas and others won’t. The ones that do we’ll get hired and the ones that don’t will, as you said, be right back where they started. There’s certainly nothing wrong with providing advice, particularly from experience, but in the end I suspect Millennials will divide themselves appropriately.

    Good thoughts Patrick, and thanks for the note on Wednesday!


  • Great discussion! Ryan – you have a lot of wisdom for your years. I enjoy your videos and like what I’ve read.

    I’m a Gen X-er. I spent the better part of the past decade as a recruiter. That made me the middle man between the pool of talented Gen Y candidates looking to change jobs and the law firms/corporations looking to hire them.

    Everyone above is making great points that I saw play out every day. The biggest thing this boils down to is COMMUNICATION. In general, the older generations in power at companies do not understand Gen Y…and most employees (regardless of their age or generation) do not know how to communicate with those in power. People forget that everyone is human, from the company janitor to the company CEO.

    Employees would end up happier if you would take the time to communicate with those in power and just say, “hey, what works best for you when it comes to X, Y, Z” or “I want to make sure we’re all kicking butt together as a team, but can I talk to you for a second and tell you what would work best for me and what would best enable me to help us all kick butt together – I don’t want to be high maintenance or anything – I just want to see if this idea works for you too.” Approached the right way – and the key is the RIGHT way – an honest discussion can work wonders.

    Most people have to start their careers at ground zero and be sponges – learn as much as possible and build skills and experience. Without communication, being at ground zero can suck. I would talk to potential candidates who would say “get me out of here – find me a new place to work”. I would always ask WHY. SO OFTEN it was just a communication issue and I knew it was NOT in that person’s best interests to job hop. I would counsel them on how to navigate those intimidating political waters so that they could salvage the good opportunities they had. If/when the person was willing to just communicate with their boss, department head, more senior co-worker, etc…they would very often be able to fix and enjoy their jobs! People don’t know what’s in your head – they don’t know that you don’t feel challenged or that the daily meeting they’ve had for 10 years is a TOTAL waste of time…b/c no one ever communicates so the status quo continues! Look at our country’s politics – it’s the same kind of thing. If you don’t speak up, you just suffer in silence…and that hurts your psyche….and then you might end up making a bad decision as a result (job hop before maxing out on your own knowledge/skill-building)…or getting branded as a whining brat for moping without speaking up.

    Communication isn’t a catch-all solution, but it’s a big part of this….and a dialogue needs to take place between Gen Y and those who employ Gen Y. If the employers don’t initiate this, the employees need to do it…and obviously must do so carefully for the political reasons I (and Patrick above) mentioned.

    Those who job hop at their first frustration will find themselves in a real bind a few jobs in when they have a thin resume (lacking experience) and a lot of movement. Sorry this is long – I need an editor!


  • I just shared with my son, while on his first path to job hunting….that he needed to make sure he keeps the mindset that he is ALWAYS his own boss–whether he works for someone or not.

    Believing in that kind of mindset can build you an empire even if you punch a time card.