Overcoming the Millennial Stereotype in the Workplace
You’ve heard it before, Millennials are entitled, needy, difficult, lazy, don’t conform to social norms (like showing up to work on time), want promotions and leadership roles et all. While there is some truth to such statements, there is no doubt, it’s a misunderstood generation. Even though I’m an ‘older’ Millennial, during my first internship in 2006, feedback included that I was good with books and problem solving but I could use some more soft skills when it came to working the phones and dealing with customers directly. While my work ethic has never been a problem, I have learned a lot from others in the workplace. Here are a few things to think about when working with previous generations to ensure you don’t get lumped in with the stereotype of those born from 1980-2000:
Yes, you are a product of the internet generation and have access to more information than any generation before you. Being a know-it-all isn’t a bad thing but you also don’t have to tell everyone about it. Everyone in this city has a degree or two and knows how to do a Google search. As my dad said growing up “we learn by doing” so when you take on a new role, be sure to ask questions and learn from the people that have been at the institution for a while. You should always be seeking knowledge and sharing it as well to create value and deliverables for the organization.
Take the initiative
this goes for internships as well as for full-time roles. Life is an escalator and if you stop moving, you’re going backward. Some roles may not have well defined RR&E or Roles, Responsibilities and Expectations. This is especially true of internships. I have been in internships were it was merely paper shuffling all day to others where I was given the opportunity to speak and present in front of management. Like anything else in life, you get out what you put in. By taking the initiative to ask for more work, bigger challenges you will get noticed. In the marketplace of ideas, be creative and don’t be afraid to offer opinions as long as they don’t demean or undermine your superiors. DC is a place where the harder you work, the more that will be given to you. upon request. There is only so much time in the day and this place has two types of people: workhorses and show horses. Your brand will quickly be revealed and you want to be the one higher-ups call on when they need an answer and fast. Making yourself valuable to others will increase opportunities, especially with prospective employers.
Seek operational improvements
Not only are you always learning but the organization as a whole is too. Management is often times busy with bigger problems, projects, and issues so they aren’t always around or aware of small problems that are out of sight. Sometimes this requires managing up and keeping your superiors focused on what they do best. Supporting them by reviewing procedures and policies and pushing for improvements will be better for both of you. In this space, know whether it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Some places are the opposite so know what your decision rights are beforehand before you start calling major donors and go on national tv and tweet on behalf of the CEO.
Know and practice workplace etiquette
Being valued by other starts with showing up to work on time. While this seems self-evident, its easy in a casual work environment to start coming in late. Even if you stay late and get in your hours, it is what is seen that counts. If a boss walks into your office at 9 am every morning and you aren’t there, that’s all they know and the decision will be made based on that experience. Be careful with using a phone during work as well. Most positions require the use of phones but some people assume you are using it for personal reasons, like texting friends, getting on social media and other things. Again, its perception not reality that counts so be mindful of how things are perceived by others.
In the end, be likable and seek to be useful. While most folks in DC tend to specialize in a specific policy area or skill such as development, policy comms etc, it doesn’t hurt to cross train and learn skills outside of your silo. It will help strengthen your overall view as to how the organization operates in the bigger DC picture. When applying to future roles, the prospective employer will see that you are more than just an ace at one specific thing and you can support a team of folks in their mission.