Category Archives: #Gen Y

Quarter-life crisis and over communication

24/7 standby

24/7 standby

In today’s high-tech, 24/7, global communication , we are seeing a pace of communication that is super charged. This is something  we would have thought should lead to rapid, informed and correct decision-making.

Everyone happy… right?

My observation is that the reverse could indeed be true.

I would even go as far as to say that in many cases we are creating a pattern and expectation of communication that is totally overwhelming which is damaging performance.   I have noticed this particularly in junior and mid-level employees, who unlike other generations cut their teeth on this notion of being constantly in touch.  As a consequence their boundaries are not as distinct. It’s great fun receiving updates from friends around the clock, but becomes very different and stressful in a professional context.

A friend’s daughter recently wondered somewhat perplexed,  why privacy is really important to our generation!   I believe the lack of it, is contributing to what is becoming known as Quarter Life Crisis in hers.

Permanently “on call” 

Working across multiple time zones and constantly on stand-by,  leaves many junior and mid level employees overwhelmed, over supervised and exhausted.  Matthias a young and highly successful marketing executive in a Fortune 500 company, a Director despite being  in his early 30s, says he starts checking his emails at 0600 and as late as midnight. He told me he hears alerts on his iPad  throughout the night.

Shouldn’t he just turn it off I suggested naively and respond in the morning ?  At the beck and call of senior management located on all continents, failure to respond instantly he told me is perceived to be “a lack of energy or engagement.” He is now questioning his commitment to a corporate career as he examines his work/ life balance.

All company mail
global email

Another unforeseen outcome of the wide-reaching and easy communication technology is increased control and policing. This can be so tight that it leaves many employees so fearful of making a mistake  they become paralyzed. Factor in the viral consequences of the reporting of any misdemeanour, then the culprit is faced with company wide shame and humiliation via the ubiquitous all company e-mail.

Take Marianne. She has a  postgraduate qualification in HR management and  is a junior recruitment coordinator for a  major international company. Despite having three years experience in the function, plus a professional qualification, every aspect of her job is supervised by a barrage of emails and reporting instructions so time-consuming she is almost unable to learn the skills of her function. Six months ago she made a minor scheduling error.  This was picked up and circulated on a global all department email where she felt international humiliation. As she said “if God could have been cc’d he would have been, it was escalated so far up the chain.” She also wonders about her corporate future.

Take Lucien.  A marketing graduate, slightly dyslexic, made a typo on an email to a client. His boss instead of addressing the situation professionally, copied the whole company (yes everyone) in what he thought was a riotous joke.  Suitably shamed Lucien could barely face going into work  where instead of  creating some Outlook templates to support him, every email was scrutinised individually. Massive delays were created and customer satisfaction fell off. Lucien finally left and has no intention of returning to corporate life.

Everything urgent 

Others report receiving non-urgent mails and texts from bosses during vacations and on public holidays  many carrying  a high priority red-flag. Amanda told me “ my boss made it very clear that he was unhappy that I couldn’t respond to a query on my expenses when I was in a wedding! ”  


Back in the day when I started work, communication was significantly slower. Would I want to turn the clock back to those days?  I am no Luddite,  so not at all. I love fast communication. But there were certainly advantages from days gone by.  If someone made a mistake it would probably take a few days for it to come to their bosses attention via laborious manual processes which were imputed into the system and eventually printed out on continuous computer listing pages the size of breeze blocks.

Things clearly went wrong, but nothing too horrendous. Only a small number of people were usually aware of the issues and certainly not the whole company. Mobile phones did not exist. Neither did the internet.

So although we see many significant benefits,  not all technology is without a downside.   Needs will vary from one organisation to another, but what is needed is clear protocols about appropriate frequency of contact and what constitutes an emergency!

Dickensian: Zero-hours contracts

Zero hour contracts

Zero-hours contracts

I’ve just had two astonishing conversations with two young people. This wasn’t related to wild nights out or any inappropriate behaviour, but their employment conditions.

Both are working on zero-hours contracts.

For the uninitiated zero-hours contracts are apparently a particularly British phenomenon. A  bit like Christmas pudding and red double-decker buses, just infinitely less wholesome

They are understood to be an employment contract between an employer and a worker, during which the employer is not obliged to provide the worker with any minimum working hours, and the worker in turn is not obliged to accept any of the hours offered.

Increasingly, many companies  across all sectors  are taking on staff on ‘zero-hours’ contracts.  These contracts effectively provide employers with a pool of  employees who are ‘on-call’ and can be used when the need arises.

At one end of the spectrum  the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggest that they provide  great possibilities for  individuals to strike a work life balance or supplement fixed incomes on an ad hoc basis. Students and pensioners particularly value this arrangement .

On the other hand,  they are viewed as yet another component in the exploitation formula with rife mal-practise reported.

Risk reduction

Zero-hours contracts are becoming increasingly popular as a way of tapping into a pool of labour to meet operational requirements and reducing recruitment and employee costs. They are also a way of minimising risk connected with workforce planning or it would seem planning of any kind really.

Research indicates that those on zero-hours contracts earn less than those on staff or on fixed-hours contracts,  with no rights to sick pay  and holiday pay  often refused.  They are also more widespread than is generally thought and increasing used for  hiring young people in the 18-24 demographic.  They are fast becoming a way of circumventing corporate statutory obligations. Although officially associated mainly with unskilled labour, anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is not consistently the case.


There is something very Dickensian about this system with workers lining up, albeit at the end of their mobile phone and a few being selected,  with the rest remaining un-contacted.  Peter is on a zero- hours contract with a London  based call centre company.  Earlier this month he paid for travel to his place of work only to be told that there had been a miscommunication between the account manager and the client and there was no work until further notice. The contacted group was sent home after thirty minutes without pay.

Peter an arts graduate told me ” The choice to refuse work  in reality doesn’t exist.  If you refuse you are labelled as inflexible. Very often the management is poor with minimal training given. There is no accountability. The manager screws up and the workforce has their shifts cancelled.  Communication is erratic and anyone who speaks up is regarded as a ” trouble-maker. ”

He continued  “It’s made clear when you are hired any employment rights are restricted and there is  no job security until anyone has been employed for two years. But usually any long-termers are terminated just before they reach  the two years service point. Very often employees are given spurious official warnings for the slightest contravention to create an HR paper trail to “justify” a termination. One colleague was five minutes late after his train broke down and was given a written warning even though he sent an explanatory text to say  why he had been held up”

It is generally agreed that zero-hours contracts are effectively becoming licences for poor management and a pathway for potential employment abuse.

Kara with a degree in Psychology,  has been working on zero-hours contracts in the hospitality and retail sector. She explained “with no job security it is impossible to plan or save. My daily worry is how I am going to pay my most basic bills. Many of my friends are forced to live with their parents even though they are in their mid 20s. I work two jobs to make sure I have enough money to eat and cover my rent.  I’m 26 with a degree and it seems crazy that I can’t get a job to keep myself above the poverty line. When I do go for interviews for “proper jobs” I am told I don’t have the right experience. It’s like being on a treadmill ” 

Although the U.K. government plans to outlaw any restrictions  on employees on zero-hours contracts working elsewhere,  they are still allowing the concept to remain.

So although much is written about leadership and employees being valued the reality is that those leadership priorities are often disregarded to increase shareholder value and benefit business balance sheets regardless of the longer term implications.

Short term solutions

These are very short term solutions which will come back to haunt us. Together with it’s bed fellow unpaid internships  with zero-hours contracts we are seeing a reverse trend to Victorian era style employment practises which has a multi-generation impact.  Nicknamed KIPPERs (“kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings”) in the U.K., we have a huge demographic who are spending what should be a formative period acquiring key professional skills,  in employment and economic limbo. This in turn is impacting their parents who continue to be forced to support them.

What will we see next? The return of the truck shop? 

Please mind the gap

Has a prolonged recession softened hiring managers’ attitude to periods of unemployment and a gap in a  CV?  Perhaps not…

mind the gap

Almost exactly 4 years ago to the day  in December 2008, I was walking through an eerily deserted Canary Wharf in London. It should have been one of the  busiest shopping weeks of the year, but the full impact of the banking crisis was being felt and the shops were empty with up to 75% price cuts in many.  The worst fears of the financial pundits were yet to materialise as many  in non-related sectors were sucked in to one of the biggest economic downturns  for 80 years, generating a massive global domino effect on employment.

Has the scale of this calamity changed the views of hiring managers to the plight of  candidates who have been unemployed for a period?  I talked to a group of people who share their perceptions 3-4 years down the line as they continue to deal with the fallout.

 Michael – Arts graduate June 2009  U.K.  “Instead of a feeling of achievement and elation the whole class was anxious. All through our final year we had seen the economy tank and prospects looked grim. Only one of our class mates had a job and that was with his father’s advertising agency. I did 3 unpaid internships in a row in galleries and agencies supported by my parents.  I finally got a job in a start-up but the conditions were border-line exploitive and the manager was a bully.  I’m now working in a fast food restaurant as an Assistant Manager and although I’m acquiring great skills (I manage a team of 8 and deal with all the HR issues) I still get comments that it’s not a “proper job” when I go for interviews in my field and struggle to account for my “career” choices.  Portfolio careers seem to be more talked about in the press than in the real world! So  although I’m not unemployed  – I may well have been.  I don’t think there is that much sympathy. Work ethic doesn’t seem to count for much”.

Béatrice – Recruitment  Manager France – ” I was delighted to get pregnant with my second child born in August 2008. When I returned from maternity leave in 2009  there had been a hiring freeze because of the crisis, the department cut by half and completely re-organised. My old job had been re-distributed with the only role remaining a junior administrative job.  I accepted a redundancy offer and was unemployed for nearly 2 years. Explaining that period is very difficult in interviews even now,  especially when it follows maternity leave. People in jobs forget really quickly that unemployment rose to 10% in France in that period and is still a huge problem.”

Ricardo – ex Marketing Director Italy  – ” I had a successful career in marketing and brand management in fmcg sector. In February 2008 I was head hunted to lead a team in an SME company supplying the construction industry which gave me a place on the management committee.   I started in June 2008 , but by  April 2009 the marketing budget was slashed to zero as the order pipeline dried  up and I was made redundant.  Initially I tapped into my network and was able to go for interviews,  but although I was shortlisted I was never selected. The feedback was that it was related to salary and that I was too expensive and over qualified. I tried down grading both my salary and CV – that didn’t work either.   I slipped into depression and struggled to find the motivation to face the  world.  In 4 years the only work I have done is small consulting projects.  I am divorced and wanted to stay in Italy to be near my children but am now internationally mobile.  I seriously worry that I may never work in the corporate world again.”

My own observation is that “copy-paste” hiring is  still generally the preferred selection process for many companies. In a supply led market the  harsh reality is that most hiring managers have a huge choice of candidates and easier access to them. It’s not so much that they mind the gap – it’s really important what you do with that time and how it’s presented on all platforms.

What advice would you give?

Gen Y – how you stock your fridge can be important to your career!

In the absence of her manager, I was recently asked to sit in on some graduate entry-level interviews to support and mentor, Tanya, a new addition to the Talent Management team of an international company. As we mapped out the structure of our individual roles, Tanya’s proposed line of questioning took me by surprise!

Who stocks the fridge?
While I was assigned to cover the traditional HR areas, transferable skills, communication ability, future goals, leadership potential and so on, Tanya’s line of questioning came from a totally different angle. She intended to throw in to the interview pot questions on where/how candidates bought their groceries, where they lived and what they ate and cooked.

I must have looked faintly mystified. That is important because…? She clarified: “Some entry-level candidates are babied by their parents. They order their kids groceries for them on-line with home delivery. They set up accounts in takeaways, shops and restaurants with the bills being sent to Mum and Dad. They arrange for cleaners or even come to clean their kids houses/rooms themselves.  Some candidates wouldn’t recognise an egg in its shell, let alone know how to cook one. They live off junk food. Some mothers freeze and label a month’s worth of dinners and put them their kid’s freezers!   One candidate told me how he had been told off by a delivery man for paying a £2.50 delivery charge on a £2.00 item, rather than go out in the rain. The more wealthy parents buy their children houses and apartments, so they can live in a nice area.  Even parents who are not well off get into debt.

Aged 28, Tanya is a relatively recent graduate herself and as she gently reminded me, more in touch with what really goes on with her generation. Her own recent student experiences gives her an insight into the way some candidates have lived during their student days. She was quick to add: “Clearly not all are like that so it’s important to sort them out. This is just another way of identifying which ones are independent and can stand on their own 2 feet, or which ones are still firmly bound to their parents.  We need candidates who are self – sufficient practically and psychologically. It’s a skill to be able to balance all your domestic chores with your professional commitments and we don’t want candidates who can’t cope”

Helicopter parents
I am of course very familiar with helicopter parents in the recruitment process, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that if parents are involved in these procedures then they are also pro-active in their lives as students. But it did! All students are delighted to have the odd cake or pie from home (I was!) but their weekly groceries? I think I would have thought I had died and gone to heaven!

So although parents think they are supporting their offspring, this is just another way of depriving them of learning valuable life skills  (budgeting, time management, prioritising, healthy living, becoming a judicious consumer to name only a few) which can impact their careers if they are not in place. As the interviews unfolded a surprising number did come unstuck.

I think I learned as much from Tanya as she did from me.

The declining art of conversation and Gen Y recruitment

Much has been written about the need for changes that employers should make in order to attract and retain Millenials. We have seen a veritable outbreak of company Facebook pages, inter-active web sites,  Twitter accounts, mentoring  programmes and the like. But as one client mentioned recently after a less than effective graduate recruitment job fair, an additional challenge is even more basic: to identify the best entry-level talent.

I’m not even talking about text-speak or spelling errors on CVs,  but basic social inter- action during the interview process which is generally the backbone of most hiring systems. Modern technology has impacted us in many ways. Many are positive. Some are not.

Good on paper only
The platforms that are typically used and relied upon for entry-level screening are telephone interviews, video calls, job fair meetings and regular face to face interviews.   Candidates are then frequently advanced to testing processes and more rigorous interviews.  Today, undeveloped interpersonal skills means that many capable candidates don’t present well causing increased difficulties for those in the hiring process  to make an accurate preliminary triage. Clients are reporting the growing cost ineffectiveness of job fairs as a result of this down turn in social skills.  Many candidates with pre-submitted CVs,  look great on paper but are under-performing in the face to face interview. So although we know that Millenials communicate and socialise differently to other generations, at some point they do have to engage with people outside their age group. What happens when skills core to the talent indentification process are defficient?

Diminished interpersonal skills
Sherry Turkle in her excellent article the  Flight from Conversation eloquently portrays the downsides of the trend to block out communication and conversation on a whole generation who are “alone together”.   University Career Directors both at undergraduate and MBA  level report a global pandemic of students mentally checking out of their classes and using Smart Phones and lap tops to log onto Facebook and email accounts during lectures. When I asked an MBA workshop group to turn off their phones for my session, one participant reacted as if I was contravening his civil liberties. At a recent Italian job fair a client cut a  candidate because he responded to an incoming text in the middle of the interview. It is not for nothing that Blackberries have been dubbed “Crackberries”.

But is the interview texter an unempathetic communicator or merely demonstrating multi- tasking skills?  The poor presenter might have excellent potential and skills that are simply not evident. We just don’t know.

First impressions unreliable
First impressions are made in less than 15 seconds. In a situation where social skills are under developed and candidates are unable to make that key engagement with an interviewer as they should  (poor eye contact, the ability to listen and tune into cues from the whole range of body language and voice tone) , which is critical in an interview, how do recruiters sort out the wheat from the chaff?

Here are some solutions currently being considered:

  • Online testing: One response from a number of companies seems to be a growing shift to mass online testing prior to personal screening, using outsourced organisations such as SHL , or in-house assessment centres.  Follow-up procedures include further assessment tools before finally personal interviews to evaluate cultural fit and social skills.
  • Network recommendations:  seem to be becoming increasingly important and will favour candidates with strong personal networks possibly via well-connected family members or previous experience. In today’s economic climate this is not easy to come by and as we have seen with the flourishing unpaid intern sector both possibilities put less well placed candidates at a disadvantage. This is also a demographic which networks widely via Facebook,  but generally hasn’t started to develop a professional network.
  • Modifications to onboarding programmes : to incorporate  communication skills training into in-house programmes sooner rather than later have been suggested. Whether this will provide the catch-up programme required remains to be seen.

Gen Y workers are some of the most independent-minded and tech-savvy workers employers have encountered. Changing recruitment models seems to be necessary not just to attract the best candidates, but to identify them too.

But the significant overall message to Millenial job seekers is to switch off  the lap top, iPad or Smart Phone  and practise the old-fashioned art of conversation.

Those with social skills will be ahead of the game.

Worker bee or job snob? Both are suffering – a year later!

Cait Reilly  – a year down the line

I  have followed with interest the story of  Cait Reilly , the Geology graduate who instigated a judicial review for contravention of her human rights. She was made to work unpaid at Poundland, a discount store,  stacking shelves and cleaning floors,  or otherwise be obliged to forfeit her government benefits of £53 per week job seekers allowance.  This scheme ,  followed by an interview for a permanent position is supposed to funnel young people into the workplace,  although in Cait’s case the interview never materialised.  She was  already working as a volunteer in a museum which she believed would support her chosen career path.  The issue for her was not working for free, but not being paid by an organisation which could afford her to give her a salary. Also significant was that the fact that the placement would not support the pursuit of her career goals.  A year after this post was originally written Cait has now won her court case.

Complex messages
There are lots of complex messages here aren’t there? This contravention of a human right is hardly in the same category as a resident of Homs being bombarded by his/her own government,  or a detainee being tortured and walked around naked on a  dog leash in the Abu Ghraib prison. So the backlash against the seeming preciousness of Cait’s case and accusations of job snobbery were in many ways understandable.  However, it was an effective and timely move, with many companies withdrawing from the discredited scheme, where unpaid graduates filled positions which should be offered on a full-time paid basis.

Inflated expectations
As you know I  have been an early champion of the exploitation of  Gen Y and unpaid internships. But we are observing what seems to be a massive disconnect in global economies with the training of a whole generation of young people in national education systems, leaving  not only a huge number with simply nowhere to go when they graduate, but with inflated expectations. Youth unemployment is shockingly high in many countries not just in Europe and the US,  but globally.  But it is also happening at higher levels with graduate MBAs encountering the same dilemma.

 Worker bee  Many  deal with this situation by accepting any position they can get, simply to gain some type of experience, or merely to pay their bills. I spoke to John who graduated in 2009  at the height of the recession with a degree in Art. After working in a number of unpaid internships and a paid job where he was pretty ruthlessly exploited, he accepted a position in the hospitality sector gaining invaluable basic management and HR skills. The rub? In applying for jobs in his chosen area he is now told that he lacks the necessary targeted experience and effectively  has “wasted” his 2.5 post graduate years.  Manon, with her global MBA accepted a low-level position to start paying off her debts when she graduated in 2008  and now faces the stigma of having a ” confused and inconsistent” career history.

Job snob
But many don’t want to compromise in this way, sitting tight for the right opportunity. Enter now the job snob. This is a category of worker whose expectations have been increased by the culture in which they were raised and the education systems that have spewed them out.  We have a group who rightly or wrongly,  believe they are entitled to work in the field for which they have been educated,  at the level they believe they deserve and which meets the abilities they think they have, to pay off the debts they have probably accrued in the process.  They hold out for the right job, in the right sector, financially supported by their parents,  government or both.  This group is penalised for having gaps in their resumés.

Education systems and business organisations both play a role in this mismatch of expectations and opportunities. The business sector has to understand that the plug and play days are mainly over and many of the old assessment benchmarks are not appropriate for the times we live in.

It would seem that the only alternative would  be a utilitarian approach and to cut university courses for which there are no foreseeable employment opportunities. Now the latter route would open up a serious hornets nest debate about the philosophical role of education in our advanced civilised societies.  Should the best universities be measured by the employability of their graduates?

However, perhaps it’s just me but  a key question seems to be left unanswered in the Cait Reilly case. Why should an individual  be supported by benefits paid for by the taxpayer, work for nothing  in a profit making organisation that could afford to pay them a salary?

What do you think?

Portfolio Careers: impact on workplace & jobseeker

Portfolio careers a rich tapestry of work experience - on the increase

A Portfolio Careera tapestry of a variety of eclectic employment experiences; employment in a series of short-contract or part-time positions

Not new but on the increase
The term Portfolio Career is being used in current business  vernacular  with the same type of smug and superior ” in the know -ness” ,  as we might have seen when the atom was split or  the wheel invented.  I always smile indulgently! The concept of a portfolio career is actually far from new. What is new is the number who have embarked on this career path.

“Moonlighting” has long been a euphemism associated with  individuals aspiring to break into such professions as  acting, music , arts, writing etc,  or others running more than one job. As companies abandon the corporate  ” cradle to grave” employment concepts,  and move towards the leaner and meaner machines of more recent times,  we had already started to see the beginnings of this seismic shift some years ago. Business Week referenced the changing work place practise of   Perma Temps,   as organisations  began to seek flexible ( =  disposable) workforces, to allow rapid response to fast changing business conditions.

I view and review literally hundreds of CVs in any given week.  Although predicted by all the trend spotters, the shift to individuals having an increasing  number of jobs and spending less time in each , is becoming very marked. I am  often asked to avoid ” hoppers/movers/jumpers”, but that is now an outmoded concept,  particularly as younger age demographics move between jobs more strategically,  with periods of employment, also punctuated by stints in further education.

No alternatives
Portfolio  careers and the wearing of many hats was once  associated with mid- career or older professionals, perhaps after redundancy seeking a better work / life balance,  or  when there were no other options. It was considered a fall back position.  We are now seeing younger  Gen Yers  build up this type of career,  not because they particularly seek an improved quality of life,  but because they have to tap into different parts of their skill sets, simply to  get a job,  any job.   This is also apparent when coaching career changers pursuing MBA courses,  when I have come across a range of skills from Project Management, entrepreneurial roles , to  professional photography,  all in the same student.  The real  challenge is to create an interesting and credible career profile to showcase success stories, transferable skills and  the lessons learned from such diverse backgrounds and interests.

However, there are people who simply prefer the variety, flexibility and freedom offered by tapping into a wide range of skills, so they choose a wider portfolio career, over a more traditional focused one.  At one time a portfolio career was considered to be higher risk than a corporate role. Today,  I’m not sure that is the case.  Portfolio careers suit disciplined, self motivated people with strong time management skills,  who have a variety of skills and interests,  as well as the drive to go out and market and monetize them. Portfolio careers are also generally associated with adept networkers and can be a great route to gaining experience in a new field, whilst maintaining a part-time role in a traditional job in line with a professional background. Many do just that.

The real issue will be for the demographic which doesn’t voluntarily choose this more entrepreneurial style of career strategy.  Flexibility for companies is key, of course, but if organisations aren’t careful,  they can wind up searching for new talent in an alienated and demotivated workforce, which has struggled to gain skills in a wide range of unstructured and less professional environments. It also means a  quantum shift from lazy and uninsightful  “copy / paste” recruitment methodologies, sadly  relied upon by companies and some search consultants alike.