Millennials’ trauma in entering the world of work

Jul 20. 2020.

Carlo Luciani Co-President, Youth Leadership Network

1. Introduction

The first two decades since the turn of the century saw two global crises that shook not only the economy at the heart but which amplified pre-existing inequalities in the world, causing great social tensions. Today, the Covid-19 emergency shows that there are no quick or easy solutions to solve such a major crisis. Within a few months, the virus transformed the habits of people all around the globe and curbed the economy, leading to “the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.” (Gopinath, 2020).

In this great picture, the Millennial generation, namely those who were born between 1982 and 1996, went through this phase during their adolescence and young adulthood causing a major trauma when entering the world of work. The Millennials are the generation that will soon lead the world towards a brighter future and that has had to face a rapidly changing reality. This paper aims to analyze the difficulties encountered by the Millennials in order to share a greater awareness of their condition.

2. Education

The Millennial generation was the first one to experience the effects of the 2009 and 2020 crises when trying to find jobs in a hyper-globalized world. The Global Financial Crisis had a violent impact on a generation that focused much more on its education than its parents and aimed at its integration into society. Indeed, reports show that from 2005 to 2017 there was a constant increase in tertiary education rates (OECD, 2019). As pointed out by Hershatter and Epstein, Millennials grew up in an environment of competitivity in every stage of their lives in order to fulfill on the one hand the expectations of their ambitious parents and on the other hand to secure a place among the elites (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010). However, because of the 2009 crisis, many of them found themselves having to compete with a much larger number of people for the same job because the supply could not meet the demand. This phenomenon resulted in a series of consequences typical of an economy-dominated reality. First of all, companies had a greater choice of candidates, who presented themselves with higher educational qualifications and more skills than in previous decades. Therefore, businesses needed to increase their requirements and set up their discrimination of applicants on the basis of university or school reputation. Indeed, Hershatter and Epstein report that since the late 70s, “very good academic reputation” became the most important reason to attend a particular college, while valuing that your study “prepares you for a career or profession” is regarded as the first motivation of a college education (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010). From this data it is therefore possible to understand that young graduates are oriented towards choosing more influential universities and that they offer a practical approach for the future. Consequently, it is no coincidence that business is the field of study with the most graduates in both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs (Bustamante, 2019).

3. Family ties and independence

The relationship between Millennials and their parents represents one of the key points in the growth of this generation. From the development of the Internet to the arrival of instant messaging, parents have become increasingly part of their children’s lives. (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011; Odenweller, Booth-Butterfield, & Weber, 2014). This led to the safeguard and the micromanaging of their children’s activities (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011), which proved detrimental when, as young adults, Millennials could not have their parents help them with their first job experiences. Such a protection, often referred to as helicopter parenting, weakened the independence of a generation that was constantly under parental supervision.

For instance, while Millennials’ top education depended upon their parents’ major economic sacrifices, this resulted firstly in a situation where, in Henderson’s words, “many students feel a sense of guilt over taking a parental handout, which is exacerbated by circumstances in which parents have sacrificed their own financial security to contribute to their children’s education costs” (Henderson, 2013). Secondly, it increased the fear of failing to achieve the expected results, where parents “nurture the implicit expectation that the advantages bestowed on their Millennial offspring will yield returns” (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010). Thirdly, the acquisition of problem-solving skills became more difficult for a generation that was not used to overcoming obstacles on its own.

4. Expectations from the world of work

One of the consequences for the youth was the growth of uncertainties about the future, which require a huge effort of adaptability, self-esteem and the awareness that results would be slow to show (Kraaijenbrink, 2018). However, because of the unpredictability of events such as the two global crises, many Millennials gave up their dreams because of a ruthless reality that shattered most of the their expectations. This generation relied heavily on their educational path and hoped that achieving good academic results would suffice to find a job. Today though, we see that this is no longer the case, which generates a widespread sense of unsatisfaction among young people.

Meritocracy is one of the aspects that is most valued by this generation, so much so that Millennials were defined by journalist David Brooks as the “meritocratic elite” (Brooks, 2001). Their meritocracy is not related to gender, skin color or origin. Rather, in Ronald Alsop’s words, Millennials “want a true meritocracy that rewards performance regardless of years of seniority” (Alsop, 2008). Indeed, what seems to emerge from this generation is a strong need for recognition of their merits by the authority. However, because their expectations often fail to meet reality at work, Millennials can easily feel frustrated in environments where they do not feel appreciated with the concern of not being up to the task. Their need for confirmation from their supervisors translates into constant testing themselves and proving their worth in order not to be regarded as replaceable people. As a consequence, this materializes in a tendency to become workaholics and to take fewer breaks for fear of losing their jobs (The Atlantic Group, 2019).

5. Technology and immediate gratifications

Millennials represent the generation of hyperconnectivity, in which social interactions became closely related to the use of the internet and social media. They are celebrity-obsessed individuals, who love attention and cyberfame (Alsop, 2008) and who often like to share their personal lives on social networks. Indeed, their communication is mainly conveyed by social media, which makes them much more akin to using technologies for social interaction (Vaterlaus, Patten, Roche, & Young, 2015). However, social media created a reality through rose tinted glasses where people started putting filters on their life in order to show a positively-distorted image of oneself. The need to be accepted by their peers passed therefore through the use of social media and created an addiction for young people. For example, Haynes describes the cause of this phenomenon as follows:

Smartphones have provided us with a virtually unlimited supply of social stimuli, both positive and negative. Every notification, whether it’s a text message, a “like” on Instagram, or a Facebook notification, has the potential to be a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx. (Haynes, 2018)

Dopamine is in fact a substance released from the brain when one drinks, smokes or gambles, making it highly addictive (Sinek, 2016). Moreover, according to a recent study on the effects of these technologies, people with a higher use of social media are also more depressed than the ones who stay less on social media (Hunt, Marx, Lipson, & Young, 2018). Obsessively controlling one’s followers, counting “likes” or texting people when one feels unhappy are examples of the behavior of a generation that is accustomed to the use of these technologies. They provide immediate gratifications, which at the moment alleviate the sense of insecurity and loneliness but which also have consequences on the everyday life. Since goods and entertainment became easily accessible through the swipe of a finger on a smartphone, they reduced Millennials’ patience and attention span. In order to capture the attention of the new generations, short and concise messages are used, which contain the essence of what people or businesses want to communicate. Parallelly, these features make young people particularly weak in solving problems (Alsop, 2008), which often require constant commitment, accompanied by a good dose of empathy and patience.

6. Conclusions

Although this essay portraits many of the problems of the Millennial generation, it does not aim to diminish their abilities or paint them in a negative way. It has tried to gather the elements to be taken into consideration in order to reflect on the solutions that need to be implemented. Today’s world makes it possible to make one’s voice heard more easily than in the past and the Millennials have a great desire to redeem themselves and find their own way to a safer future. For this to be possible, it is necessary not only for this generation to become aware of its difficulties, but also for it to unite and find a concrete way to deal with them. This is why I hope that this paper becomes the basis for critiques and engagement to address the trauma of being a Millennial.


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