Too many millennials are unwilling to start at the bottom

Instead of filling millennials' heads with stories of instant success, we need to be realistic about what it takes to do ...
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Instead of filling millennials' heads with stories of instant success, we need to be realistic about what it takes to do well in life.

OPINION: I get a lot of employers complaining to me that millennials are very hard to work with.

The truth is, some millennials are challenging and some make great employees.

But whenever I hear an employer say this I try and find out specifically what the problem is. There can be many perceived issues, but one that comes up again and again is that millennials don't want to start at the bottom.

"Even within the workplace a good employee must be willing to do any job," says Michael Hempseed.
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"Even within the workplace a good employee must be willing to do any job," says Michael Hempseed.

We have told an entire generation that they can be anything they want, be it an actress, a ballerina, an All Black, a chief executive or a multimillionaire. We have said to millennials that the sky is the limit.

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There is nothing wrong with telling people to aim high. The problem often is that while we have told millennials they can achieve anything, we haven't told them how much blood, sweat and tears may be required along the way.

Very few people suddenly achieve whatever it is they would like to achieve. Rather than telling millennials that they can all be chief executives, we need to tell them that you can aim to be a CEO, but to get there you might need to spend some time working in a job where you clean toilets and another few years on minimum wage or less as an apprentice before someone will give you a real break.

There are far too many stories of people who become successful at a very young age. While this happens from time to time, the road to success for most people is far less glamorous. You may need to eat humble pie for a while before you get anywhere.

In my career I have worked with some very successful people in business. Some have admitted to me that the road to glory was often a very slow and challenging one.

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I love what I do now, and I'm very happy within my company and with the work I do improving workplaces.

I finished university, graduating with an honours degree in psychology. I was told that once I had a degree, I would go places. Within a six-month period, I probably sent out several hundred job applications. This was in the middle of the global financial crisis.

I started by applying for jobs I really wanted, but I didn't even get a rejection letter. Then I became desperate and applied for anything. A particular low point came when I was turned down for a cleaning job for 10 hours a week.

Eventually I took a part-time cleaning job for a couple of months; I was grateful to get it. It was less than ideal, but I got a good reference from it and was able to slowly grow and develop my career.

Each job helped me climb one step higher, until I was able to save enough money to start my own business. I wouldn't say I've reached the highest point in my career yet, but I really enjoy what I do.

Instead of filling millennials' heads with stories of instant success, we need to be realistic about what it takes to do well in life.

I believe so many employers complain to me about millennials because so many millennials are unwilling to start at the bottom and take a less than ideal job.

Even within the workplace a good employee must be willing to do any job. I know one chief executive who makes it a point to take his turn at cleaning the toilets and taking the rubbish out. His employees don't look down on him; instead, they admire a man who leads by humble example.

If employers have an open conversation about what is expected and why, this can remove so many of the headaches that so many employers face with millennials.

- Michael Hempseed is the director of Christchurch-based human resources company Employee Solution Service.

 - Stuff

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