Ania Sullivan: From the Cube of a Millennial

Being the “token Millennial” on my team, I thought it timely to share a few insights on the behaviors and characteristics you are likely to observe as more and more of my peers fill the gaps in your organization.

My dad was laid off almost three years ago from a company that saw his professional career rise from an early morning bread truck driver without college education to a highly regarded Sales Director with a degree in Business. The journey required sacrifices and determination, especially while supporting a growing family.

The company underwent numerous reorganizations and my dad’s strong work ethic and loyalty earned him respect and promotions. Nevertheless, I could tell that instability within the company made my dad uneasy and caused him to be motivated, to a degree, from a place of fear and uncertainty. I had one year of college left when his position was eliminated and feared whether he would be able to contribute to my education; I still remember the tone of his voice when he responded that he didn’t know the answer. The stress of my family’s dependence on his income continued to affect his physical health for the next 6 months as he worked tirelessly at my childhood desk looking for a job, trying to stay positive.

A highly regarded and awarded employee, he too fell victim to the all too common “restructuring” phenomenon. This was shocking to me since he was also the first to volunteer our home for his team’s holiday parties and the first to get to the office in the morning.

What if the same thing happens to me? According to Forbes, six in ten students today say they are not considering a career in business. Thinking back to my university years, I would have considered myself one of those six. Who wants to join a corporation that would rather meet a year end quota than take care of their team members?

My family moved every time my dad was promoted. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel quite angry that I was denied returning home to the same familiar town I grew up in Seattle for a job that was so easily disregarded. Seattle turned into Denver which turned into Albuquerque. Business quickly becomes personal for every team member and their family; it’s ignorant to think otherwise.

As I see my friends begin jobs only to plot their exit within a couple of weeks, it stems most often from a lack of connection or value on the team. We don’t need bean bags and ping pong tables on every floor. Sure it sounds fun, but let’s not confuse those fun benefits with people-centric culture. We, alongside every other human being in your span of care, crave empowerment and a team driven by purpose.

This personal story is why I don’t mind if you call me a flight risk. I could not mentally handle working on a team where I felt like a disposable piece of the corporate puzzle after seeing the tangled, political jungle gym my dad had to work through. If that makes me sound entitled, so be it. Millennials want more from our jobs than a paycheck – scratch that, we’re demanding it. This need to feel fulfilled at work is not unique to the Millennial generation; every human being wants to feel valued and cherished. The Internet and economic climate just provides our generation the unique opportunity to chase a dream job and we are taking chances. I even think that the reason for an outstanding number of entrepreneurs in my generation is the desire to create places of work saturated with meaning and drive. If we can’t find it within your organization, we’ll just create it ourselves.

We are a bold generation and are not afraid to ask for help; the stereotype pinning us as otherwise is, in my opinion, a missed opportunity to take the time to listen to your younger team members. Maybe it’s not that we don’t are lazy but rather that we are never asked what we think, labeled as young and self-involved. As for myself, I essentially talked one my friends and teammates here at the Institute into being my coach because I understand that the years of experience she has is not something I can get overnight. Oh, and I had my mom edit this piece.

We’re not difficult to retain because of some generation-wide symptom of a flight risk attitude; we’re leaving because we are looking for a team with vision. However, my goal of writing this piece is not to leave you wondering how to support my generation as we join your teams. Listed below are a couple of things you can start doing today to create value and purpose for both my generation and every other:

Create community. Routine team lunches or coffee runs are a great start — guess who started one on her team? This girl. Even better would be our Inspire Like a Leader course here at BW Leadership Institute. It’s the ultimate team bonding if you want to invest in something more impactful than footing the bill at Chipotle.

Listen. Millennials are open to providing feedback, and we have a lot of it, on antiquated systems and how to make them leaner. If a younger member of your team isn’t living up to their potential, it might not be laziness but rather an inefficient process.

Work from purpose. Working on the BWLI team, one with such a distinct Why, has been enormously helpful for me as I feel connected to a mission that is bigger than myself and not merely a piece that can be replaced. If your organization doesn’t have a Why, the BWLI team can help get you there.

Look beyond our age. I have been to client meetings where I am the youngest by twenty years and on day trips with Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. And I felt like I had something to add to the conversation. My leader, Sara Hannah, recognized what fired me up by asking me how I felt about the work I do and not only listening, but then working to provide more similar opportunities. I don’t feel like a 24 year old at her first full-time position, I feel like a member of the team with an opinion and value. Help members on your team feel the same by matching your actions to what you hear them express interest in.

I have learned from my teammates here at the Institute that vulnerability and a listening ear will lead you places statistics and generalizations never could. Share your story, listen to others and you will learn the true work of leadership and how all humans want to be treated.


If you read this and want to respond, you can chat with me via the BW Leadership Twitter, @bwleadinsitute! Of course the Millennial runs the social media channels.