Boundless #49: How Do You Manage A Millennial?
Hint: It's The Wrong Question | Does the wage gap benefit the people it is supposed to help?
April 27th, 2019: Greeting from Taipei!
🗽 Summer Plans: I am headed back to the US for two months at the end of May and will mostly be in CT/Boston/NY area. While I’m two years into this self-employment journey and have been able to support myself, I still struggle with the process of finding new opportunities, especially living abroad. During my time in the US, I’d love some help with trying to connect with curious humans or companies in the following areas for paid or volunteer gigs or adventures:
Managers & leaders who want to hold workshops for their teams to learn problem solving, communication & research skills from what I learned in strategy consulting (more info here).
People that would be interested in a half or full-day workshop on becoming self-employed in Boston or NY
Beta testers for “solopreneur shift” - my online course on becoming self-employed
Companies that want to test out my future of work mindset assessment tool on their teams for a workshop or off-site.
Companies looking for ongoing research support for their work or projects
Summer or virtual university programs looking for people to support them in a mentoring, content creation or facilitation capacity
Interesting volunteer opportunities where I might learn something about community, education or work
Okay enough asks for the week. On to the good stuff…
#1 Can You Manage A Millennial?
A few weeks ago a friend asked if I had done any research on “how to manage millennials in the workforce.” This type of framing is something I am naturally skeptical of and immediately ask, “well is that a real problem?”
I spent a few hours researching this question and found three key themes:
Most “Millennials Are Different” Storylines Are Myths (but there are some differences)
The work context has changed, everyone’s expectations have shifted (Millennials want purpose, but so doesn’t every other generation)
Principles of motivation & building culture remain the same (people still ignore what works just more brazenly)
Theme #1: Most Millennial Headlines Are Myths, But What Is Different?
Invariably ask anyone above the age of 50 and they will tell you that yes, this is the problem and it is the worst problem. These ungrateful bastards are ruining work, expecting everything and have no idea how to behave.
The problem many people make is that they are not comparing current millennials to previous generations at the same age. When you do so you find things like:
“young people are actually less professionally itinerant than previous generations.”
and while google will try to convince you that millennials are different:
…the research finds that Millennial’s have similar consumption habits to previous generations.
The differences are not as much how they behave at work, but broader economic and demographics trends. Millennials are more “racially diverse, more educated, and more likely to have deferred marriage” while having lower earnings, fewer assets, and less wealth than previous generations. Finally, since most of the people in journalism now have college degrees and work in cities, you rarely ever hear about how millennials without college degrees are unable to find solid jobs and don’t end up moving to cities.
Theme #2: Millennials Want Purpose, But So Doesn’t Everyone:
A meta-review of all of the generational research had a damning finding:
The findings suggest that meaningful differences among generations probably do not exist on the work-related variables we examined and that the differences that appear to exist are likely attributable to factors other than generational membership. Given these results, targeted organizational interventions addressing generational differences may not be effective.
We want to believe that generational differences exist, so when we hear surveys that “30% of millennials are purpose oriented” we assume that they are asking for too damn much. But when LinkedIn looked at all the generations, they found that the boomers were the greedy bastards:
Theme #3: So How Do You “Manage Millennials”?
The framing of managing different types of people and generations forces most of the working world to waste enormous amount of energy ignoring the basic research on human motivation that has existed for decades.
While research can have its flaws, basing your actions at work on things like “self-determination theory” is going to be a lot more effective than running your organization by myths and google search advice. This theory is based on three simple concepts:
While it is not easy to get this right in an organizational context, HR and business leaders might arrive at a better starting point if they started with better questions. “How do you motivate someone at work?” or “How do people learn?” seems like a better way to start than “how do you manage a millennial?”
Google search is incredible for some things, but I’m afraid that it enables us to be ignorant of the deeper, less-sexy ideas that might give us more of a chance of making a real impact in the world and our organizations.
You can flip through the full 33-page slide deck I created here.
#2 Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got Greedy. (New York Times)
This article highlights a trend I talked about last week, that in the highest paid jobs - this article calls them the “greedy professions” (consulting, law, banking, ) - the returns to longer hours are often disproportionate to the excess hours. About 25 years ago, longer hours became something you got paid a premium to do.
This leads to the predictable result of large pay gaps, both within firms and within the economy. While I hypothesized last week that this would result in men earning more, at the extreme ends the pay tends to be equal:
“For the most part, women who work extreme hours get paid as much as men who do. But far fewer women do it, particularly mothers. Twenty percent of fathers now work at least 50 hours a week, and just 6 percent of mothers”
…but more men are taking the deal as seen in this married couple:
They are both lawyers, but he works at least three times as much as she does, and he earns four to six times as much
Equality of pay is a great goal, but I worry that the discussions are stuck on metrics - namely the number of people in leadership positions and average pay. Both ignore the fact that many (perhaps most) men and women don’t actually want to make more or climb the ladder if it means letting work take over their life. The research cited above seems to say that this is true for 94% of mothers and 80% of fathers.
It is not surprising then, that the pay gap would be smaller if you control for hours:
There has always been a pay gap between mothers and fathers, but it would be 15 percent smaller today if the financial returns to long hours hadn’t increased.
In my consulting career, I almost always worked less than my colleagues and also got lower performance ratings and pay. If you just looked at my pay you might conclude that I was underpaid, but I was 100% pleased with the whole situation. Similarly, a survey on wages might conclude that the wife of that lawyer is underpaid, when it seems like they are probably getting by.
We are blinded by catchy metrics of wage gaps that turn humans into numbers and ignore finding out what people really want. A single mother working in retail may be getting paid a “fair” wage, but might not even be able to work more hours if they wanted.
This myopic focus on simple metrics helps the most competitive and work-dedicated people make as much as possible and reinforces the belief that working harder is always better.
To end this wage gap among the professional gap, the only solution might be to implement a “maximum hours” cap (which smart companies like Basecamp have embraced and countries like Taiwan, Korea, Britain and France are starting to put into law).
We might then shift our focus to trying to make work work for everyone and not just the high-paid full-time knowledge workers who seem to have endless opportunities in this new world of work.
#3 Reads & Such…
⚙ Work Abstracted: This article titled “in praise of work” argues that work is not inherently bad, it is that “is that our jobs are becoming increasingly abstracted from work.”
😊 How to Be Happy? Ben Carlson offers a roundup of reactions to Derek Thompson’s Workism article: Why are people so miserable at work?
✍ Thoughts On Work In College: This college student wrote a thoughtful essay reflecting on all the “work sucks” articles and seems to go a little further than the journalists in figuring the whole thing out:
The extent to which one submits to the worship of this religion is a crucial question in the reflective process necessary in developing self-constructed agency. One’s life is their time, so the way we choose to define that time is crucial. A quiet rejection of the demands of efficient productivity for the sake of developing our more human traits may be a good point of departure.
💲 Bezos Bets: When people become too rich. Everyone is praising the Amazon shareholder letter, but ignoring the fact that Jeff Bezos will raise his wages to win a silly competition with other CEOs:
Today I challenge our top retail competitors (you know who you are!) to match our employee benefits and our $15 minimum wage. Do it! Better yet, go to $16 and throw the gauntlet back at us. It’s a kind of competition that will benefit everyone.
🎉 Play Mountain: This episode on the artist Noguchi and his desire to build a kid’s park, “Play Mountain” was fascinating and has a hidden history of America.
Jerel was ahead of his time, a “job hopper” before Millennials made it cool and traveling to Asia before digital nomads were building thriving communities. He has taken a consistent learning-mindset to carving his own path over several decades and has build an “antifragile” life and career.
I want to make this newsletter an ongoing experiment and co-creation with the many members that read and follow along. What questions do you want me to write about? Anything you are working on that I can share? What quotes are inspiring you?
More stuff I’ve been working on:
🔥 Take The Three-Week Self-Employment Challenge over at BoundlessU
💬 What questions are on your mind? Join the conversation in the Boundless slack community
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