This is an audio transcript of the Working It podcast episode: ‘The truth about ‘entitled millennials’’

Isabel Berwick
Hello, Working It listeners. Before we start today’s episode, we at the FT want to hear from you and we want to know what you’d like to hear more of. So, to help us understand, we’re running a survey that you can find online at FT.com/workingitsurvey. That’s FT.com/workingitsurvey. There’s also a link in our show notes. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and if you fill it up, you’ll have a chance to win a pair of Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. So please don’t miss out. Now, let’s get on with the show.

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Shelley Johnson
I often hear — and I was talking to a lady actually, they gave me a call and they’ve got an issue with an employee and they were like, “Oh, this person, they’re so entitled”. They’re like, “Back when I first started, you just put your head down and got the job done”. And I kind of chuckled because I’m thinking, “That’s true. Like, yes, your experience is valid. That’s what you did when you were working for 20 years in the one job”. But times have changed and our expectations of the workplace need to change. It’s kinda like an upgrade when you get your computer updated. It’s the same with how we see the workplace and people’s careers. Those things are evolving quickly and rapidly and people have higher expectations. Now, that doesn’t mean employers need to meet those because some of those expectations might be completely unreasonable, but we have to have conversations about that.

Isabel Berwick
Hello and welcome to Working It with me, Isabel Berwick.

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There are lots of stereotypes about millennials, meaning anyone born between 1981 and 1996. But perhaps the biggest one is that they have an overwhelming sense of entitlement. We’ve all heard stories of Generation X and boomer bosses talking about how younger workers typically asked for a salary higher than they’re worth or expect swift promotion and career advancement just ’cause they think they deserve it. But millennials were raised by these very same boomer and Gen X parents who apparently spoilt them and they had access to the Internet in their childhood. So unlike any previous generation in history, kids born at the end of the 20th century could now see what everyone else in the world was doing. And they grew up to believe the world was out there waiting for them and complained when things didn’t go their way. I’d say that’s an extreme look at things. But, you know, are millennials really as entitled as they’re described? And if so, what effect is this having on the workplace? To find out, I spoke to a couple of prominent millennials. Emily Bowen and Shelley Johnson are HR and workplace experts and they’re the hosts of My Millennial Career — it’s a popular Australian podcast. So I asked them, what are the defining career characteristics of this cohort?

Emily Bowen
The thing that comes to mind immediately for me, and I will bang on about this for days, is ownership. And what I mean by that is, this sense of career self-reliance, this sense of the world is your oyster. The choice that we have as millennials in our careers in the present day, I believe, is beyond what has come before us. And that means that we not only have this sense of anything is possible, but, we also have something I believe we’re going to touch on today, which is a sense of expectation or as some may call it, entitlement.

Shelley Johnson
One of the defining things I go to is some of those negative things that millennials have experienced. And one of those things is, I think, hustle culture. So, this idea that millennials have often felt like they really need to hustle, and that’s where I think we’ve found a lot of millennials feeling like they get to that stage of burnout because they’ve had to work really hard to get to where they are. And so, I know there’s this tension, right, between this idea of people painting millennials with this stereotype that we’re an entitled bunch. But I also think there’s a lot of drive and ambition, and part of that has had some negative fallout for the millennials, which we’re certainly seeing now in a post-pandemic world where people are feeling that fatigue in their career and wanting to think about how they make it more sustainable.

Isabel Berwick
I mean, let’s get to this old trope of the entitled millennial because it does endure. I’m quite surprised, as some millennials are now over 40. Was there ever any truth to it and why did it start?

Shelley Johnson
One of the things Em and I really believe when it comes to entitlement is, it’s not an attitude problem with millennials, that it’s actually an expectations problem. So when you think about entitlement, often it comes down to a different expectation between an employee and an employer. And what millennials and Gen Z expect of their employer has lifted because they have a different expectation to what some of those generations have gone before them.

Emily Bowen
We believe it’s important to remember that, and it’s a little bit funny talking about this because we are millennials. We fit in this bracket. Millennials are the most educated, I guess, group of employees compared to all of those groups or those generations that have gone before them. The right of education, the right of how many employees are university qualified, for example, is increasing. And at the same time, we’ve got this shift to knowledge work over labour-based work. So I feel like there’s this dissonance and this tension, to use Shell’s word, in the workplace, whereby employees are more aware because they’re more educated, they’re also being expected to know more and to do more of that work that is at a higher level. We’re also seeing the delay over our lifetime in having a family and owning a home. And so, the emphasis that we put on work, particularly as millennials, as we’ve moved through our 20s and 30s and you mentioned we’re now reaching 40, where in some respects, it’s the be-all and end-all for us for that part of our life where it wasn’t before that. And so again, to really hammer this expectation word, we’re looking to our workplace and we’re more socially conscious and we’re more environmentally conscious and we’re more focused on our mental health. And we’re saying, you know, if I’m going to give you this drive and determination and ambition that comes with being a millennial, I need you to meet me where I’m at.

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Isabel Berwick
Today, I’m joined by my FT colleague Taylor Nicole Rogers, the US labour and equality correspondent, and most importantly, she’s a millennial. Although Taylor, I think you said you’re on the millennial Gen Z cusp, which makes you even better to interview.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
That is correct. So I’m technically two weeks too old to be Gen Z. And it’s weird because I’m at the younger end of millennial, so a lot of the things that we associate with being defining moments for the millennials, I was too young to remember. But I also am a little bit too old to relate to the things we associate with Gen Z, like, you’ll never catch me wearing low-rise jeans.

Isabel Berwick
You’re a cross-generational speaker. I wanted to ask what you thought about the points Emily and Shelley made about millennials and how they are defined. What struck me was the expectation issue. It’s not entitlement, it’s expectation. And I hadn’t thought of it like that before. And flipping it around like that makes perfect sense.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I agree. I mean, obviously I’m a bit biased because as a millennial, I don’t think that I personally am entitled. And the way I like to think of it is that, I came into the workplace with the added benefit of having parents who are probably on the cusp of Boomer Gen X and who worked really, really hard coming from nothing to build middle-class lives. And as they got to the end of their careers, understood that they had been taken advantage of and they didn’t want me to feel that way. So, while I totally understand the idea of paying your dues and gaining that experience, I don’t think that you necessarily have to be taken advantage of to excel in your career. And, that’s controversial for a lot of people.

Isabel Berwick
Well, it’s a really interesting point. And I wonder, you know, a lot of people get upset about generalisations about generational cohorts. And, there’s a lot of thinking that we’re much more influenced by our childhood, by our psychological makeup, all that sort of stuff. How much do you think behavioural change in the workplace is demographic and how much is to do with who we are as people and where we’re coming from?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Can I cop out and say it’s both? Because there are some things that I think I clearly see broken down along generational lines. For instance, it’s totally normal for people who are close to my age to change jobs and/or companies every two years. But, there are also people who are maybe 10 years older than me. And when they heard that I left my first job after about 18 months, they think, “Oh, what went wrong?”, like something terrible had to go wrong for you to quit. And I was like, “No, I just found a better opportunity and I think nothing of it”.

Isabel Berwick
And I know you do a lot of reporting across the US. Are you seeing any new trends coming through? Is it too soon to say what Gen Z will be like?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I don’t think it’s too early. They are obviously still at the very beginning of their careers, but some of the things I hear about Gen Z Americans is that they are more informal in the office. Obviously, there’s the issue of they’re not used to dressing in the business professional way. But they also entered the workforce during Covid, so they don’t have an understanding of what normal looks like for most people. They’ve never experienced the huge, bustling offices that you and I remember from two, three years ago. And so I think that will make the divide even bigger because as we talk about getting back to normal, normal is something they’ve never seen.

Isabel Berwick
So Taylor, I’ve got a really interesting survey. It was from Amazon and a consultancy called Workplace Intelligence. And they discovered that 74 per cent of millennial and Gen Z workers are likely to quit this year due to a lack of skills development opportunities. So, that’s a sort of indication that the workforce turnover is gonna keep going, isn’t it?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I think so. I definitely see people wanting to quit and wanting to get better opportunities. But, what gives me pause is that the economic situation is changing very rapidly so I wonder if that will in fact bear out, if 2023 ends up being as bad economically as we think it will be.

Isabel Berwick
Yeah, saying you want to quit is quite a different thing from actually doing it. And I asked Emily and Shelley about the impact of Gen Z coming into the workforce and how they see that they differ from millennials.

Shelley Johnson
Through conversations with Gen Z employees, one of the things that I am seeing from them is, they don’t want to opt into I think what the millennials have done, which is hustle and burnout culture. They are understanding that they need to have healthier boundaries than what I think our group of employees and our generation has done. And so, that’s a really healthy thing. That’s something that I think is really important. I do think the expectation that you can work wherever, whenever, however you want, is becoming more embedded into that Gen Z mindset. So employers have to adapt to that. They have to be responsive. They have to have really good reasons if they’re stipulating, well, we want everyone to return to the office 60 per cent of the week. Well, they need to have good reasons because Gen Z and millennials I think as well, expect a different thing of their employee out to what maybe has been accepted in the past.

Emily Bowen
And so much of the advice that we’re sharing and the coaching that we provide to other leaders is around conversations. Both Shell and I are big believers in the power of having a chat about it. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you both need to walk away feeling like you’ve won the lottery and you’re really happy with the outcome. But it absolutely needs to look like a sense of understanding that each party has after the conversation that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Isabel Berwick
You know, essentially when I started work, I did what I was told and I would never have dreamt of having a conversation with my manager. And now I think that balance has really shifted. So we can very much thank millennials for that. And I (laughter) think the conversations will keep going with Gen Z. So what is the most common question you get asked on the podcast?

Emily Bowen
The first thing that comes to mind for me is should I change jobs? Should I leave my job? So sometimes that can mean a switch sideways in the same career path. Other times it can mean a pivot altogether. But I feel like time and time again the dilemma is should I stay or should I go? Would you agree, Shell?

Shelley Johnson
100% agree that that’s a big challenge. It’s weighing up those options. The other thing we have a lot of is actually around this thing we’ve been banging on about, which is conversations. How do I ask my manager for flexible work? How do I have a difficult conversation around someone who’s bullying in the workplace? Like things that are tough, these tough issues, asking for a pay rise, asking for feedback about why you haven’t got that promotion. There’s so many conversations that matter and they’re high stakes. And so for an employee, especially in the early part of their career, how do they approach that?

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Isabel Berwick
I love Emily and Shelley’s insights about honest conversations, but Taylor, have any employers that you speak to actually started to get to grips with this new way of being in the workplace and this cohort that doesn’t want burnout and hustle culture?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I don’t think so. I think we’re kind of in the middle ground where employers are trying to talk their way out of a lot of situations. And I hear a lot of younger workers saying, I appreciate that they’re trying, but there’s a gap between what they think I want and what I actually want. So for a lot of people, they’re getting, you know, no meeting Fridays when what they really want is the ability to take half the day off on Friday, maybe do some of those emails on Saturday, if that’s what works for them. So I think the jury is still out on what we’re going to do to make these workers feel more included, because like I said, there’s still very few of them in the workforce.

Isabel Berwick
Yeah, And I think possibly some employers are still getting to grips with millennials from the sound of it.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Absolutely. One thing that sets millennials and Gen Z apart is that both of these generations came into the workforce at really fraught times. For millennials, it was graduating during the Great Recession when there were absolutely no jobs available. And so what did a lot of people do? They went to grad school and got even more student debt because they were told that’s how you get a job in a competitive market and then still didn’t get a job. And then for Gen Z, they lost out a lot of their high school and college experiences because of the pandemic and now are once again graduating into a pandemic economy or into a recession. And so when you start with lower earnings, you have to get promoted twice as fast to catch up to the amount of earnings that people and the generations ahead of us are earning. And at the same time, there’s a lot of things that are not as affordable. And I’m not just talking about inflation that we’ve seen recently. Homes have gotten significantly more expensive. So it can feel like you’re putting in all the work that your parents put in and getting half as far. It can feel like you’re doing everything that everyone has ever told you to do and still not being able to fulfill that American dream. And that’s deeply frustrating, especially when your employer seems like they’re completely blind to the issue.

Isabel Berwick
Yeah, I can see that. It’s a massive block, actually.

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I’m really grateful for a lot of the things that millennial workers have opened up for all cohorts for, like, you know, workplace conversations, discussions about pay and self-worth. But I’m also interested in the mistakes that they’re making in the workplace. Is there a generational mistake? I asked the My Millennial Career hosts about their experiences.

Emily Bowen
I would be willing to put it out there that we do see a lack of patience in that cohort and I really like this idea of finding the right balance between push and patience. So really emphasising the strengths that we bring around determination, drive, ambition, sometimes to a fault, a hustle culture and at the same time appreciating that that will pay off but it may not happen overnight. And with patience comes a level of humility that can be really well rewarded in the workplace. So I’d be willing to throw it out there that if I could encourage fellow millennial listeners to ensure that they bring with them patientce and they don’t fall into the trap of impatience, that could be something.

Shelley Johnson
The other thing that goes really beautifully with what Ems just shared is millennials need to own their career. One of the things we get really annoyed about is when we see people come in and they put the responsibility for their career on their employer. They expect their employer to do all these things for them. And you think, no, that’s your job. Like you need to drive your career. Don’t sit back and wait for your employer to give you the promotion and not do the hard work that’s actually gonna get you there and describes it as this idea of career self-reliance, where you are responsible for your own career and don’t outsource that responsibility to someone else and just hope that they make it happen for you. And I think that’s where we get into this dynamic of employers feeling like they have to be everything to an employee, like they have to provide the psychologists, they have to provide the gym, they have to provide the . . . lunch.

Emily Bowen
Social events.

Shelley Johnson
Like all this stuff that I think employers are like, how do I do this? Because again, the expectations are sometimes unreasonable. So it’s how do you have the ownership of your own career and have conversations about what’s reasonable to expect and then navigate it through that lens?

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Isabel Berwick

Taylor, do you agree with that assessment of what, you know, younger cohorts could do better?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I think so. I think humility and patience are always great virtues in any type of worker. But I will say just from my own personal experience that I’ve seen a lot of workers complain that they see other people doing the same jobs as them and getting paid half as much. And so I think it really is a real issue that a lot of employers are happy to take advantage of younger workers. And so while I do think you should be patient and you should be humble, I think that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping tabs on what you are worth on the open market and keeping tabs on what other people around you are getting paid.

Isabel Berwick
Yeah. Actually, for me, one of the great joys of the workplace in recent years has been understanding that you don’t have to be patient. You know, when I was in my twenties and thirties, actually, we all just sat around waiting for, you know, basically the men in charge to notice us, and guess what? They never did. So, I’m delighted that people are (laughter) much pushier. So thank you, millennials, for making the workplace better for everybody. But I take what they’re saying, I understand it. Owning your career is brilliant. What a great idea. And it just sort of flips what we call the office curmudgeon. In fact, my colleague Emma Jacobs wrote a great column about this that I’ll put in the show notes. You know, the older people who just moan that it was better in my day, or why should these younger people be getting these perks or not working as hard or get invited to parties that I didn’t get invited to? I just think let’s silence those people because actually progress is good. I don’t know. You’re a younger person, Taylor. Do you get exasperated with older people moaning? Be careful what you say here.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Yes. I mean (laughs), I don’t wanna make it sound like I don’t have respect for a lot of the older people in our workplace, because I do. I feel like I’ve learned so much from them. But it’s hard for me to stomach people that complain about the good old days because as a black woman, I can say with complete certainty that in the quote unquote “good old days”, I never would have been invited into the room. I would not have even been told like where the room was. And so I think it’s good that we’re going to intentionally uplift people. That’s how you get more inclusive workplaces.

Isabel Berwick
That’s an absolutely brilliant point, Taylor. Thank you so much.

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Isabel Berwick
I really love this episode, because I think change is good in the workplace and often as an older person, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of that. But what younger cohorts have brought into the workplace is amazing, and they’ve made the workplace better for everyone. And I think we can’t lose sight of that. But I do understand the point about patience, because there’s a balance between impatience and sitting around waiting for something to happen to you. And what Emily and Shelley were saying about taking hold of your career, owning it, you know, having essentially sort of self-resilience about your career, I think that’s something quite new. And I’m excited to see if that takes hold and people start to think about their own needs and ambitions rather than relying so much on their employer.

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Isabel Berwick
Thanks to Emily Bowen, Shelley Johnson and Taylor Nicole Rogers for this episode. If you’re enjoying the podcast, we’d really appreciate it if you left us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. And please do get in touch with us. We want to hear from you. We’re at workingit@ft.com or I’m @IsabelBerwick on Twitter. If you’re an FT subscriber, please sign up for our Working It newsletter. We’ve got behind-the-scenes extras from the podcasts and stories you won’t see anywhere else. Sign up at FT.com/newsletters.

Working It is produced by Novel for the Financial Times. Thanks to the producer, Flo de Schlichting, executive producer Jo Wheeler, production assistance from Amalie Sortland and mix from Chris O’Shaughnessy. From the FT, we have editorial direction from Manuela Saragosa. Thanks for listening.

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