Deep Working Relationships: How to Our EQ Matters as Much as Our IQ at the "Office" by Shayna S. Israel
Name a time when you felt a sense of comradery in the workplace. Now, name an emotion from that time.
For me, it was working as developmental specialist for the ODASIS (Office of Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences) program at Rutgers University—and not for all the reasons you might expect. It was a time where the majority of my co-workers were millennials like myself. We were hard working, passionate about social justice, pained and longing for work-life balance—really an opportunity to be healthier so that we could give more of ourselves to the work we love. I felt helpful.
Millennials—mistakenly—get pegged as lazy, uninvolved, flaky, flighty and lacking discipline. On the contrary, in a section titled “Millennials are Entitled AND Hardworking,” the Center for Creative Leadership notes, “Millennials want to have a say and contribute their ideas. They resist doing repetitive or boring work…But entitled doesn’t mean lazy. Millennials work long hours, don’t expect work to stop when they leave the office and are quite motivated. They want to contribute beyond their job descriptions and move up in the organization” .
By 2020, millennials will represent 40% of the total working population . Learning how to attract and retain them is a requisite for any wise employer. Characterizing the behavior of close to half the future working population as somehow marginal or an unusual risk does one of, at least two things: 1) It forces them to create economies and jobs outside of the current market and its regulation, or 2) it engenders greater disruptions in the workplace such as high rates of turnover.
Jane Gutfreund, chief strategy officer for The Intelligence Group, agrees with me. “It’s in every organization’s interest to learn [how to] attract and reach and motivate millennials. A few do it well—but most don’t…No organization can afford not to recruit the best talent,” she says .
Millennials are in a precarious position. We grew up at a time where we watched technicolor videos of secretaries in skirt suits and workers with safety goggles on assembly lines that were supposed to teach us workplace etiquette on giant TVs rolled into our classrooms on three-foot-high wheeled stands. This, for us, was also paired with popularization of Apple and Gateway personal computers and Napster. We were between worlds and—thus, world views of workplace culture.
Millennials “tend to speak different workplace languages” than their older Generation X siblings and their Baby Boomer parents, suggests Shara Senderoff, co-founder and CEO of Intern Sushi . That means when it comes to conflict resolution, they have difficulty in areas that their expertise would belie. They are college educated and often well-traveled. They should seem to have strong conflict management skills. And they do. (Trust me, having to negotiate organizing a concert or travel logistics half-way around the world, requires much problem solving).
Millennials tend to be problem solvers. That’s the issue: Older generations don’t like people who talk about problems. Who does? Yet, the thing is—millennials tend to talk about problems they’re willing to solve.
We do have to learn, nonetheless, how to translate our idealistic notions of how labor relations in the workplace should be—in order to assist employers in responding to areas of concern, so that we all can increase workplace efficiencies and meet organizational needs. While a little perturbed (read: really hurt) that your boss is sending you angry emails during a funeral he gave you the time off to attend, we have to learn how to cool our tempers and either not check our phones 20 times a day. That means showing some grace for the irrationalities of our employers and ask that they show us some grace.
I am not saying it has to be one of those “do you want to be happy or do you want to be paid?” kind of things. Far from it. What I am saying is that I learned some hard lessons. Bringing to an employers’ attention the need for pregnancy parking, paid family leave or work hours that don’t routinely extend to 12-hours days—can be done in a way that respects our distinct values for social justice and exemplify what a safe workplace culture looks like without packing up and leaving.
Millennials “want to have a life outside of work, and expect enough flexibility to allow them to fulfill both their personal and professional commitments,” the Center for Creative Leadership goes on to say . We want to affect the world in some way or another toward the arc of justice. We want our jobs to contribute to bettering the world rather than fattening the pockets of elites. That creates a motivation in us beyond any dollar amount. That means, a dollar amount is not going to keep us if it is out of alignment with our vision of a more peaceful society.
In an article titled, “What Millennials Want in the Workplace (And Why You Should Start Giving It to Them,” Rob Asghar writes regarding millennials, “They’re not looking to fill a slot in a faceless company…They’re looking strategically at opportunities to invest in a place where they can make a difference, preferably a place that itself makes a difference” .
There is another reason why I believe, we, millennials tend to leave a job after a good 2-3 years: Economic cognitive dissonance. The fact that 20% of Millennials report having experienced depression and the American Psychiatry Association finds that millennials face some of the highest rates of anxiety—might be connected not only to economic instability but the split between what we studied about the “work world” and what we learned about the harsher power dynamic plays at the job .
We were told one thing about the economy in our utopian university experience and upon arriving, were face-to-face with a harsher, less idyllic story.
We were told: “Your degree will distinguish you,” yet bachelor’s degrees are ubiquitous and master’s degrees are increasingly commonplace. PhD graduate student instructors and adjunct professors make less than cashiers at Walmart do ($7.25/hour versus $13/hour) . Graduate student instructors make on average $15,000 a year teaching four classes of freshman composition, for example. The average full-time worker at Walmart makes on average $27,000 a year.
We were told, “Work hard, keep your head down and you will be recognized for your ingenuity and hard work.” Yet after pulling 12 – 14 hour-days, coming in on the weekends on short notice, we are either laid-off during the employee grace period or are pushed out through the “making-this-uncomfortable-for-you-so-you-leave” strategy. Reason: We “kept raising concerns about one issue or another.”
Let’s us not forget—and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, got an earful about this when he testified before the Senate donning a thick beard and nose ring—the spoken and unspoken reason: Our look did not fit the culture of the environment. We have either heard that before or know someone who has. Yet, for millennials, that often extends to your disposition and outlook.
(And in no way am I bitter about any of the colorful millennial experiences I have had in the workplace—nor are any of the above examples directly reflective of my work history…[read: I went through the needed therapy on these issues already and am excited to be working in the capacities I currently am, dread locks and all])
The question that I am still trying to figure out is for our generation: What are the markers of trust worthiness in the workplace? Trust is foundational to any healthy relationship. There seems to be a two-way street of mistrustfulness between employers from older generations and what will be 40% of the labor market by 2020.
Yes, intellectual prowess matters on the job, but emotions are a kind of intellect in and of themselves. We need both IQ and EQ in order to manage healthy workplace relations and bridge the workplace language divide. We need to talk about our work AND speak to the fears, traumas and desires that permeate our working lives.