By Chuck Violand

December 5, 2016

Webster’s defines “crossroad” as a place where two or more roads intersect. It’s also defined as a point where one must choose between different courses of action. Naturally, I think this definition has several applications as it relates to business and a special application when it comes to hiring younger workers.

I am not one who subscribes to the popular notion that Millennials hold a corner on not wanting to work or on placing unrealistic demands on the workplace. My personal experiences with younger workers have been that they are a hardworking, dedicated group. Have they brought a different set of expectations to the workplace? Of course they have, and I would expect that. Do I agree with all of them? No. But if younger workers don’t push the boundaries of existing employment practices, then who will? That’s been the job of every emerging generation as it enters the workplace. If they didn’t, we’d still be dealing with cash payrolls, eighty-hour work weeks, and ball bat management.

At the same time, I do think there are several crossroads that younger workers and older employers must navigate if they’re going to work together. Let’s start with the intersection of youthful idealism and the harsh realities of the workplace.

Graduating with a degree in 18th century French literature doesn’t automatically guarantee a high, five figure income when entering the job market. And that essential oils business everyone said was such a great idea? It might take a little longer before taking hold and paying the bills. The marketplace has a way of introducing us to the realities of employment, and it’s not always pleasant. While we might think we’re worth every bit of $80,000/year, the market may feel differently and let us know it’s only willing to pay us $30,000. Either way, the bills still come due, and sometimes we end up taking a job we didn’t prepare for, or particularly like, in order to pay them.

This might cause some seasoned employers to gloat “I told you so,” but I’m not sure it’s a whole lot different than the crossroad of idealism and reality many of them experience. For some older employers, their idealism involves continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done, and it goes well beyond hiring workers. It can also involve embracing the use of new technology or mandated changes to workplace rules. Their harsh reality may be that their company gets sidestepped by competitors and turned down by customers because they haven’t kept up with the pace of change.

Every generation of new workers and established employers have encountered crossroads at different points. I don’t think today’s situation is much different than forty years ago when my generation, the Baby Boomers, entered the workforce. I shudder to think what those job interviews must have looked like to older employers! While many younger workers today may have their heads in the cloud of idealism, many in my generation had their heads in a different kind of cloud. And we had just as many demands of our employers as Millennials do today.

All workers should understand that they’ll encounter crossroads regularly throughout their careers. The key is to recognize them when they appear, and to keep our minds open to the opportunities each of them presents.