I came across this article titled Managing the Millennials  in the WebCPA website. The article was written by Stacey Randall.  It references a study conducted by SBR Consulting last year.  The study interviewed 167 laid off Millennials and 55% of them said they would either probably not or definitely not work in corporate America in the long term which in the study was defined as over 5 years.  The article focuses on the ramifications that statistic would have for the Accounting industry and offers some great suggestions on how to ensure a good succession plan and avoid a serious talent gap.

As I was reading that statistic it reminded me of a conversation I had with 3 Millennials on my recent trip to California.   I was attending a conference there and at lunch I escaped the cold air conditioning of the meeting room by taking my lunch and eating by the pool in the warm sun.  In the table next to mine, I could hear these 3 twenty-somethings talking and laughing.  As I began to eavesdrop (can’t help myself)  I could tell that they were talking about their jobs.  Apparently, they all had corporate jobs and 2 of them had just gotten laid off in the past few months. 

From the tone of their conversation, it was clear they were not happy working in corporate.  So I knew I had to jump in and ask them why.  I introduced myself and told them what I did and as typical Millennials, they welcomed me into their group and proceeded to ask me a million questions about why corporate was the way it was.  They clearly were that frustrated.  As I tried answering their questions, I tried asking some of my own.   Their responses were revealing. Here were my 3 takeaways:

  1. Corporate was a stepping stone but not the end game.  All 3 Millennials understood that having corporate experience served to enhance their resume.  They acknowledged that navigating and being comfortable with the corporate structure and its lingo were important things to get under their belt.  But they were also adamant about the fact that they were not prepared to be “corporate slaves”.  As they saw it, the corporation of today did not offer a lot of chances for young people to demonstrate or develop their talent.  The three Millennials had worked or were working in Fortune 500 companies.  They felt disconnected from their bosses and encumbered by rules & controls.  Innovation & creativity were stifled at every turn by bureaucracy & red tape.  In the long term, they felt they would “lose their soul” if they stayed in corporate. That is why the 2 that had been laid off saw it as a blessing instead of a curse.
  2. Millennial Wanderlust.  One of the three Millennials was Asian and another was Brazilian.  Both the Asian & Brazilian talked about taking the knowledge they had learned in corporate and moving to another country to apply what they learned.  When I asked whether they wanted to do that as an employee or an entrepreneur, they both thought they would want to become entrepreneurs.  They felt that both their education and corporate experience would be well received and sought after in other emerging countries like China or Brazil . One of the Millennials talked about working for a non-profit in an emerging country.  As minorities become a majority in the US, this willingness to move to other countries can also put pressure on the talent gap that was highlighted in the survey last year.
  3. Social Media as the Great Enabler.  All 3 Millennials talked about developing an idea, solving a problem or creating opportunities for something new.  Although I don’t think they were aware of it, social media was at the heart of the discussion. No matter what they were creating or where they lived or worked, they talked about connecting with others,  spreading the word and creating a community.  When I highlighted that to them, they looked at me strangely as if to say “Duh, of course”. It never occurred to them that this was something uniquely Millennial.  No other generation had grown up with that much access to harness the collective as they did.

As I read the article in WebCPA and remembered the conversation with my 3 Millennial friends, I could see the possibility of that statistic becoming a reality and it gave me pause.  If 55% of Millennials opted out of corporate sometime in the early part of their careers, where would the future talent come from? What would that do to succession planning? How were corporations going to stay innovative in such a competitive global world if the talent to do so was not there?

My 3 Millennial amigos showed me they weren’t willing to follow the status quo.  They would prefer to redefine their careers than become “corporate slaves”.  As leaders, do we have the courage to redefine what doesn’t work in corporate to keep and engage this generation and all the others that follow?