AND not OR: Vass Bednar on Millennials in the Workplace

Attending the Millennial Leadership Summit was an enlightening experience, especially as one of the few millennials in the house. According to demographer David Foot, “We know that within ten years, The Millennial Generation will represent 75% of the global workforce.” This means that Millennials are no longer just entrance level employees, they are being groomed for leadership positions. What can employers do to adjust to this change? That was the question of the day.

Vass Bednar, Associate Director at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, is a millennial with a lot of ideas for employers. Vass is a strong and hilarious advocate for millennials, and her voice carried out beyond the morning session through the remainder of the day, and into the next day’s Metro. Vass suggests that organizations have a key role to play in making sure all jobs are good jobs, not just shorter term contract work that perpetuates the precarious professional conditions that many millennials find themselves in today. They also need to recognize that ‘benefits are not just monetary’. In addition to a traditional workplace perk like health benefits, networking, events, and other development opportunities also play a role in attracting young people to a role.

What might that look like? Well, exit interviews are important, but so are entrance interviews. “‘Where are you going next?’ shouldn’t be an out of bounds question for entry interviews,” says Vass. Companies should understand that millennials are unlikely to stay at their first job until they retire. It’s advantageous for both the employer and employee to think about where their career is going and how the organization can set them up for long-term success.

“I look at where people are going from the Martin Prosperity Institute, and they’re getting kick-ass roles with a further reach than we could offer,” says Vass. She says it’s only when employees are leaving for worse jobs – moving across instead of up – that employers should be concerned. We take a similar attitude at Learnography, knowing that anyone who passes through our doors could become an advocate for life when they move on to bigger and better things.

Vass also sees a role for the government in this changing workplace. “We see the provincial government stepping up to the plate with the ORPP,” a portable pension plan proposed to help Ontario workers retire with greater financial security. Vass repeatedly stressed the importance of offering pensions or RRSP matching to millennials in the workplace, much to the shock and dismay of the HR professionals in the room.

But prospective employees have a role to play too. Often millennials are disengaged by the work they’re doing, which limits their opportunities for growth. Vass encourages these people to “think about the negative aspects of your job. Can you reframe them as a tax or a toll?” By considering the less desirable parts of your role as a necessary evil you can leverage for the opportunity to learn and grow, she says, you can start imagining a future where you’re doing more of what you want to do and less of what you don’t. And if there’s something you don’t “want” to do because you’re not good at it or don’t enjoy it, you can start moving away from it and developing other skills. For me, that nonstarter is web development. I’m fortunate to work on a team that understands my WordPress deficiency and takes most web work on themselves, but there comes a time when we all have to roll up our sleeves and do work we don’t like.

Bednar cautioned that workplace positives need to be an “and” not an “or.” It’s not: you can work from home now and then OR go to the dentist – kids these days want to be able to do both. The best workplaces will support millennial hires both formally and informally.

As many at the Summit pointed out, the challenge of working with millennials is not distinct from any generation of young people entering the workforce. It’s through recognizing and adapting to new principles and priorities that employers will find strong leadership and millennials will find satisfaction – before they take on those shorter-term professional opportunities and invest themselves in the next gig.'

Author: Kate Salmon

Communications specialist and general word nerd from Toronto, Ontario. Upon learning that I could still get a degree in rhetoric in the 21st century, I went to the University of Waterloo to do precisely that. Now I’m continuing my learning journey at Learnography, a non-profit education consulting organization that really practices its principles of continuous development. With a great team of former educators who are dedicated to creating transformative learning experiences, we are changing the face of corporate training.

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